Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hand in hand

In the last few years, I've done a lot of tutoring of our 5-8 year old boy. We started with "Hooked on Phonics" and built from there. Last year, we tackled his weak spelling through the use of the "All About Spelling" curriculum. I also do a lot of reading with him (he hates to read alone--it's a very social thing for him.)

I've figured out one thing: Learning how to spell is crucial to reading!

The opposite is also, obviously, true.

Learning the rules of syllable division, vowel and consonant teams, and all of the rules of spelling has allowed him to sound out words he never could read before. He didn't learn that at school or from any reading/phonics curriculum. He learned it by learning how to spell.

So, these seem to me to be the crucial questions:

  1. How much and at what level of detail are kids being taught the rules of spelling these days?

  2. Can structured and rules-based spelling instruction help poor readers to catch up?

  3. Is part of the reason for declining literacy rates (particularly in boys) due to a lack of strong spelling instruction? (Boys have always learned reading later than girls, but traditionally have caught up by 4th and 5th grades. That is no longer true, as early literacy is happening too early for many boys. In previous eras, how much did strong spelling instruction play a role in helping boys catch up in later elementary years?)

  4. Most importantly, can detailed spelling instruction work as a second phonics course for learners who missed the first phonics go 'round in kindergarten and first grade? Putting it another way, is strong spelling instruction a way to help boys and late-blooming girls get the phonics they need, when they need it, without the stigma of remedial instruction, or worse: retention?

There obviously is no quick-fix out of the problems of declining literacy(*,**) But my hunch is that proper spelling instruction is one of the pieces of the puzzle.

(* Especially when middle and upper-income children come to school having heard literally millions more words than children of lower-income families.)

(** And when 25% of high school boys with at least one college-educated parent, can not read a newspaper.)

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