I found the PowerPoint in this week's resources to be especially helpful in organizing my understanding of spelling development in children, specifically early on. Based on the two different continua presented in the PowerPoint, children between the ages of three and four are in the prephonemic/pre-instrumental stage of spelling development which involves scribbling with no real concern for writing as a means of communication, also called the early emergent stage in the article titled "Developmental Word Knowledge". Although not directly mentioned, it seems that this stage would be important for learning about writing tools and the use of motor skills. The next step would be middle emergent or differentiation stage where students start to represent words separately from pictures with the use of scribbles of different sizes or colors. Following this, students advance to the pictographic/early phonemic stage in which the student would start to include letters in their drawings, specially initial letters. This happens towards the end of the emergent stage and also may include letters to represent the phonemes in words. Following the emergent stage, students typically begin formal language instruction and enter the Letter Name-Alphabetic Spelling stage of development. This point in development focuses on using phonemic patterns to spell. As shown in figure 1.7 of the "Developmental Word Knowledge" article, this stage typically begins with students spelling words by using the sound of the letter's name rather than its sounds. The idea that students also learn to identify first and last sounds in words is also step included at this stage The example of "YN" for "when" demonstrated how both of these elements work together, which was especially helpful for someone who has never taught a beginning reader. Eventually, the students gain mastery in these areas and begin using vowel sounds in their writing, culminating in the consistent use of "most regular short vowel sounds, digraphs, and consonant blends".
The stages following the acquisition of phonemic awareness are more relevant to my spelling instruction as an upper elementary teacher as I frequently focus on within word patterns, syllables, and affixes. These stages shift the focus from letter sounds to the spelling/meaning connection. By connecting words with similar parts, students are able to create meaning for unfamiliar words and can also work backwards to use these similar words to spell words they are unsure of. For example, a student may know how to spell the word astronomy. That student can use their knowledge of root words to spell other related words such as astronomer or astronomic.
Throughout my life as a reader and writer, I have often been baffled by the number of people that cannot spell. There are most certainly words that are tricky, but for the most part, I have been able to identify and use patterns to spell most words easily. Because of this, I was not surprised at the research noted by Simonsen and Gunter which stated that "the written English language does conform to predictable patterns". Anyone who is good at spelling has undoubtedly discovered these patterns whether they realize it or not. The research focused on three main approaches used in spelling instruction including the phonemic approach, the whole word approach, and the morphemic approach. The phonemic approach to spelling instruction focuses on letter/sound correlations. To me, this seems to make sense as a first step in teaching spelling. The patterns are structured and predictable, making this easier for young readers to grasp. This idea is backed up by research by the NRP that concluded that this type of instruction in letter/sound relationships "demonstrated effectiveness teaching students to spell accurately". The next step in spelling instruction is the whole word approach, which focuses on teaching students to recognize and spell words that do not follow the predictable letter/sound patterns. This brings to mind the idea of "sight words" which are commonly taught using flashcards in early grades. While helpful for irregular words, the Simonsen and Gunter article argues that this approach can also rely heavily on rote memorization rather than implementing spelling patterns. When used for irregular words, this approach is effective, but should not be used in place of phonemic instruction when spelling patterns would apply. The final approach addressed by Simonsen and Gunter is the morphemic approach, which focuses on using morphographs to spell words. This approach seems to be the logical third step in spelling instruction as it focuses on larger chunks, more complex spellings, and patterns involving mean rather than just sound. The guiding principle in this approach is the idea of combining morphographs. By teaching students how to combine morphographs, the students will be able to use words they already know how to spell in helping them to spell new words. According to the article, "Research has shown that good spellers have a stronger grasp of the principles for combining mophographs than poor spellers."
When assessing student spelling, it is important to look at the types of errors students are committing. According to the PowerPoint, there are five types of errors to look for, including phonographic, visual, morphological, spelling rule, and form. In teaching 4th grade, I have noticed most of these errors in my students' spelling assessments, but did not think to specifically categorize their errors in this way. When thinking about my own students, the students that struggle with reading typically have the hardest time and have the most instances of phonographic errors. Those that commit visual errors are normally students that do not take their time, but I suppose this could also be a problem for students with dyslexia or similar disorders. The morphological and form errors are not as common with my students, but do happen on occasion. The biggest error that my students struggle with are the spelling rules. There are many to remember and the students frequently forget to double letters or drop the -e when adding a suffix.
In assessing my students, I follow relatively closely to the proposed weekly routines from the PowerPoint. My students are pre-assessed on Mondays. Based upon their performance, they are given either the normal list or the "challenge list", both of which focus on the same skill or pattern, but at varying levels. Throughout the week, the students do a variety of spelling activities to practice the words, ranging from computer/iPad games, to word sorts, to hands on games. While the students practice, it gives me a chance to do guided activities with small groups of students. At the end of the week, the students are tested upon the 10 words they needed to study, as well as 10 mystery words that use the same patterns. I also do assessments using the "Words Their Way" word lists. I do this at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year to keep track of how the students are progressing. This system has worked pretty well for me and I feel like it has done a decent job of assessing the week to week progress that my students are making in terms of spelling.
I'm Edie - wife, mom, teacher, instructional designer, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!