Promoting Spelling Development at All Stages

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Spelling is an important skill that all students need to learn. Effective teachers design programs to promote spelling development for all students at all stages of development. This lesson details how to support students as they grow as spellers.

What We Know About Spelling

Patty has twin boys in the same grade. Each week, they come home with two different spelling lists. Earlier in the year they didn't even have spelling lists - the teacher said she was more focused on her students developing a solid awareness of phonics before focusing on higher stages of spelling. Patty doesn't understand all this new-age stuff. When she was in school, every student got the same list of twenty words to memorize on Monday and took the test on Friday. Her boys don't even take tests! It was good enough for her, so why change?

Research now tells us that learning to spell isn't a simple process of memorizing words but is actually much more complex. It involves a student's maturing knowledge of letters, words, and how sound/symbol relationships work. In fact, developing spelling skills grows in tandem with learning to read and write. It relies on a student's understanding of the alphabetic principle, knowing that letters represent sounds and have a predictable relationship.

A Closer Look at Spelling

In other words, Patty's boys are making important connections between what they do as readers and writers and what they learn in spelling. Over time, Patty will be able to see how their understanding of the alphabetic principle changes and grows - the more exposed her twins are to new vocabulary in reading and writing, and have those supported in spelling, the more awareness they'll have of how letters and spelling work.

For example, right now the twins are emergent readers. They're at the beginning stages of learning about sound/symbol relationships and are learning simple words, like 'cap' and 'lap.' They haven't yet been exposed to more complex spelling patterns, things that are found in words such as 'like,' with the silent 'e.' Once they are, though, they will begin to recognize the silent 'e' in other words without being specifically taught. They'll understand and recognize that pattern in words such as 'bike' or 'take.'

What Is Spelling Development?

This is why Patty's twins often don't have the same spelling words. One child, Jack, is progressing a bit more quickly than his brother. Jack's teacher, Ms. Jefferson, recognizes his progress and differentiates instruction, providing lessons on his level so he can make progress. How does this work?

Ms. Jefferson monitors Jack's developmental stages of spelling, the steps he and all students go through as they learn about the alphabetic principle. She sees evidence of Jack's emerging knowledge in his reading and writing. He can now decode, or correctly pronounce words, and write words with a silent 'e.' He is also starting to write using double letters, like in the word 'happy.'

All children progress through different developmental stages of spelling, though at different rates. Ms. Jefferson's school uses a system that names each stage and provides support for students as they navigate it. Many different programs and stages are used in the field of education, each with the same understanding that teachers need to promote spelling development at all stages.

Promoting Spelling Development

When teachers like Ms. Jefferson are aware of a child's level of spelling, they are able to design instruction and strategies to promote development at each stage. Though each stage is different and reflects a student's growing understanding of the alphabetic principle, strategies for promoting growth are similar. Teachers can do the following:

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