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.
Proofreading: A Different Type of Reading
Students need to be taught to proofread. Proofreading is different from normal reading. If students proofread the way they normally read, from beginning to end, they are likely to read too quickly, passing over the details of words—which they should do when reading normally. However, proofreading requires careful examination of the details of every word.
One technique I have used to slow students down so that they do notice the details of every word is to have them read backwards, from the end of the composition, starting with the last word, to the beginning of the composition, finishing with the first word. I did not invent this technique, which has been around a long time, but it works. In addition, this technique catches typos, which, with the advent of word processors, seem to have increased. Students are thereby able to see the misspelled words they might have passed over if reading for meaning normally from beginning to end. Proofreading would, of course, be taught and reinforced in every grade as part of the writing program’s instruction in the writing process.
Misspellings are an embarrassment. Misspellings seem to suggest that the writer is lazy, careless, pays no attention to details, has no desire for excellence and is uneducated. I have heard some employers say that a misspelled word on a résumé means that it is relegated to the trash can, either literally or on the computer.
The use of spelling checkers on computers should make the problem of spelling much less of a problem. However, even with computerized spelling checkers, I think spelling instruction is still important. Knowing how to spell frequently misspelled words enables writers to write fluently and confidently, and “inventing” spelling, guessing at the spelling of words as they write, enables writers to use a broad vocabulary, unconstrained by concerns for spelling, which will be checked as the last step in the writing process.
In a society in which a single misspelled word invites criticism that hurts, confidence in spelling helps to eliminate one significant fear of expressing ideas in writing. Taught the way I suggest, after words are introduced, spelling takes only the first five minutes or so of class, helps to settle the class down, and focuses only on words likely to be misspelled. Teaching students how to proofread for spelling is also essential. In my opinion, and, in the opinion of the students with whom I have worked, spelling instruction is much more efficient—and even enjoyable—this way. B y the way, marking the tests at night even if all of my five classes were involved with spelling instruction, required less than fifteen minutes—for the five classes.
That’s how I taught spelling. RayS.