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Spelling: Teach by emphasizing patterns of English language

Monday, January 23, 2017
Deborah K. Reed
Deborah Reed, director of the Iowa Reading Research Center, talks to participants at the 2nd annual Celebrating Iowa's Successes event in Des Moines about better equipping struggling readers on how to spell.

Spelling words may seem to come easier for some students than others, but when taught the right approaches, struggling readers can improve their spelling ability.

That’s the message Iowa Reading Research Center Director Deborah K. Reed shared with attendees at “Celebrating Iowa’s Successes – Early Literacy Symposium” in Des Moines.

“Spelling often correlates with decoding ability, so we see students who do not understand letter-sound relationships struggle with both reading and writing words,” Reed said. “Students who are not confident in their spelling abilities frequently avoid writing altogether. When they write, they do so with less fluency and often restrict their word usage only to what they are sure they have memorized. This problem grows as the words students are expected to read and write get longer and rarer in the upper grade levels.”

Students who are having difficulties with reading will often be able to read and spell single syllable words, but Reed says multi-syllable words that require decoding skills, such as breaking these words into meaningful parts, can be a challenge. The key is teaching these students the strategies that will allow them to spell more advanced words without having to memorize endless amounts of individual words.

Reed said there are three main spelling instructional techniques. Phonetic spelling is based on the regularity of letters that correspond with specific sounds (and vice versa). Rule spelling concerns the affixing of words and the joining of syllables to make new words. And situational spelling helps students determine the graphemes used to represent sounds based on the position of letters within the word.

“When spelling instruction emphasizes the patterns of the English language using these three approaches, it can be very beneficial for students of all ability levels,” Reed said. “Furthermore, an improvement in spelling ability contributes to students becoming better overall readers and writers.”

Deborah K. Reed
Deborah K. Reed

Choosing the right words for students to practice spelling is also crucial. Reed recommends choosing spelling lists that contain words that are already in their oral vocabularies and are about two grade levels below their current reading level. Words chosen should reinforce the patterns taught in the three spelling approaches.

The event, sponsored by Collaborating for Iowa’s Kids (C4K), is designed for district and building administrators, reading specialists, classroom teachers, and instructional coaches. In addition to presentations from literacy experts like Reed, schools from across the state shared their stories of successful literacy strategies and interventions.

Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on November 29, 2020 at 11:12pm.