The return of spelling

Spelling is back in fashion, says the Christian Science Monitor.

While the elite are memorizing rare words in anticipation of the 78th annual competition in Washington June 1-2, seventh-graders in Rebekah Guerra’s English class are still trying to master the basics. Some mistakes in a recent assignment: diddent; edjucation; coledge; pronounceation; absolutly.

Mrs. Guerra offers daily spelling instruction, a sign of the subject’s comeback after several decades of neglect. While schools still vary greatly in their approaches to spelling, a growing emphasis on basic skills in US classrooms has prompted more teachers to return to explicit spelling instruction – instead of simply assuming that it’s a skill that kids will pick up as they go along.

When whole language caught on in the 1980s, spelling was considered unimportant.

“The theory was that if kids were readers and writers, in effect they would ‘catch’ expert spelling,” says Richard Gentry, author of “The Science of Spelling.”

Didn’t happen.

Spellcheck can lead students astray, Guerra says.

Spellcheck can be a “godsend” for people who struggle, she says, but if students don’t already know enough proper spelling, they “look at a list [of alternatives] that a spell-checker gives them and just pick any old word. They end up with … words they never intended!”

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  1. I never understood the whole language concept to preclude the teaching of spelling. What it did do was to introduce some common sense into grading and say that if you are teaching English composition, grade on composition and not on spelling. Under whole language, spelling was supposed to be a separate subject.

    The entire whole language controversy could have been avoided if the whole language theory was actually implemented, and not just those parts which made the teachers’ jobs easier. E.G., whole language theory never said not to use phonics when necessary, but that was how many teachers interpreted it. new math suffered from the same problems–it was never truly implemented. In its most basic form, new math just said that we’ll now call mathematical terms by their proper name beginning in elementary school, e.g., groups of things were to be called “sets.” But to all those elementary teachers who were terrified of math, this was a radical departure, and their resistance doomed new math from the start.