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What makes a good speller?

Even with today’s technological advances, having average to good spelling skills are still very important in life. After all, spell-checkers can only help you if your spelling is close enough to the correct version, and most of us still have to handwrite notes for others at home, school and work daily without the aide of computers. But why is it that some people are such great spellers, and others struggle so? While the answers can vary from person to person, it often has to do with one or more of the three main components of spelling:

Phonetics or phonics. The first step in our quest to master written language is to develop an understanding of the sounds various letters and combinations make when pronounced (phonemic awareness). As well, we also need to be able to hear those various sounds when spoken in words (phonological awareness), and be able to break a word down into its sound parts and/or syllables in order to use phonetic spelling correctly. Strong phonological awareness is very important for long-term success in both writing and reading.
SUGGESTIONS: Does your child need support with phonics? There are many great phonics-based books and programs available for home use. Ask your child’s teacher or school for resources or recommendations. While a lack of instruction can delay a student, phonemic and phonological awareness can also be impacted by learning disabilities (verbal and non-verbal), as well as hearing loss. If you child has difficulty matching the proper letters to sounds, consider asking your doctor about these possibilities.

Visual Sequencing. Unfortunately English is not a purely phonetic language – having various letter combinations which produce the same sounds. So, another skill good spellers need to develop is the ability to visualize what longer words look like. Some students have poor visual sequencing skills and tend to reverse letters and/or write words backwards.
SUGGESTIONS: Look at the shape of properly spelled words. Reverse spelling may go away on its own, however, it could also be a sign of dyslexia and/or a learning disability. Again speaking with your school, doctor, and/or a Speech & Language Pathologist can often result in strategies to help build these skills.

Word Patterns and Rules. Spelling is often taught through the examination of word families— looking at the patterns common to many words. Good spellers often pick up these very quickly (intuitively), while poor spellers do not and/or can remember them for a short time—like until the test—and then forget them. As well, knowing certain spelling rules and “secrets” can also help a person become a more accurate speller. For example, do you remember, “i before e except after c?” Learning these various rules and patterns can make a big difference in the life of a speller.
SUGGESTIONS: There are many resources online and in print form that can help raise your awareness of all the rules, patterns, and secrets hidden in our language. One of the best, and one I use in my own classroom, is Sharing the Secrets: Teach Your Child to Spell, by Ruth Scott (Available at some libraries and most online bookstores.)

Rob Stringer, BA, Bed, CPC is an educator and International Parenting & Youth Coach. Visit www.YouthCoachCanada.com or call 905-515-9822.