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The teaching of spelling is an important issue that arouses emotions in parents, the teachers and even the employers. Various and numerous researches on the spelling portray the importance placed on the issue. There has been concern among vicarious scholars on how best essential spelling skills can be taught. The concern has been whether spelling is best learned naturally or incidentally (Westwood, 2005, p5). The spelling problems have also left the question of whether specific time should be devoted to the spelling. Spelling problem has led to the approach where the teaching of spelling requires a well balanced writing to writing and spelling (Prior, 1996, p. 12). The spelling difficulty has left the teachers searching for methods that would enhance proficiency in spelling.
Learning to spell accurately has been found to be extremely important. The students should be assisted to master spelling. Poor spelling has been found to impede a student academic performance in a number of ways (Pollock, et al., 2004). Misspelling is seen to convey the message that the speller is either careless or his or her intelligence is lower than that of other people. The teachers can therefore identify people who are dyslexic (Westwood, p. 2)
Reading and spelling are processes that are closely associated. There is however cognitive mechanisms for achieving the heard representation that is the reading aloud or silently, and written or the seen representation of words. One can be a good reader but a poor speller, as these two skills develop differently. Spelling problems have been found to be more resistance to the teaching processes and strategy applied to remedy the problem. This is because in reading, one may be aided by the contextual clues.
In English, the basic principle of spelling is the visual identity between morphemes that are related in meaning even when they differ in pronunciation (Podhaizer, 1998, p.34). This method is especially useful to a person who is limited in vocabulary of words. Some words tend to be spelled phonetically. An example is a word like Sign in signal or paradigm in paradigmatic. Once spelling is fixed for these form of words, it then remains constant, thus these words are morphologically regular but phonemically irregular. Spelling difficulties therefore suggests teaching techniques that assists in coping with identified spelling errors. A student will for example have a difficulty in spelling medicine by spelling it as medisine. He or she can be shown other related words like medic or medicine. Such simple mnemonic will help the speller understand the underlying principle (Stubbs 1980, p. 60).
Since there are numerous set of words, one has to know the related words in order to correctly spell other related words in the language. Difficulty in spelling related words can therefore be overcome if the speller relates the difficult words. The speller will be assisted to note the difference and the alternation between the stressed and the unstressed vowels.
Some words will pose spelling difficulties since they are borrowed from other languages. Words that are from different linguistic origin will be spelt differently. The speller has to know different spelling for words, say from different nationalities. The speller should therefore know that there is no single spelling system. For example, English language can be said to be polysynthetic. The speller will identify words which do not conform to the conventional spelling format in order to identify foreign and the artificially created words.
Spelling problems can also be overcome by the etymology or what can be referred to as the historical origin of words. The words origin will explain the diachronic explanation of the borrowed word spelling. The speller should also note that the foreign or borrowed word at time posses the synchronic function, in that they are often international.
Spelling difficulty should addressed by identifying those who are not making normal progress in spelling in order to give them additional direct teaching. This will enable those with difficulty make significant progress and sustainable improvement over time (Westwood 2005, p, 2)
Theories of Spelling
There are various theories of spelling. These include some early theories of spelling such as the Luria (1970). This is one of the theories that were based on the belief that was phonically mediated. Phonically mediated method came about by literal translation of the spoken word into a written representation. This notion was however found to be inadequate in explaining the correct spelling. This was particularly difficult with irregular words, with components that did not translate exactly into the correct sound of the words. The theories also failed to account for the correct spelling of homophones, that is the words with similar sound but are different in look and convey different meaning. Examples are word like rain and reign, saw and sore and words like son and son (Prior 1996, p. 35).
Children overcome difficulty in spelling by using phonological skills for the words that they do not know. Researches have shown that children who are poor spellers also have difficulty when it comes to phonological tasks. There is an integral connection between phonology and spelling. The spelling difficulties answer the question of the poor verse good spelling techniques. Those teaching spelling should understand difficulty with spelling, to as this can trap children with learning problems at the phonology. Difficulty with spelling can be overcome if the children with spelling problems have phonological translation skills. (Prio 1996, p. 35).
