Monday, May 23, 2011

Spelling is Tough...Help is on the Way!

Note: A modified version of this article written by me was originally posted on Cathy P. Miller's blog, (Thursday, July 1, 2010)

Spelling is tough. But, as a teacher from down in the trenches, I can tell parents that demanding kids write the same words over and over and over again is not the most productive use of your (or your child’s) time. Educators, as a whole, have shifted away from rote memorization and endless tracing of inconsequential spelling lists, and instead, are spending their time figuring out ways to engage kids. It’s my experience that kids who truly are excited
about the subject matter, learn more and learn it faster.

Kids who have issues memorizing, (there are many of them out there, not even counting those with identified learning disorders), are in a real pickle. There is no context for the words, and there are no connections made. Now, in all fairness, sometimes the words rhyme, but more often than not, they are just a group of words that the publishers of the textbook happened to think were appropriate for all the kids in a class. One size didn’t fit all. There are
so many kids whose brains just work a little differently, and for those kids, spelling can be a huge problem.

I know, I know – we have computers who do all of our thinking, right? Wrong! Even in the age of SpellCheck and T-9 Alpha, kids need to know how to spell. So, what can you do to make it easier?

Three words – authentic learning experiences!

Kids need to be engaged in what they are doing. They need to see how and why spelling is so important. Tracing a list of words does not help the kids make essential connections that they need to make to learn how to spell words, or retain that information.

I believe it’s just fine to have young kids trace words to help them learn how to spell, but here’s the catch…the words have to be meaningful! A list of random words is not meaningful.
A letter to a friend written is meaningful. A story written by the child himself is meaningful. An article about the child’s favorite sport or musician is meaningful. It’s our jobs as educators (and yes, you parents are the most important educators in your child’s life) to find out what interests our kids.

Ask questions, dig a little. What is it that makes your child tick? Use that to help her spell (and read and form letter and practice handwriting…) Here’s the greatest part – you can do all of this at home.

You don’t need fancy fonts on the computer to be able to have kids trace the words and become better spellers. Simply make the dotted font yourself using a good old paper and pencil. Ask your child to tell you about his favorite character in his favorite fairytale, and jot down what he says in that dotted font. Then, while he’s still so excited about this story about the protagonist slaying the dragon, have him trace over what you just wrote and he just
said. Let him use blue marker if he wants. He’ll probably want to read it over and over and over again. Why? Because that story is the most interesting thing in the world to him, at that moment in time.

Why Does This Work?

Just by talking to your child and writing down his story in a handmade dotted font, you are:

1. bonding with your child and learning more about her likes

2. giving her the opportunity to trace over her own story (that you jotted down)

3. allowing her the chance to see the words that are important to her, her story and in her vocabulary in the written form

4. providing new reading material that is exciting, yet familiar, and fun for her to read

These ideas are the driving force behind Letter Learning ( We remembered how our own students struggled often with spelling and handwriting, and knew how much they love their family and friends. We also know that young kids love to “be like Mom” and since 80% of greeting cards are sent by women, it seems that greeting
cards that help kids learn to write and spell are a long overdue instrument.

Take the time to sit down with your child and really talk to him. Every child has at least one thing that really piques his interest. It is your job to find it. Do that, and the rest is easy!

Now it’s your turn. Tell us what has helped you work with your child on spelling and writing.

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