Why is it that some of us just…can’t…spell???
This post is for all who are poor spellers as well as for those who parent and/or teach poor spellers. My hope is that it brings some clarity to the spelling dilemma/mystery.
Last week I read an interesting writing sample from a second grade student that I don’t know personally, her teacher approached me with questions and concern. The content of the writing was great; creative story line, full of interesting ideas and details but the spelling was about 90% phonetic and by that I mean almost every word was spelled the way it sounds phonetically rather than correctly, for example: trooth/truth, hapee/happy, woking/walking…
According to her teacher, this student is very bright, happy and a good reader who is comprehending what she reads. So what’s going on here? I was reluctant to say the “dyslexia” word because I don’t know this child and it tends to bring up a bunch of questions and oftentimes a lot of misunderstanding. Yes, I suspected dyslexia but more specifically, dysgraphia which is a condition whereby writing and spelling are hindered under the normal expectations we have for both. I’ve written about dyslexia in other posts and made reference to the fact that dyslexia effects 10-20% of the population as a whole and is also like one big umbrella under which many challenges may occur: Math= dyscalculia, Writing and Spelling=dysgraphia, Reading= dyslexia, etc. Simply put, this little girl is a right-brained, visual-spatial learner who most likely thrives in all of the visual aspects of learning and creating but when it comes to reading (in spite of her good comprehension I’m certain that she has made adaptations) and writing she’s challenged.
I feel uncomfortable with the labels we stick on students simply because they makes us feel better. They give us a certain “false” sense of perspective about kids and how to help them as we stamp a condition on their foreheads then step back to take a sigh of relief. I’m not making light of the challenges so many children and adults face when it comes to academics but flip the coin for a moment. Take any more left-brained learner and ask them to sketch a drawing of a timber wolf or a beach side landscape or a portrait of any person and you won’t get much! Just yesterday I watched a right-brained student of mine; a first grader, sketch out the most amazing and detailed SCARY monster mask I’ve ever seen… Universal Studios would have been proud! I was watching him and thinking that I could never do what he was doing!
So what’s going on here? Is there a solution to poor spelling?
Maybe but maybe not in some cases… Often times it’s recommended to throw more phonics and spelling rules at this problem but in all honestly it doesn’t solve the issue… I DO use phonics in my daily instruction with struggling kids but always and only as a secondary backup. Whole-word learning is much easier and more beneficial to visual-spatial learners because THAT’S HOW THEY LEARN BEST!