A New Way to Think About Spelling & Reading Instruction

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A common misconception about teaching spelling is that the student simply needs to learn which letters to use and in which order to list them when writing a word. It is also assumed that once a child can learn to decode words* reading has been taught. Both are far from accurate.

Words are part of a language, and they not only have meaning, but they change meaning depending on how they are used in a sentence. To understand words (vocabulary), one must understand how they relate to one another, how adding word parts (prefixes and suffixes), or how changing tense affects the meaning of those words and ultimately the sentence. Much of teaching spelling and reading involves building a student’s vocabulary, and both the ability to spell a word accurately and to comprehend what one is reading depend on the student’s solid grasp of the language.

For example, a young child trying to spell the unfamiliar word official might simply try to replicate the sounds he’s hearing. His attempt might come out like ufishole. However, once a student understands that the root word is office and that the C at the end of the word is giving us a hint as to which Latin spelling of /sh/ we will use (CI), he will have a better chance of spelling the word correctly. Yes, the student needs to learn to associate the sounds of the word with the letters that represent them, but the pronunciation of words can often lead us astray. One must ALSO understand how the language works in order to progress in spelling. Likewise, a student reading the word official might have good word attack skills,** but unless he has a good vocabulary or has a working knowledge of how words are built (office + adjective ending al), he will be at a loss when reading text containing this word.

Somehow we understand that we have to learn grammar and vocabulary when we decide to learn a foreign language. However, teachers somehow overlook the fact that the students using the language they speak naturally still have to learn about how that language works. The student has to learn vocabulary and then how to place words together following the grammatical rules that govern the language. Learning how to spell the words falls right into that process. For example, when learning to spell Spanish verbs, one learns that there are AR, ER, and IR verbs. Those endings will affect how those verbs are spelled in the various conjugations. One cannot separate learning the grammar, vocabulary, and spelling when learning the written version of a foreign language. Learning English is no different.

That’s why the language lessons in the The Wise Guide are so brilliant. The student gets to experiment with the vocabulary of his language in meaningful ways to discover for himself how English works. The activities take spelling and reading to the next level!

*the process of translating a printed word into its sounds and thereby being able to recognize the word
**the ability to use the phonics code to decode an unfamiliar word

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