Language-Based Spelling Instruction: Teaching Children to Make Multiple Connections between Spoken and Written Words

By Berninger, Virginia W.; Vaughan, Katherine et al. | Learning Disability Quarterly, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

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


Abstract. Two studies addressed issues related to multiple instructional components in early intervention for at-risk spellers learning to spell polysyllabic words. The first study was a follow-up to a prior second-grade intervention. The fast responders in that study, who were monitored at the beginning and end of third grade (n=61), maintained their earlier gains during third grade when treatment was withdrawn. Thirty-two of the slower responders received continuing tutoring (12 individual tutorials over 6 to 8 weeks in late fall of third grade), which showed that children who received only alphabet principle training did as well as those who received combined alphabet principle and syllable awareness training (syllable types in English), but that these children required 24 practice trials for short-term mastery of spelling specific words. The second study with a new sample of 48 third graders also evaluated the effectiveness of alphabet principle training only versus combined alphabet principle and syllable awareness training. In these 24 individual tutorials over a 4-month period beginning in the fifth month of third grade, the combined treatment was more effective for (a) spelling untrained transfer words, (b) spelling taught polysyllabic words with a final, silent e syllable, and (c) transfer to phonological awareness. A two-tier model for early intervention to prevent spelling disabilities is proposed. In the first tier alphabet principle is taught (along with other sound-spelling connections for words including syllable awareness) and applied to practice in spelling words singly and in text (teacher-directed dictation and child-generated composition). In the second tier children are monitored in the year following early intervention and continuing tutoring is provided if necessary.

Although there has been considerable research on early intervention to prevent reading disability (e.g., Foorman, Francis, Fletcher, Schatschneider, & Mehta, 1998; Torgesen, Wagner, & Rashotte, 1997; Vellutino, Scanlon, Sipay, Small, Pratt, Chen, & Denckla, 1996), there has been relatively little research on early intervention to prevent writing disability. This lack of research on early intervention for writing is problematic for three reasons. First, the degree to which transcription skills (handwriting and spelling) are developed is the best predictor of the amount and quality of written composition in the elementary grades (Graham, Berninger, Abbott, Abbott, & Whitaker, 1997). Yet, current educational practice minimizes explicit instruction and practice of transcription skills (Graham, 1999), thus placing children who start out at the low end of the continuum for spelling and/or handwriting skill at an even greater risk for developing significant problems in written expression later in schooling (Berninger, 1999; Berninger & Swanson, 1994). Second, although reading disability may be the most common form of learning disability early in schooling, many children overcome their reading disability only to struggle with persisting spelling problems. Little is known about how to prevent or remediate spelling disabilities compared to reading disabilities. Third, some students have no difficulty in learning to read but their relatively poor spelling skills are masked or ignored until requirements for written assignments increase, usually in the upper-elementary grades. By then, it may be more difficult to overcome the spelling problems than it would have been had the student received early intervention to prevent this kind of transcription problem in the first place.

Graham (1999, Table 1) summarized five instructional approaches that have been found to be effective in teaching spelling to students with learning disabilities. What all five approaches have in common is that they meet the criteria for a structured language, multisensory approach to word learning (e.g., Clark & Uhry, 1995; Moats, 1995). …

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