Spelling is an issue that comes up in the writing process. Some students have little trouble using conventional spelling, but others have a great deal of difficulty spelling words correctly.
When a child first learns to write, they are expressing their thoughts on paper, and recording them so that they may be read back at a later time. Early writing may look like scribbles or random letters scattered over a page. At this stage, a child understands that writing is supposed to communicate a message, even though they may not be able to write that message in a way other people can understand.
After a while, children start to associate sounds with certain letters, and begin to sound out the words that they are recording. At first they may record only the first sound (d for dog, s for swim) and then gradually add the last sound (d g for dog, s m for swim). The middle sounds are often not recorded until much later.
That takes us to inventive spelling, where children write down some of the sounds that they hear. Since the most important part of writing is expressing ideas, we encourage children to write their thoughts down before they forget them. We can always go back later to help them fix up the spelling. Some of the strategies we then encourage children to use are:
- using the classroom word wall (i.e words that are often used: and, because, my, the….)
- using charts and posters in the room (i.e. if we’re talking about Energy, we have a list of vocabulary that relates to what we’re studying about Energy on a chart in the classroom)
- sounding out the word
- thinking of a similar word you already know (i.e. if you know how to spell cat, you may be able to spell that)
- looking in a book if you remember seeing the word
- looking the word up in a dictionary
- asking a classmate if they know how to spell the word
and then asking an adult for help.
Although spelling is one of the easiest parts of writing to fix, it is not the most important. For instance, a well-developed piece of writing with a strong argument and expressive vocabulary, and some spelling errors, is stronger than a simple piece of writing using simple words that the student used because they could be spelled correctly. We encourage students to use descriptive language like turquoise instead of green, or whispered rather than said. Green and said may be safer words that the student knows how to spell correctly, but turquoise and whispered adds more detail and voice to their writing.
The ultimate reason we write, though, is to express ideas so that another person will be able to understand them. That means that at an end point we do have to use conventional spelling. For pieces that are being published (to be shared with others) a final part of the writing process is to proofread and edit the writing.