Oh, my teacher friends, are you still mandated to teach spelling in your classroom?
Do you ever look at your spelling lists and find them utterly ridiculous for your students?
Current spelling programs lack proper design. They throw too many concepts at a student at the same time.
For example, a child cannot process all the spelling patterns of long A in the same lesson. This is grounds for disaster with most children, but it is especially horrible for children who are at-risk readers or students who actually have a formal dyslexia diagnosis.
The Struggle Is Real
I have heard from plenty of parents how hard they work at home every night to help their dear child learn these words. They write them 5 times, 10 times, 15 times. They spell them standing on their heads in a corner. They spell them while they take a bath. They spend 10x the amount of time learning these words than 80% of the students in your class.
What happens when they get to the spelling test? Well, the truth is, many of them crash and burn. They cannot memorize these words. Memorizing is something that all dyslexic people struggle with in all areas of life.
So, all that hard work results in a 60% grade or worse on their weekly spelling test. Do you know what happens to that dear child in your classroom when they see that grade on their paper? They start to think they are dumb. They see their classmates getting 90% and 100% and they put it together in their brain that they just may not be smart enough.
Isn’t that awful? Spelling should never equal intelligence. However, it does in our society. If you can’t spell then you must be stupid, right?
Should We Just Drop Spelling Instruction?
Well, what should a teacher do instead? Should spelling simply be dropped from the curriculum? No, I do not advocate for that at all. Even in the day of autocorrect and spell checkers, spelling is still important.
Why do dyslexic people struggle so badly with spelling? My theory, which comes from years of personal and professional experience and research, is that their phonological deficit makes it nearly impossible to process sounds to symbols properly without intensive intervention.
Terrible spelling is a hallmark red flag for dyslexia. Now, remember, terrible spelling alone doesn’t make a person dyslexic, but most dyslexic people have horrible spelling.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Spelling can be taught to your struggling readers and to your dyslexic students. First, you have to drop the conventional notions that the school and curriculum publishers have put in your head. Whatever the publisher tells you, it won’t be right for your at-risk readers.
Let me share a quick story about my son, Jonathan. Jonathan couldn’t spell his way out of a paper bag. This was the first red flag that I noticed about him in regards to reading and writing.
We were homeschooling, and he was in 2nd grade. I purchased a traditional spelling program. In the first lesson, the student was asked to spell words with short vowels sounds. All the short vowel sounds.
As a neurotypical learner, I thought that seemed easy enough. Can you guess what my at-risk reader did with that spelling list?
If you guessed that he totally bombed that spelling test, you would be 100% correct. The question that needs to be asked is, Why? Why did he fail that test that seemed so easy for me?
He failed it because the short vowel sounds are some of the most challenging sounds to discern for a dyslexic person. They need to be taught systematically and in a multi-sensory way for your at-risk and dyslexic student.
Now, what should you do? How do you take this information and make it actionable in your classroom?
If possible, get a systematic spelling program that teaches sounds in a very systematic fashion. Students, all students, should be mastering the most common spelling of a sound first and foremost. Then they can move to less common spellings.
Always, always teach the most common spelling for a sound first. Short vowels are the most common sounds for the vowels. Make sure those are taught first to mastery.
All of your students, at-risk and neurotypical will learn best from a systematic approach. Your at-risk and dyslexic students must have a multi-sensory component added to their instruction. In Orton-Gillingham, we do that with finger spelling. They spell out the sounds onto the fingers of their non-writing hand.
If your at-risk or dyslexic students are working with a reading specialist either in school or out of school, please consider using the spelling list that goes with the program that the specialist is using. The child can take their weekly spelling test with their reading teacher or you can give it to the student separate from the rest of the class.
At our literacy center, WNY Dyslexia Specialists, LLC, we use the Barton Reading & Spelling system primarily, and there are spelling lists of either 10 or 20 words that go with each lesson that is taught. Our students can use those spelling lists to prove their spelling capabilities.
In conclusion, it is important to teach so that the student can be successful. Don’t teach to their frustration point. That kind of teaching will eventually turn an awesome student into a student with behavior problems. Let’s stop that trend. Don’t forget: stopping that trend begins with you.
Thank you for being an awesome A+ teacher who is always seeking to learn new techniques to help your students.