The Strategic Spelling Skills of Students with Learning Disabilities: The Results of Two Studies

By Darch, Craig; Kim, Soobang et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2000 | Go to article overview

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


This study reports the results of two experiments which focused on the use of spelling strategies by students with learning disabilities and the relative effectiveness of two different approaches for teaching spelling. In experiment 1, qualitative research method was employed with four elementary students with learning disabilities to document the spelling strategies used during an structured interview, a formal spelling test and an informal writing activity. The data revealed 4 categories of spelling strategies: (1) rule-based, (2) multiple, (3) resource-based, and (4) brute force. Patterns that emerged from the data suggested that students with learning disabilities mostly used inappropriate spelling strategies (e.g., brute force, multiple, resource-based). Based on the results of experiment 1, experiment 2 compared the effectiveness of two highly dissimilar spelling instructional approaches (i.e., rule-based strategy and traditional method) to 30 elementary students with learning disabilities. The results of the experiment 2 showed that students with learning disabilities learned spelling words more effectively when the rule-based teaching and correction procedures were employed in three different probes and one post-test. This study concludes with a discussion of the instructional implications for students with learning disabilities in spelling.

Although most students with learning disabilities have difficulty with all forms of written expression, spelling problems rank as some of the most difficult to remediate and are common (Cone, Wilson, Bradley, & Reese, 1985; Bruck, 1988). One explanation for why students with learning disabilities have difficulties in spelling is that they are less adept than students in general education in devising and utilizing spelling strategies that allow for the systematic application of spelling rules. As Bailet and Lyon suggest (1985), deficient rule application "either alone or in combination with other processing difficulties, can cause spelling difficulties" (pg. 164). Similarly, Bruck (1988) has argued that disabled spellers "do not use their knowledge of soundletter correspondence rules when spelling unfamiliar words" (p. 66).

To better understand why students with learning disabilities have spelling problems, it is important to identify the strategy use when they attempt to spell words. It is equally important to find the most effective approaches for teaching spelling. There is a growing awareness that for instructional models to be effective with students with learning disabilities, academic programs must be tailored specifically to meet the needs of those students (Darch & Simpson, 1990). Unfortunately, many students in the United States receive very little formal instruction in spelling (Gerber & Hall, 1987) nor has there been extensive empirical research with students with learning disabilities that have investigated and compared different approaches to teach spelling (Seda, 1989; Vallecorsa, Zigmond, & Henderson, 1985).

Presently, very few studies exist that focus on the strategy use in spelling of students with learning disabilities. Horn, O'Donnell, and Leicht (1988) found that high school students with learning disabilities had difficulties correctly using sound-letter correspondence rules in spelling when compared to young adults without disabilities. Among the sample of this study, 50% of the adults with learning disabilities made 60% or more of their spelling errors as phonetically inaccurate errors. Similarly, Carlisle (1987) found that ninth-grade students with learning disabilities were less apt to use morphological spelling rules relative to the fourth-, sixth-, and eighth- grade general education students. For the general education students, knowledge of the morphernic components of words appeared to be used in spelling dictated words. For example, knowing how to spell the base form (e.g., equal) preceded and aided in learning to spell the derived form (e.

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