Spelling for Writers of All Ages

Recently I signed up on Twitter. I've been thinking about what might be interesting to tweet, and finally decided to share the spelling miscues I run across.

Spelling miscues, rather than mistakes per se, represent a writer's understanding or prediction of how to spell a particular word. The first miscue I shared, Mrs. Sippy, is the favorite I've seen from a kid. The student's prediction is obvious on this one, and so creative! The miscue to the right, artickels, is spelled how it sounds, combining several sound/letter combinations (ck, el), that while not conventional in the English spelling of the word article, are phonetically correct. But looking a bit deeper I learned that artikel is the conventional spelling in German, Dutch, Indonesian and Swedish, so the spelling on this sign appears to be a combination of English spelling (ck) with that of another language. That's not a surprise outside the tasting room door of Monteillet Fromagerie!

Say, how about taking a spelling test before you read on?

Spelling miscues produced by children are wonderful windows into their thinking and much more than the *mistakes* seen at first glance. More on this to come, but you might challenge yourself to look closer to consider what the writer might have been thinking.

Last spring I worked with a 4th grade teacher colleague to look more closely at the spelling skill of her students. The current, best resource for my learning has been The Violent E and Other Tricky Sounds: Learning to Spell from Kindergarten to Grade Six. In short, the authors' research helps one understand that in any given class of learners, we can expect students to span a range of 3-4 phases of spelling development. Those in each phase benefit from different spelling instruction, as well as ample reading and writing. Extensive reading and writing are the foundation of spelling development.

If meaningful spelling instruction isn't your interest, below is some information that might be helpful. If you're like me and want to take on the study of spelling, here is one story of a school that did just that: Spelling Inquiry: How One School Caught the Mnemonic Plague.

What do writers actually do when they’re stuck?

Spelling researcher, Sandra Wilde, found that writers use five spelling strategies as they write. From less sophisticated to more sophisticated, these are:

1. Use a placeholder: “I just wrote it that way.”
2. Ask someone else: “How do you spell rhythm?”
3. Consult a textual resource: “I need a dictionary.”
4. Generate alternatives, monitor and revise: "Is arrogant spelled with one /r/ or two?” Then write out alternatives and see which one looks right.
5. Take ownership: “I know how to spell aquarium!” or “I know where I can find out how to spell it!”

The 4 spelling rules most worth learning

Only a handful of spelling rules are worth teaching, as very few of them are consistent enough to be helpful to children. Sandra Wilde suggests these (Routman, 2000).
• Put i before e (as well as the ei pattern)
• Drop e before adding a suffix
• Change y to i before adding a suffix
• Double final consonants before adding a suffix

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