Have a go spelling13 Replies
In class, many of the students I work with are encouraged to "have a go" at spelling words that they aren't sure how to spell.
Often this happens when they have spelt a word incorrectly in their first draft of a piece of written work.
The teacher then points out the error, but doesn't correct it.
Instead, the student is encouraged to problem-solve the spelling, by asking classmates, trying to sound it out, thinking about word families or similar words, or looking it up in a dictionary.
If you google "have a go spelling", you can even find a free workbook for this purpose. The front of it looks like this (the fonts are a bit out of whack because I don't have the SA school font, but it is an MS Word document so this could be easily fixed):
The remaining pages have three columns: one for the word as misspelt, one for the student's "go" and one for the correct spelling as checked by an adult.
It's lovely that someone has made up a spelling resource and is prepared to share it with others.
However, I have a big problem with this approach insofar as it encourages children to look at misspelt words (in the first column), then gives them a second opportunity to misspell them, and look at that mistake too, before seeing the correct spelling.
So, if a student misspelt the word "embarrassment", the teacher would point this out and ask the student to go away and have a go at fixing it.
A peer might suggest "embarassment" or "embarrasment", which is close, but no cigar.
Sounding it out won't help much with the unstressed vowel sounds or the double letters, and could produce "imbarismint", "imbarasmant", "imbaresmunt", "imbarusmunt", "embarasmint", "embarasment", "embarassmunt" and so on, a whole cacaphony of possibilities. Scribes hundreds of years ago used to spell some words dozens of different ways, depending on their accent and preferences, which led to lots of confusion, and thus to the creation of the dictionary and standardised spelling.
Word patterns and families might help you if you already know "embarass" and the suffix "ment". But if you try to get to "embarrass" by analogy with words with similar endings like "terrace" or ""Paris", you'll get "embarrace" or "embaris". If you analogise from "peppermint" or "claimant" you might write "embarrassmint" or "embarrassmant".
To find "embarrassment" in the dictionary, you have to know that the first sound is "e" not "i", the second one is "m" not "n" (lots of kids say "enbarassment" until they know how to spell this word) and so on, and you have to have a good grasp of how words are arranged in alphabetical order.
The students I work with are more likely to practise additional mistakes using a "have-a-go" book than they are to learn anything useful about spelling.
Try misspelling a longish word a few different but phonetically plausible ways, and then looking at these misspellings for a little while. After I'd done all the above messing around with the spelling of the word "embarrassment", I really did have to get my Concise Oxford down from the shelf and check what was correct.
Reading incorrectly-spelt words adds to the likelihood that you'll remember these mistakes, and thereafter be confused. It doesn't help you spell correctly. So have-a-go books are something I'm always keen for my low-progress readers and spellers not to use.
I also get very cross when I go to my local stationery shop and find books containing pages of activities like this, ostensibly as preparation for success in NAPLAN testing:
I can hardly think of anything more likely to help a student make spelling mistakes.
Finally, I wish teachers would help students get spelling correct on their work before they put it up on the wall at school for everyone else to read. This would minimise everyone's chances of reading and remembering spellings like these:
It would also give the school bullies one less thing to tease the little kids and the poor spellers about (though often the school bullies are poor readers and spellers themselves).
Even very little kids are usually aware that spelling is an exacting not a creative pursuit (except in the culinary world – hommos, hoummous, hummus, rocket, roquette etc), and that most words only have one correct spelling.
They are keen to spell words correctly, and to fix up mistakes. I agree with them, and think we should be helping them spell the words on their work correctly putting their work on display. They can still be creative with their colours, pictures, layout and other things which are creative pursuits. I wouldn't want my mistakes put up on the wall for everyone to see.