Just as children learn to sit, then crawl, then walk…so too, is spelling a developmental process. In the early years, it is important to teach the names of letters and all their sounds. We should also teach students to recognise and spell “sight words” (for everyday fluency). However, rote memorisation is not an effective form of spelling instruction. We know that when children use “invented spelling”, they develop a much greater understanding of the English language than when they memorise lists of words in isolation. By “inventing” their spelling, students are thinking hard about all the symbols, sounds and patterns of the English language.
As teachers, it is crucial that we spend time analysing each child’s invented spelling and setting individual writing goals. We must know which sounds/patterns they have mastered and what to teach next. On a daily basis, our role is to move each child through the phases of language acquisition, towards standard spelling. Through differentiated instruction, we can teach letter combinations, patterns, rules, roots and derivations, as each child is ready.
Our greatest goal is for students to become writers, who naturally use text for self-expression and purposeful construction of meaning. We must design rich, significant inquiries and a stimulating classroom environment, both of which provoke students to write. In doing so, children will have an authentic purpose, context and audience for their work. We should avoid dictating words and correcting errors, as this will surely shut down their thinking processes. Instead, we can assist them to sound-out exciting vocabulary, take risks with new words and enjoy the process of making meaning on the page.