Teaching Spelling

Spelling has traditionally been considered part of the English/language arts curriculum. For most educators and the public, spelling is still defined as "the knowledge and application of the conventional written representation of words in the process of writing, and the instruction necessary to develop this knowledge." However, at the end of the twentieth century, this definition was extended by many psychologists and educators to include spelling knowledge. Spelling knowledge means an understanding of how the written form of words corresponds to their spoken counterpart and underlies the ability to decode words while reading and encode words while writing.

In America, from colonial times and well into the nineteenth century, the teaching of spelling was unified with the teaching of beginning to read. Reading was in fact taught through spelling. The first spelling books to emphasize American pronunciation and spelling were by Noah Webster. His lasting influence was the presentation of words in lessons in accordance with the frequency of occurrence in spoken and written language, as well as by type of spelling pattern.

By the 1840s, the role of books narrowed and focused only on spelling, or orthography and pronunciation, or orthoepy. Spelling retained a separate niche in the language arts curriculum and was embodied in separate spelling textbooks, or basals, throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century and well into the 1900s. Over the years, the manner in which spelling was taught was criticized and on occasion the necessity of teaching spelling as a separate subject was questioned, but most classroom teachers supported the idea that formal emphasis on spelling was necessary.

Spelling basals continued to be published until the end of the twentieth century. However, as a result of the move towards integration of the reading and language arts curriculum, spelling was included as a component in reading basal programs. The amount of time and emphasis on spelling as a subject declined. During the 1980s, new spelling programs were offered by some educational publishers, but they did not become widely popular until the end of the 1990s. The 1990s saw the publishing of a considerable number of resource books that were intended for classroom teachers and focused on the teaching of spelling or word study.

Most English/language arts educators agree with research supporting the importance of engaging students in as much reading and writing as possible, while also encouraging young children to apply the knowledge of the alphabet and of letter and sound relationships in their writing. However, there is lack of agreement over the degree and nature of attention allocated to spelling instruction in addition to ongoing reading and writing activities. Traditionally, there have been two common perceptions regarding how students may learn to spell. The one approach is rote memorization through repetitive practice and the other is acquisition through more natural engagements with reading and writing.

According to most studies that have addressed the issue, students need to examine words apart from the more natural contexts of reading and writing. This examination should include reading and writing the words in contexts, involving students in comparing and contrasting words in an active search for patterns.

Thanks to an advance in the assessment of spelling knowledge, teachers are able to determine more effectively and efficiently the range of spelling ability among the students and plan instruction accordingly. Spelling inventories and analysis of students' writing can be included in such assessment. Selection and organization of words for examination should be done on the basis of the developmental appropriateness of the words, the type of spelling pattern they represent and their familiarity in reading. While in primary grades students' ability to discover commonalities at the alphabetic, within-syllable pattern will be examined, later exploration will be focused on similarities at the between-syllable patterns and morphological level.

Teachers must be knowledgeable about the spelling system so that students at all levels can understand the role of pattern and meaning in the system. As a result of this, there is a renewed emphasis on the development of teachers' knowledge base about the nature and structure of spoken and written language, as well as about the relationships between the two. If teachers have such a foundation, they can in turn develop in their students a conscious attitude and habit of search, reflecting the expectations that the nature and occurrence of sound and meaning patterns in spelling are logical and negotiable most of the time.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Learning to Spell: Research, Theory, and Practice across Languages
Charles A. Perfetti; Laurence Rieben; Michel Fayol.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Spelling: Caught or Taught? A New Look
Margaret L. Peters.
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985
Reading and Spelling: Development and Disorders
Charles Hulme; R. Malatesha Joshi.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Improving Spelling
Ediger, Marlow.
Reading Improvement, Vol. 39, No. 2, Summer 2002
Invented Spelling: An Assessment and Intervention Protocol for Kindergarten Children
Ahmed, Sarah T.; Lombardino, Linda J.
Communication Disorders Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 1, Fall 2000
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Making Progress in Writing
Eve Bearne.
Routledge Falmer, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Spelling and Language Study"
Elementary Literacy Lessons: Cases and Commentaries from the Field
Janet C. Richards; Joan P. Gipe.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Guiding Students' Spelling and Decoding Development"
Word Recognition in Beginning Literacy
Jamie L. Metsala; Linnea C. Ehri.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "Why Spelling? The Benefits of Incorporating Spelling into Beginning Reading Instruction" and Chap. 13 "Phonics and Phonemes: Learning to Decode and Spell in a Literature-Based Program"
Language-Based Spelling Instruction: Teaching Children to Make Multiple Connections between Spoken and Written Words
Berninger, Virginia W.; Vaughan, Katherine; Abbott, Robert D.; Brooks, Allison; Begay, Kristin; Curtin, Gerald; Byrd, Kristina; Graham, Steve.
Learning Disability Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring 2000
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Strategic Spelling Skills of Students with Learning Disabilities: The Results of Two Studies
Darch, Craig; Kim, Soobang; Johnson, Susan; James, Hollis.
Journal of Instructional Psychology, Vol. 27, No. 1, March 2000
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Facilitating Word Recognition and Spelling Using Word Boxes and Word Sort Phonic Procedures. (Research Brief)
Joseph, Laurice M.
School Psychology Review, Vol. 31, No. 1, Winter 2002
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Language Exploration and Awareness: A Resource Book for Teachers
Larry Andrews.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Grammar, Spelling, and 'Good English'"
Making Progress in English
Eve Bearne.
Routledge, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "Teaching Spelling" begins on p. 224
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator