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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. 

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Know Your Learning Style

Learning happens in many forms. We learn from our parents who instill values and culture. We learn from our teachers who encourage traditional education. We even learn from strangers about sociology and the way the world works. Learning happens all the time, all over the world. And it looks like a lot of different things. Learning takes place through trial and error, practicing or drilling, repetition, reading, and much more.  

Because learning is such a big part of our lives, it is important to understand the ways in which we learn best. There are four basic ways in which an individual can learn new information. Of course, there are versions of learning that encapsulate more than one of these styles. But generally, we learn best in very specific ways. 

Visual

If you are a visual learner, you learn best through representations. This could look like graphs, infographics, charts, and images. Visual representations provide the visual learner with important information in a format that is easiest to understand. Many of the visual learners I have encountered also possess photographic memories. Or the ability to take a snapshot of an image and remember its details. Many visual learners excel in the arts and have a proclivity for painting or drawing.

Auditory

If you are an auditory learner, you learn best through sound. Sound is an interesting thing. Auditory learners can learn through podcasts, music, and even direct-instruction like lecture. Because these learners take in information through their ears, they excel in learning that gives them an opportunity to truly listen. College is a great place for auditory learners because courses at the university level are often lecture-driven. They can listen to the information and keep it in their long term memory for later recall. 

Tactile

If you are a tactile learner, you learn best through touch. These individuals tend to have hands-on jobs as adults. Jobs like fixing cars, flying planes, or rewiring electricity currents in a home. Tactile learners excel in classes like mathematics when manipulatives are involved. They likely excel in classes like physics and chemistry where they perform hands-on experiments or lab work. Tactile learners have the ability to take things apart, learn about them, and put them back together. 

Kinesthetic

If you are a kinesthetic learner, you learn best through movement. An example of strong kinesthetic learners would be professional athletes. Kinesthetic learners like to move, and use their bodies to understand concepts and make connections. They do their best work when the learning prompt requires movement of some kind like learning stations or gallery walks. Some studies have also shown that kinesthetic learners perform better during work when they have the chance to move as well. Examples of this would be standing desks, yoga ball chairs, and treadmill desks. 

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Creating a Culture of Mistakes

Mistakes are a big part of life and learning. Unfortunately, mistakes are also often connotated with failure or stupidity. Which is largely incorrect and simply horrifying for educators. When children make mistakes, especially during their formative years, these mistakes allow their brains to focus on what not to do. Or non-examples. Non-examples can be very powerful in learning for helping to establish a precedent and a baseline for development.

I remember the feeling I used to get as a student when I made mistakes. I was instantly de-motivated and lost the confidence to continue. This was likely due to the fact that I held myself to really high standards as a student, and truly still do. Mistakes were detrimental to me, not because they weren’t helping me learn, but because the culture surrounding mistakes was so negative. Changing that culture is necessary to shift the focus to self-efficacy and confidence. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Wrong

Like me, many students are afraid to be wrong or make a big mistake. Mistakes aren’t thought of as accidents, or bad things that simply happen to you. Mistakes are thought of as decisions that individuals make through their own autonomy that leads to negative consequences. Which, in turn, makes mistakes the individual’s fault. This is not true. 

Mistakes are caused when our brain fails to create fissures, or spark synapses. And this is not our fault. When we are learning, we take in so much information all at once that details can often fall through the cracks. This is nothing to fear. It just means you need to practice the concept more and correctly in order to spark those missing synapses. 

Mistakes Lead to Learning

Mistakes are key to your learning. Without them, we have little idea about what not to do. And as we learned above, non-examples are powerful learning tools. When you make a mistake, your brain corrects the behavior or knowledge and begins storing the correct information. This can be made more difficult the longer we have practiced incorrect behavior or knowledge. Which is why mistakes in school are so critical. Your teachers can pick up on your mistakes, teach you the proper application, and begin guiding you down a journey of re-entering the correct knowledge in your brain. AKA – Learning!

Mistakes Help Track Growth

Growth and development are what all students strive for. Whether that is in a specific subject or culturally and socially. All students are looking for some amount of learning to occur and to be able to track that learning over a period of time, like a school year or a school career. Mistakes help educators keep track of that growth through formative assessments that clear up any confusion about what content is being stored and what content is falling through the cracks. Therefore, when we make mistakes, we can see them clearly in our growth cycle in the form of wrong answers on tests or incorrect usage of literary devices in essays. We can then use that data to determine what we have learned and how long it took us to learn it. 

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Meet Our Team

Jennifer Hovey, Owner

Jen

Jennifer was born in Twin Falls, Idaho and graduated from Boise State University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. She comes from a family of teachers so a career in education was a natural fit. She has owned and operated Huntington Learning Center in East Boise for over six years and has enjoyed helping hundreds of students gain confidence through learning. Jennifer lives in Boise with her family, including three kids and a dog. Jennifer often works alongside her husband flipping houses in the Treasure Valley and enjoys watching her youngest daughter play softball and basketball. 

Emily Wilson, Center Director

Emily

Emily was born in Craig, Colorado and attended the University of Northern Colorado where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary English Education. She was taught by very passionate teachers in high school who engaged with their students and ultimately encouraged Emily to one day become a passionate teacher as well. Since then, she has taught 7th grade English and worked diligently to change her students’ perspectives toward school and help build their academic skills and character. Some of her favorite memories with long-term students are having the opportunity to watch them grow and progress over time. Emily loves to travel the world and has recently spent time in Ireland, France and Scotland. Along with her husband and her two dogs, Archie and Sloane, Emily enjoys doing anything outdoors including camping, hiking, biking and most recently, canoeing. She spends her free time reading both nonfiction to challenge her brain and fiction to stimulate her creativity.

Keleah Pinto, Assistant Director

Keleah

Keleah was born in Redmond, Washington and attended Boise State University where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in English Composition. She is currently attending graduate school and is working toward earning a Graduate Certificate in Secondary Education with an endorsement in English Language Arts. During her undergraduate years, she worked as a Learning Assistant for ESL students from all over the world, including; Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Turkey, Spain and India. Keleah lives in Boise with her partner and their 130 pound Great Pyrenees, Cassius. In her free time, she enjoys playing Frisbee Golf at Ann Morrison Park, kayaking on Lucky Peak, and camping at the Bonneville Hot Springs. She also loves plays and volunteers in the Theater Arts Department at BSU as a backstage dresser.

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What’s the Actual Problem?

When children are doing poorly in school, adults often jump to the conclusion that it’s only about their grades or their achievements in class. This is not always the whole story. A student struggling in school could be going through a lot of things. Things that are often hidden from the surface. 

As a student who went through a lot of emotional ups and downs during my formative years, I know this to be true. Students aren’t always simply struggling with the material or content. Often, they are falling victim to other issues that trouble young kids. 

Trouble in School

Bullying

When a child is being bullied in school, this severely impacts their ability to be successful. Bullying often causes self-harm, depression, anger, and many other troubling things. All things that can negatively impact a child’s experience in the classroom or at recess. If your child is exhibiting signs of being bullied or is perhaps the bully, seek intervention from the school counselor. They are trained professionals and can offer additional resources to help stop the bullying. 

Malnutrition

This impacts students far more than parents or teachers can know. There are approximately 12 million students across the United States who experience food insecurities. Many of these students can be found in rural areas as well as intercity schools. Malnutrition causes lack of energy and inability to focus and can lead to rapid grade decreases. It’s important for parents and teachers to know that if a child is struggling in school – it could be starting in the home. 

No Connections with Teachers

Having a teacher in school that you trust and respect can be huge. Especially for young children. If your child has not developed a positive relationship in their school, this can be very detrimental. Teachers are role models for their students. Without role models, kids can begin to make poor choices or go down rough roads. Help your child develop a positive relationship with a teacher in school. That way, if they are struggling, they have someone to talk to as well as someone to push them to work harder. 

Trouble at Home

Household Changes

Changes in the structure of a child’s household impact them much more than we know. Whether they are moving from their childhood home or their parents are going through a divorce, these changes have the power to impact a child’s performance in school. This makes those teacher connections even more important. Teachers who understand what changes are affecting their students can help prepare them for the changes as they approach. This is the same for parents. 

Income Changes

Changes to a families’ income status can also affect a student’s grades. If mom or dad gets laid off from an important job, this often leads to changes that students aren’t always prepared for. Be aware of how this might impact your kids and try to get ahead of it. Teachers – be on the lookout for students who aren’t assimilating well and offer strategies. 

Sibling Disputes

For single child families, this isn’t so much of a worry. But for families like mine (five kids and two parents), sibling disputes are a real issue. I fought with my sister all the time and this definitely impacted me at school. I found myself getting distracted by my emotions and getting behind in lessons. Watch how your children interact with each other and be sure whatever dispute they have doesn’t follow them to class. 

Trouble with Life

Anxiety or Depression

Students suffering from anxiety or depression have a high chance of failing classes. This is due to the emotional stress one is under when they go through what I call “emotional slumps” or the extreme lows. These disorders are not to be ignored. If you think your child may be experiencing symptoms of these common ailments, speak to a medical professional immediately. Get ahead of the emotional trauma and do what you can to ensure your child doesn’t get behind in school because of it. 

Fear of Failure

This one is all too real for the “perfectionist” student. These students love holding themselves to high expectations and pushing themselves to be the best. And there is nothing wrong with that – until they don’t reach those expectations. Fear of failure can result in lowered motivation and lack of confidence – two very devastating emotions. If you have a student who strives to be perfect, help them set realistic yet challenging goals. Teach them that failure is a key aspect of learning and success. 

Lack of Motivation

People often call these children lazy. The reality is that these students are likely focusing their efforts elsewhere. Maybe they are a tremendous soccer player, a top player in the world of Call of Duty, or a devoted humanitarian. No motivation in school is hard to get through, but it isn’t the end of the world. For teachers, offering incentives can be hugely helpful. Whether that’s a pizza party for a high class average on a test. Or a promise to have open computer time after a project. Incentives can be powerful tools when wielded responsibly.