Ashton, Tamarah M., Teaching Exceptional Children
With all the advances in software that assist writers all over the world, one would think that students with disabilities would especially benefit from programs like spell checkers in word processors (see box, Writing and Text Production Today ). However, when introducing computers and word processors to Students with learning disabilities, educators often forget to directly teach skills in the actual operation of the hardware and the features of the software being used. One example of this is the use of spell checking.
What to Do When Spell Check Doesn t Check Spelling
Spell checking devices are useful to most writers. Although originally designed to detect typographical errors, spell checkers can be an excellent tool for enhancing spelling skills. Often, however, students with learning disabilities do not make effective use of this feature. one example of this is that the correctly spelled version of the word the students with learning disabilities are attempting to write is not presented as an alternative. The combination of letters that the person has typed is often not a close enough approximation of the intended word for the software to offer the needed choices. Because the word isn t there on the first attempt, students with learning disabilities will often click on Go to Next Word, Skip Word, or the like, without making a change. They are then left with a document containing many misspelled words.
As a part of two research studies with 24 teachers and 124 students, I developed the CHECK strategy to help students become more effective and independent in the use of spell checkers (Lewis, 1994-1996). These studies looked at written language issues for students with learning disabilities. Specifically, the software program Write This Way (1993) was used in the first study, and Write:OutLoud (1993-94) was used in the second.
We found that we had to teach a preskill before teaching the actual strategy. Because the spell checkers in most word processing programs will allow the user to type in the "Change To" box, explain to students that they can make a change in the spelling of their word and then click on "Change" or "Replace." If the new word is closer to the intended word it may appear in the next list of suggested words. This can be repeated as many times as is necessary. However, it is best to make one type of change at a time.
A Mnemonic to the Rescue: CHECK
The following strategy, which can be used cross-platform and with any word processing program that includes a spell checking feature, helps students remember a sequence that will get them to the desired word in the most direct fashion (see Figure 1).
Check the beginning sounds.
Most spell checkers do not work phonetically and will search for similar words beginning with the same letter as the one the writer has typed. The correctly spelled version of the word is much more likely to appear in the list of suggested words if the initial letter is correct. For example, if a student is attempting to spell the word "elephant" but has begun her word with "ul," teach her to ask herself what other letter(s) make that same beginning sound.
Hunt for the correct consonants.
After the initial sound, teach the students to alter the consonants throughout the remainder of the word. For example, one fourth-grade bay using the word processor Write This Way (1993) was writing about Egypt and wanted to use the word "pyramid." His initial attempt was "perament." The only suggested word was "per," so he continued to sound out the word and changed it to "peramed. " This still didn't give him the word he was looking for, so he altered his word further to "peramid." "Pyramid" appeared in the suggested word list and he instantly recognized it as being correct.
This young man's first and final drafts of this writing sample follow. The final draft still contains a number of grammatical errors; but by using the spell checking strategy, this student was able to turn in a document about which the teacher could give constructive feedback rather than just circling spelling errors. …