The following is Chapter 15 from my book, Teaching English, How To…. (Xlibris, 2004).
Question: In the age of computers, is spelling still a worthwhile subject in the English curriculum?
Answer: A complete spelling program aims at building confidence in spelling and includes teaching students how to spell words predictably misspelled, how to solve specific spelling problems, how to visualize correct spelling and how to proofread for spelling.
Spelling Is a Constraint on Writing
Spelling, for many people, is a dreadful ordeal. They have been hurt by criticism of their spelling. They feel as if they’re dumb, uneducated because they can’t spell. Yet, one solution to the problem of spelling is to use “invented” spelling, guessing at the spelling of words while writing and then checking and correcting spelling as the last step in the editing stage of the writing process—proofreading.
Another solution to a problem with spelling is to learn how to spell frequently used words that are likely to be misspelled.
Finally, part of the solution to spelling problems is already solved by computerized spelling checkers. Of course, computerized spelling checkers are not foolproof either. If your word is “too,” and you spell it “to” or “two,” the spelling checker will not recognize it as a misspelled word. But spelling checkers help poor spellers and people who make “typos” immensely.
Why Is Spelling a Problem?
Concern for spelling strikes fear into some students. “I’ll never use a word [in writing] I don’t know how to spell,” the Syracuse University junior stated candidly. “Bad idea,” I responded. “Your vocabulary in writing will be slim to none. You won’t be able to deliver your ideas with flair. You won’t use that rich vocabulary you’ve developed over the years. Your sentences could sound like those in the Dick and Jane readers.”
Criticism of spelling hurts. Misspellings on résumés can cause people to be passed over for interviews, with the résumé being deposited in the circular file or put into the computer’s trash can.
How did you feel when you were eliminated from the class spelling bee because you missed a word you had never seen?
Who has not had the experience of working hard to produce a piece of writing, only to have a reader say, ignoring ideas, reasoning, logic, and choice of words, “You’ve got a misspelled word here,” and that is the only comment made about the entire paper?
And who has not been penalized by teachers for misspelling words in essay tests when it’s a struggle just to write all of the ideas down in the limited time available?
Misspellings seem to suggest that the writer does not care about details, is lazy and even uneducated. Misspelling can be a serious problem, challenging one’s very character.
Finally, spelling is a significant problem because the typical spelling lesson in school is a bore. Typical lesson plan: memorize a list of words. Use each word in a sentence. Write each word ten times. Take the test on Friday. Ugh! Learning spelling words in school is—Boooooring!
So, how did I make spelling interesting to my students? In this chapter, I present methods for making spelling instruction not only painless, but interesting, and suggest a complete spelling program—for those who live in the era of the computerized spelling checker.
Next Blog: Taking the pain out of spelling.