Does Phonics Make Kids Bad Spellers?
September 3, 2015
Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
A mother was reading to her child from a zoo book before his nap. As they were flipping through the pages of the book, the child points to a picture and proudly says,
“Look Ma! It’s a frickin’ elephant!”
Trying to hide her shock, Mom takes a deep breath and asks, “What did you call it?”
“It’s a frickin’ elephant, Ma! It says so on the picture!”
Mom reads the caption under the photo . . . And so it does . . .
I have to admit. This one made me laugh.
We’ve all heard the jokes about how teaching phonics causes people to become bad spellers. “Heck! The word phonics can’t even be spelled phonetically. It doesn’t start with an f!”
Believe me, I get it. There are so many irregular spellings in the English language how is any kid–let alone one with reading challenges–supposed to learn to spell?
You may be surprised to hear that, from an educational perspective, research shows that a strong foundation in phonics actually helps children learn to spell. Despite all of the irregular spellings in the language, which children will have to learn, instruction in letter-sound correspondence (phonemic awareness) and learning the basic phonetic rules help children learn to be better spellers.
Louise Spear-Swerling wrote a peer-reviewed article with some tips on how to teach spelling to children with disabilities. Here are some highlights:
Suggestions for teaching spelling to students with Learning Disabilities
1. Provide systematic phonics instruction that incorporates teaching of phonemic awareness. Although this kind of instruction alone will not be enough to make students flawless spellers, phonemic awareness and phonics knowledge form an essential base for accurate spelling in English.
2. Teach common irregular words from the earliest stages of spelling. It is virtually impossible to generate a complete sentence without common irregular words such as of, what, and were. Therefore, it is important to begin teaching these kinds of words early, as one part of a more comprehensive spelling program. Multisensory techniques involving repeated tracing and saying of words can be especially helpful for introducing irregular words . . .”
3. Teach useful spelling rules. Although many English words do not conform to consistent rules, some generalizations are very helpful to students, such as rules for adding endings to words with a silent e (make, making) or to closed syllables that end in a single consonant (sit, sitting).”
Here’s a link to Louise Spear-Swerling’s complete article, Spelling and Students with Learning Disabilities in LD Online: The Educator’s Guide to Learning Disabilities and ADHD.
But I like a good spelling joke as much as the next person. So, please feel free to Tweet your phonics spelling jokes to me @HookedonPhonics.
Examples of sources
Peer-reviewed journal articles:
Bruck, M. (1990). Word-recognition skills of adults with childhood diagnoses of dyslexia. Developmental Psychology, 26, 439-454.
Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (1991) Tracking the unique effects of print exposure in children: Associations with vocabulary, general knowledge, and spelling. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 264-274.
Greene, J. (1996). Language!: Effects of an individualized structured language curriculum for middle and high school students. Annals of Dyslexia, 46, 97-121.
Invernizzi, M., Abouzeid, M., & Gill, T. (1994). Using students’ invented spelling as a guide for spelling instruction that emphasizes word study. Elementary School Journal, 95, 155-167.
Other helpful sources:
Adams, M. J. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Ehri, L. C. (1998). Learning to read and learning to spell are one and the same, almost. In C. Perfetti, L. Rieben, & M. Fayol (Eds.), Learning to spell: Research, theory and practice across languages (pp. 237-269). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Moats, L. C. (1995). Spelling: Development, disability, and instruction. Timonium, MD: York Press.
Moats, L. C. (2000). Speech to print: Language essentials for teachers. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Co.
Treiman, R., & Cassar, M. (1998). Spelling acquisition in English. In C. Perfetti, L. Rieben, & M. Fayol (Eds.), Learning to spell: Research, theory and practice across languages (pp. 61-80). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.