Spelling – Why can’t my child spell?

I was talking with a father last week about his daughter. He’d had a phone call from the school to let him know that they had discovered his daughter needed additional help at school with spelling (they were apologetic that they hadn’t picked it sooner, she had ‘got lost in the system’). It’s many parent’s nightmare to have a call like this from school, and as a parent you might feel a whole host of emotions, including perhaps asking yourself the question, what else could I have done? What can I do now to help?

At primary school I hated spelling. I hated the little grey ‘spelling book’ we were given to write our answers to the spelling test every Friday. I’d panic if I’d missed school because I might had missed the new spelling list being handed out and therefore lost a day trying to memorise the words. As a young person who struggles with spelling (reading or arithmetic), you feel a huge sense of pressure (which only makes the situation worse – panic/fear shuts in facts significantly reduces the brain’s capability and makes it so much harder to learn). At secondary school I only wrote with words I could spell (I had developed a way around my old issue). As many as 1 in 5 children experience immense stress when it comes to spelling. it damages self-esteme, can lead to challenging behaviour and sometimes children are also given ‘labels’ that they unconsciously live up to (I get so irate when I hear or see a child labelled, e.g. as ‘dyslexic’ – it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy …. please, NEVER, label a child like this! – ok, now I’ll get back down off my soap box!).

The state of spelling in schools …

Spelling remains the most relentlessly tested of all the literacy skills. However ironically it’s the least taught. Most schools still do what what they did when I was at primary school many years ago – hand out the word list on a Monday, perhaps get the child to write out the word 10 times, or look for smaller words within the larger words, or even get them to look, cover, write and check each word – none of this is teaching spelling – yet many schools still ‘teach’ in this way.

Some schools try to teach children to spell using sounds (phonologically) – however there are 26 letters in the alphabet and more than twice the number of sounds (only about 12% of words in English are spelt the way they sound) – so ‘sounding it out’ or spelling it out loud means the child has a high probability of getting it wrong – the child is quite frankly screwed if you try to teach them like this.  Many people who struggle with spelling try to do it based on how they feel (they check once they’ve guessed at the word – ‘does that feel right?)’ and that also leads to a high proportion being spelt incorrectly. As Misty Adoniou from Australia put it …. “spelling tests are not teaching kids to spell … children that struggle to spell before the test will still struggle after the test … we need teaching not testing” – I couldn’t agree more!

Can we turn this all around, can a child love spelling so much it’s their favourite subject …  Yes!!!

Here’s the thing. What the education system fails to recognise is that good spellers and poor spellers approach spelling in a different way – they have different strategies they are running in their heads in order to spell. Research in NLP circles demonstrates that those that are great at spelling generally spell visually – that is, if they have seen the word before, they picture it in their mind and read or spell it from there. People who struggle with spelling use an entirely different strategy. Think about how you go about spelling a word? and then consider if you think you are a good speller or if you struggle.  If you want to check the strategy out in others, simply watch a few good spellers while they are spelling, the chances are that they are looking up (which is where our eyes go when we are picturing something in our head – depending on a few things it’ll be either up to the right or left of the person, but I work this out for you if you engage me to help) – so much for the old saying ‘the answer is not on the roof!’

How would it be if the teacher called you or stop you in the playground and ask you what you’d done to transform your child’s spelling … (you’d love it, I know I would …. ha!)

How would it be, if in a few hours I could teach you as the parent and your child how to spell?

… incidentally the spelling strategy works for anyone, of any age, brilliantly … It’s fun and by the end, as long as you’ve followed my instructions to install the new strategy and seen a particular word before you’ll be able to spell it forwards or backwards (funky eh?!). I spend time with the parent’s first explaining their role in teaching their child how to spell – covering the do’s and don’ts – for example we never use the word ‘Spell’ (because of the negative feelings attached to the word), we encourage you to have fun (play it like a game), you start with words with a number letters that the person if comfortable spelling (whether that’s 2 letter words, 3 letter words or bigger words – it doesn’t matter where we start). I then show the child how we do it. Once I’ve taught you all how to do the process, you then need to religious do the practice with your child for 15 minutes everyday for 10-12 weeks – but you gotta make it fun! (you must be consistent – EVERYDAY, no ifs or buts) – this installs the new strategy permanently … (and allows your child to show off in school that they can spell the words forwards and backwards – it’ll leave the teachers speechless and your child full of confidence!) …. incidentally, if you want to use this tool yourself, or you know another adult who would benefit, forward them the link to this blog post … the learner simply needs another person to help them practice for 15 mins each day over the 10-12 weeks (it’s a short term thing, to sort the old problem permanently).

If you would like me to help your child, you or someone you know, get in touch and let’s talk!

email: [email protected]