The phonic mediation theory does not explain why children often produce what can be termed as phonetically correct spelling. For example a child may spell brane for brain. Difficulty in spelling also explains why regular words are more likely to be correctly spelled than the irregular words. With time, however, most children can learn the word specific problems. The good speller will rarely make phonetic type errors. Competent spelling is reliant on accessing a stored memory for a whole world. Understanding difficulty in spelling helps in translating what those with difficulty in writing are trying to write, using phonemic translation method. Some children may remember a few relevant words which will put down in the wrong order. Other will add a few unwanted letters or leave out some. Poor spellers usually do not check to what they have written to see that it makes sense. They also often do not read their spelling fro details and at times only focus on salient letters, such as the first middle and the last. There are some guessed spellings that may be impossible to understand. The difficulty here is that the speller cannot remember how the words they want should look like.
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By understanding the spelling problem, one will be able to understand whether the speller is using analogy of words that is accurately known. The teaching of spelling will also be understood better when one notes that the speller has difficulty in remembering where there are double letters. The spellers may also have difficulties in remembering which vowels belong to the last syllable of words like resistance and eminence. Such difficulties will help the teacher whether the spellers’ memory is accurate.
In such difficulty, the teacher may use the dual route model to understanding of spelling. The teacher can use the indirect print to sound translation in order to predispose the phonological errors when spelling is incorrect.
Learning spelling can be looked at as a developmental process. Spelling ability has been found to develop through a series of different stages. The teacher need to understand each child’s spelling knowledge based on the individual child spelling ability and speech knowledge (Phonemes). There is a relationship between the sounds to letter and the letter springs. The stages reflect the extent to which the children have acquired specific strategies that enables him or her to visualize when analyzing, writing and even checking words. The child has to relate the letter strings (grapho-phonic knowledge and the unit meaning in the words (Morphemes).
There are developmental stages in spelling. However, not all children will pass through each stage. Many students also finish school without reaching the final stage, where they can spell independently. Some children exhibit a lifetime difficulty in spelling.
A child’s rate of progress through the said stages is also dependent on the introduction he or she receives. It has been noted that some children have a higher natural aptitude for spelling and hence they record rapid progress. Such children will record progress even when they are given little or with no explicit teaching. Others make good progress in spelling with explicit teaching, which incorporates strategies that are necessary to propel them to higher literally levels.
The first stage of spelling is pre-phonemic. This is the typical stage of development where a child “pretends writing”. The child practices by scribbling a random string of letters. The child at this stage tends to use capital letters more often than the lower case letters. The letters scribbled at this stage have no relationship to sound. The letters in most cases revolve around the child’s name. The second stage is early phonetic, where the child attempts to use the incidentally acquired knowledge of letter names and sounds in attempts to write sounds. At this level, the child will use consonants more frequently as compared to nouns. The child by then will have started to develop an awareness of the internal sound structure associated with spoken words and even how such sound can be represented in print (Westwood 2005, p. 7).
The third stage is the phonetic stage. At this stage, the child regularly makes more accurate use of the symbol-sound relationship. This stage encompasses children in the age bracket of 5-7 years. They may still have difficulty in identifying certain sound accurately (Westwood 2005, p. 29). They at times attempt few common letter springs and morphographs.
Spelling difficulties can be noted at this stage since children with learning difficulties cannot progress beyond this level. At this level, they continue to rely on phonic clues. Such spelling difficulty can be overcome by teaching such children to apply visual imagery and even spelling by analogy.
The fourth stage is the transitional stage which encompasses children in the age of 6-11 years. At this stage the students are able to understand the more sophisticated word structure. They are able to identify sound units within sounds. They can spell by analogy and make more use of familiar words in spelling a difficult word. At this stage children will have a mental bank of familiar words (Westwood 2005, p. 9).
Independence or the fifth stage is the level of independence. Students will exhibit competence though they will fail in perfection. This stage incorporates spellers aged 11 years and above.
The spelling difficulties and experiences associated with each stage can be useful in teaching spelling. The difficulty experienced by an individual child in relation to spelling will require being diagnosed and appropriate approach chosen to remedy the situation. The child will need to use the brain, ear, eye mouth and hand when spelling (Westwood 2005, p. 9).
The teacher should be aware of the specific spelling difficulties. Some children have difficulty with spelling though they can read perfectly (Westwood, 2005, p5). Such a problem cannot be traced to intelligence or education opportunities. This spelling problem cannot also be associated sensory problems. Such children are called developmentally dysgraphic, which means they cannot learn to write words accurately (Prior 1996, p. 41).
