Looking at a childís spelling opens a remarkable window into his or her mind. It reveals what the child understands about word structure, speech sounds, and how letters are used to represent them.
In fact, unconventional spelling is not always a sign of trouble. As children invent spellings, they sharpen their awareness of speech sounds and gain practice in associating sounds with letters. Invented spelling helps young readers discover spelling patterns on their own, an important step to becoming good spellers, faster and more fluent readers, and ultimately good writers.
Writing is thinking
Writing is a lot more than the act of spelling out words. Itís the process of giving shape to ideas.
Reading experts say that parents should create as many opportunities as possible for their children to write. Whether itís a letter to a sports idol, a thank-you note to a grandparent, or helping with your shopping list, writing gives kids the practice they need to sound out words and translate sounds into letters.
"We start reading in kindergarten and grade one," says Dr. Barbara Foorman of the University of Texas. "We should start writing just as soon."
As a child becomes a better writer, he or she is probably going to read better, spell better, and think more clearly, too.
Strategies that work
"Writing & Spelling," the fourth program in the Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers television series, introduces parents, teachers, and researchers who are using strategies that work in helping kids learn to write and spell.
- At the Johnson School in Charlottesville, Virginia, Dr. Sharon Walpole directs a reading program
called RISE: Reading Initiative for Student Excellence. Every morning, kids in the school regroup across grade levels
according to their reading level. That way, teachers can focus on a narrow range of skills during the daily 90 minutes devoted
to reading instruction.
When second- and third-grade teacher Madeline Gorman focuses on spelling, for example,
she helps the students discover spelling patterns, such as those that relate to the -ing ending, rather than having them memorize words. Together the children decide whether words should be spelled by doubling the final consonant (as in knitting), by dropping the final e (as in shaking), or by simply adding the -ing (as in speeding).
- At the Mary T. Murphy Elementary School outside New Haven, Connecticut, first-grade teacher Carol Spinello analyzes her studentsí invented spellings one on one. She does so not only to determine where a child needs help but also to find out what concepts a child has understood.
- At Poe Elementary School in Houston second-grade teacher Lynn Reichle uses the
Writerís Workshop model to guide her students through the stages of writing. They discuss ideas, and she exhorts her
students not to use "tired words." She offers ample opportunity for the children to write, revise, edit, and
finally read their stories aloud to the class.
What you can do
Guide your childrenís explorations into the worlds of reading and writing. Find excuses for them to write. Be an eager audience.
For practical strategies you can use today, see our Parent Tips. Or send a fun and
encouraging e-card to a special reader in your life.