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Why Is Spelling So Hard?

Whether we like it or not, the ability to spell words correctly is quickly becoming an art form. As literacy rates in the U.S. continue to decline, spelling skills go with them. Not to mention, literacy and its definition have gone through many changes throughout the years. As literacy used to be defined, it simply referred to reading and writing. Anymore, literacy skills encompass all forms of communication from reading, writing, speaking, and listening. 

Therefore, many educators are still catching up with the changes and focusing their literacy lessons on reading and writing skills (grammar)–which is not a bad thing. But the skill of spelling is often left behind as the focus on other aspects of literacy get the main stage. This is caused by a few different phenomena. 

Death of Drill and Kill

Direct instruction used to be the go-to method for educators to teach their students. Direct instruction means lecturing and drilling. In other words, dumping information into students’ brains without checking for true and meaningful understanding. Traditional educators give spelling tests weekly, testing students on all sorts of higher-level and lower-level words. They give out a list, tell students to study, provide a test, grade the test, and move onto a new set of words. Very little time goes into actually teaching the students how to spell these words or why they are spelled as they are. This means that students have not been taught the morphological rules that go along with the English language. Which leads to more bad spellers.  

Greek and Latin Roots

If you were in school before the 21st century, Greek and Latin roots were your bread and butter in English class. Teachers valued their role in learning how to decode and describe words. Lately, the focus on Greek and Latin roots has diminished as teachers move toward a more holistic approach to teaching vocabulary. This wouldn’t be a problem, if Greek and Latin roots didn’t play a large role in our ability to read and understand words. With a strong knowledge of these root words (which are responsible for the creation of the English language and several other romantic languages) one can read, spell, identify, and describe nearly every word in the Oxford English dictionary. That is because the knowledge of one Latin root can help you understand close to 30 or 40 words. And once you understand words, spelling them becomes second nature. 

Less Reading – Less Spelling

Reading. The enemy of the English Language Arts instructor. Getting students to read in this social climate is like pulling teeth. Students don’t want to spend their valuable time reading books when they can be reading Instagram posts. The trouble with this is those social media posts often contain slang, jargon and expletives, which serve little purpose to students developing their reading and spelling skills. If you spend less time looking at, studying, and learning new words, the likelihood of replicating those words in your spelling goes right out the window. Luckily, the prescription is simple. Read more.