A new focus on spelling within the curriculum has meant that we are all cursing the vagaries of the English language. Reading, spelling and handwriting are often integrated within specialist literacy programmes. Whilst many dyslexics learn to read; difficulties with spelling can persist and different skills to reading are required. Read on and help ALL of your struggling spellers!
Turns out the Middle English ‘spell’ meant to ‘preach, speak, talk and tell‘. The Proto-Germanic ‘spellan‘ meant ‘to tell’.
The first recorded instance of ‘spell’ to indicate individual letters in a word, was the early 15th Century. Naturally, children are now expected to do most of their ‘talking’ i.e. spelling, on the page.
For many children, some dyslexic, the ability to spell does not happen by magic… but after many hours of frustration, hard graft, shame and often tears.
We have one of the most opaque languages around with */44/ sounds (*two lines denote a sound) and only 26 alphabet letters! For languages with a more direct, one-to-one grapheme (letter) – phoneme (sound) correspondence: Spanish, Italian, Finnish, spelling is almost as easy as talking! …Lets just move to Spain.
We have a pick ‘n’ mix language with latin, greek and anglo Saxon influences. It’s no wonder children (and adults) get confused!
There are particular dyslexic spelling traits to be found, this isn’t exhaustive but keep them in mind. Remember the clues from my last post :Finding the Elephant in the classroom.
The Role of Memory and Spelling.
Memory is thought to comprise of Working, Short Term and Long Term; incoming information is processed via the Central Executive. Working Memory can be thought of as a shelf for temporary information; everyone has a different size shelf and overload causes items to ‘drop out’ or off.
Dyslexic learners, in particular, can start to loose faith in their memory. When put on the spot in class, it often fails them and they give up! The connections that dyslexic children make are often circuitous and complex. Give them time to find the words and they will surprise you and themselves! The act of trying means that more effective connections are made and they will remember better next time. Please, please, please, give them time.
Within short-term memory, we are thought to have the phonological loop (auditory) and the visuospatial sketchpad (visual). Importantly, these two aspects do not work together but are integrated at the Central Executive stage. In dyslexia, whilst auditory memory is often poor, the visuospatial sketchpad is unimpaired and is thought to be a strength. (Swanson, H. L., 2006)
The Central Executive is thought to drive the whole thing, as well as attention and is the boss!
Types of memory and how we can apply it to spelling:
Auditory information can be retained better if it is chunked or repeated, so teach syllable division, it might be better supported by using visuals.
Tip: A useful app for this is Chimp Fu (Nessy)
Do> use spelling routines that engage several senses SIMUTANEOUSLY e.g. writing the word, saying each letter, using scented pens. (Smell has strong links to memory).
Do> use colour, as this stimulates the visual memory e.g. You can colour each syllable differently.
Do> use tactile and some gross motor activities such as playdoh, skywriting and writing in scented salt. Gross motor activities will give feedback into the shoulder girdle and help further with a motor memory.
Do> use etymology (history of words), this provides meaning (semantic memory). Students should also be clear on the meaning of the word and know how to use it.
Do> use spelling rules (for the same reason!).
Do> let the child make up mnemonics (episodic/autobiographical) and make up stories or characters around spelling rules. Make it funny!
Do> use cursive (joined) handwriting, this will build up a motor memory (procedural). Dyslexic learners will take longer to do this. e.g. Use ‘rainbow’ writing: writing over the same word in several different colours.
Tip: one way to introduce the idea of open and closed syllables is to cut words up!
Top Ten Spelling Strategies; be inquisitive, spelling detectives!
Struggling spellers are often relieved to find there are rules to spelling as they have spent most of their time making random guesses! Teach a few at a time and ensure that they are being consistently applied before introducing more e.g. ‘e’and ‘I’ turn ‘c’ and ‘g’ into soft sounds. Encourage the student to self-check.
2. Teach your students to use a dictionary.
Using a dictionary will build fluency around the use of letter names. It builds independence and encourages analysis of words, broadening vocabulary too. It is ‘discovery’ learning.
3. Teach prefix, root and suffix.
Students can start to ‘build’ words if they understand that the same components can be removed and changed around e.g. root ‘press’ can be de+press, then de+press+ing, there is a formula to spelling, like maths.
4. Teach onset and rime.
This helps students to understand that there are patterns in spelling and it is not as random as they thought. e.g. cat, can be pat, sat, hat etc by changing the first letter! Use analogy e.g. book… gets to cook and look.
5. Teach morphology and analysis; certain groups of letters can be seen as a unit, they appear in the same place. Taking the above example, ‘press’ can be express, depress, impress etc.
6. Use a mirror. See what the lips, tongue, teeth are doing. Feel for air, vibration etc. This will help to differentiate between sounds e.g. /b/ and /p/.
7. Say the word in a funny way e.g. Wed nes day, fru it. Look for words inside words e.g. ‘here’ is in ‘there’.
8. Use multi sensory techniques: say the letter names as the word is written, play spelling tennis, make the word in play doh, write it in scented salt, write over the same word in different colours.
9. Teach cursive handwriting. This creates a motor memory and writing will flow.
10. Teach to chunk into syllables. Tip for counting syllables – place hand under chin, feel the jaw move. A syllable is created by the vowel, vowels are uttered with the mouth open.
NB for spelling tests try to group like spelling patterns together and limit spellings.
Remember: there are always exceptions to the spelling rules! Teach them.
There’s a lot of controversy around this, I personally like to use it and children enjoy it!
Bell, N. (1992) Visualising and verbalising for Language comprehension and thinking. Paso Robles. C.A. Academy of Reading Publications.
Berninger, V. W., Abbot, R. D., Nagy, W., Carlisles, J. (2010) Growth in phonological, Orthographic, and Morphological Awareness in Grades 1-6. Journal of Psycholinguist Research. Vol 39. Iss. 2, pp. 141-163.
Brooks, P. & Weeks, S. (1999). Individual Styles in learning to spell: Improving spelling in children with literacy difficulties and all children in mainstream schools. London: DfEE.
Dinehart, L. H. 2015 Handwriting in Early Education: current research and future implications. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy. vol 15 (1) 97-118.
Gathercole, S.E., Alloway, T. P. (2008) Working Memory and Learning: A Practical Guide, Los Angeles: Sage.
Henry, L., (2012) The Development of Working Memory in children. London: Sage.
Kelly, K. & Phillps, S. (2011) Teaching Literacy to Learners with Dyslexia, London: Sage.
Nunes, T and Bryant, P. (2006) Improving Literacy by Teaching Morphemes. London: Routledge.
Saunders, K. & White, A. (2002) How Dyslexics Learn: Grasping the Nettle. Patoss.
Stanton, Lidia (2016) 200 Tricky Spellings in Cartoon: Visual Mnemonics for Everyone.
Swanson, H. L., (2006) Working Memory and reading disabilities: Both phonological and executive processing difficulties are important, in Snowling, M. & Hulme , C. (Eds) Working Memory and Neurodevelopmental Disorders pp 58 – 88. Hove, Psychology Press.
Thompson, M.ed (2004) Dyslexia: Perspectives for classroom Practitioners. BDA – great book if you can get your hands on it!