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Teacher to Teacher: Helping Children Become Better Spellers – What Parents Can Do

By Lynne R. Dorfman

As educators and parents, we realize the importance of spelling words accurately. Research indicates that spelling words in isolation does not transfer into daily writing habits. Even though the Friday spelling tests are popular, the time invested into memorizing word lists for spelling purposes does not really translate into time well spent. Parents like to help their children with schoolwork, and studying for weekly spelling tests is something most parents feel comfortable with in contrast to helping their children with math homework (since the new math programs develop math concepts and skills in a very different way than parents and grandparents remember).

If we give our parents a weekly or monthly suggestion to work on to help their children build spelling awareness and insight, then we may be able to substitute help with weekly spelling lists for something much better – the frequent and simultaneous use of real strategies that will help our students become better spellers. Rather than rote memorization, spelling should be viewed primarily as a process of conceptual learning. In reading and writing workshop and across the day, we teach students to spell in a variety of ways. We want our students to use their phonemic awareness, phonics-based classroom instruction, environmental print (word walls, etc.), tools such as dictionaries (on-line as well as print versions such as, thesauruses, spellcheckers, and knowledge of patterns to engage in written response.

In addition, we want our students to rely on a growing understanding of root words and their affixes gained in word study work in core reading time and guided reading groups as well as work embedded into content areas. Furthermore, our students should use their clear mental images of words often found in the stories, poems, and textbooks, and chapter books they are reading as well as their own written work to strengthen long-term spelling memory. Read more