A teacher who understands that a speller has difficulty with words spelling will avail the necessary reinforcement to such a speller without criticism. The person may be having a dyslexic problem which makes correcting the spelling problems a very difficult process.
The teacher may way the need to carry out test on spelling to continue identifying the specific areas where there are reported difficulties (Pollock et el 2004, p. 87)
As a language, English is an alphabetic language. The spelling is important if the students are to continue improving their writing and communication skills (Pennington, 2005, p.117).
Spelling has been a lesson in schools time table. The students were taught new vocabularies. Teaching was at times based on specific word families. These are words that shared common sequence of the letters. Spelling difficulties could be identified by administering weekly tests which portrayed how every student was fairing in spelling. This approach enabled parents to know what was being taught in schools. This approach posed difficulties because, though at times children could memorize words that they had been thought, they misspell words when they latter used them when writing. The spelling difficulties were also portrayed by the common spelling list for students in a class while their ability to memorize differed. Most teachers responded to this difficulty by providing different reading list. The students faced difficulties since teachers expected them to memorize certain words without having taught them the specific strategies that were necessary in aiding their attempt to learn words. Those using this approach expected that by learning through repetition and by practicing, the students would be able to establish a specific word pattern in their memories.
The approach was disputed by those who found that learning words was not about memorizing words but it also entailed understanding specific patterns that applied to a significant number of words.
Due to problem with the formal approach to spelling, the approach fell into disrepute. The children acquisitions of literacy were changing rapidly. There were significant shifts in the early 1990s to the general approach to literacy teaching. The shift was from what was referred to as skills based approach to a more holistic and integrated approach to spelling, reading and writing.
The spelling difficulty led whole language or natural approach to listening, speaking, and writing, and even reading. The approach emphasizes spelling that is dealt with within the context of what children learn daily. Separating the teaching of spelling is discouraged as such an approach is seen as decontextual; that is the approach dose not links the spelling importance and the genuine attempts at communication. Teaching word spelling in isolation does not help the child transfer the knowledge to writing.
The whole language approach therefore is based on the belief that spellers can be helped to acquire proficiency in spelling by engaging them in daily and regular writing through the constructive feedback from both the teachers and the peers. Spelling difficulties can be overcome by engaging students in an environment that is literacy rich. The children will then be exposed to opportunities to read and write and associate spelling of words with their intended purposes. The specific attention should also be given to the specific student to facilitate their spelling skills development. The immediate students’ needs are attended to during a writing task. The teacher devotes little time to whole class or group spelling activities. The approach is therefore child centered and has been seen to be more preferable to any other form of direct teaching focusing on a pre-determined spelling list or even a word analysis program.
The whole language approach to spelling can be termed as an excellent way since it individualizes instructions. It has however been found to be a very difficult approach when it comes to actual implementation. The approach is very challenging and at times not applicable in situations where there are large classrooms, where the teacher will find it impossible to give each student individual attention. The teacher can however identify individuals with the greatest needs and attend to them in the cause of teaching. This can also to situations where students are taught words in a fragmented approach.
It is essential when teaching spelling to understand that words construction involves recognizing that several words have shared letter sequence that form a predictable pattern. Words spelling difficulty has been overcome by teaching the words families and the similarities and identified differences. The teacher cannot therefore leave student to acquire the knowledge on similarities on sequence of words on incidental learning. Some words cannot be taught in isolation.
There is increased concern about the suitability of the whole language approach to children who exhibit learning difficulties. The approach was found to be unsuitable to children who required special education. Students with learning difficulties cannot therefore learn effectively through the holistic approach to spelling and literacy. Such cases require direct teaching and attention. Special needs students cannot develop an understanding of the spelling through what can be termed as random experience with words. (Westwood 2005, p. 5).
The teacher should not assume that students with spelling difficulty will learn through exposér to words (Stubbs, 1980, p63). Some teachers however continued to use both the holistic and the thematic approach to spelling. Various approaches have therefore been used to ensure that students acquire the necessary knowledge and independence in spelling. Researches have shown that independent spellers have the ability to approach word analysis in a rational manner. Independent spellers also have the capacity to be self monitoring and can also undertake self correction.
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