Friday, June 3, 2011

The Effective Teaching of

Part of my research this semester has been to look into what my department’s data (Single Word Spelling Test (SWST), NAPLAN and weekly spelling tests) said about how effectively we were teaching spelling. This was followed by the design of an intervention plan, implementation of this plan, observations of the outcome, and finally, a reflection on the effectiveness of the intervention.
Unfortunately, due to privacy considerations and professional restrictions, I am unable to share the data and details of the intervention in this forum. However, I can most certainly share with you the Literature Review aspects of my research relating to effective spelling teaching methods.
There were four main areas of research sought in relation to the issue: reports of a drop in relative margins of spelling ability in Middle School students; examples of any implementation of research-based programs of professional development in spelling; reports highlighting problems with current spelling practices; and, research-identified effective spelling teaching strategies.
Following a comprehensive search of current and past research literature, there appeared to be no reports specifically documenting a decrease in relative margins in spelling ability. There was however, a range of research reports (literature and study-based) into spelling practices in general and the use of this research in staff development.
Chase-Lockwood and Masino (2002) outlined an action-research project in which they used research-identified effective spelling practices in two year 5 classes. Over a period of sixteen weeks, they compared students’ abilities in the intervention classes with students in a control class. Significant improvements were demonstrated by the intervention group so new practices were adopted by staff.
A number of authors examined problems with current practices. For example, it was found to be hard to train teachers to use different methods from how they had learned to spell.  ‘Since teachers tend to teach how they were taught it is particularly difficult to change beliefs and practices around spelling.’ (Asselin 2001)  In addition, many teachers were not familiar with the range of effective spelling teaching strategies and spelling terminology (Chase-Lockwood & Masino 2002; Hurry et al, cited in Devonshire & Fluck 2010), nor did they feel adequately prepared to teach spelling. Milton, Rohl and House (2007), reported on a survey regarding teacher preparedness to teach spelling. They relayed that only 34% of secondary teachers felt they had received adequate preparation to teach spelling. Nunes, Bryant, Hurry and Pretzlick (2006) taped and analysed 46 literacy lessons and discovered little use of morphemes in the teaching of spelling. Their discussions with teachers, uncovered some explicit knowledge about aspects of morphemes, but quite significantly, very little knowledge about the meaning function of morphemes.
In the Sunday Herald Sun (April 17, 2011), it was reported that ‘academics and primary education specialists say Victorian children are paying the price for the Education Department’s failure to heed a federal literacy taskforce’s calls for a return to a structured phonics-based teaching.’ An included quotation of Dr Hempenstall, child psychologist and RMIT senior lecturer, stated that ‘Teachers today have not been taught to teach phonics in a systematic way...They don’t receive that training in their teacher education, so it doesn’t matter whether or not people are saying, “We do teach phonics”, they need to have that training for it to have an impact.’ (Heard 2011, p. 18)
There is evidence for teacher dissatisfaction using whole-word spelling approaches and the belief this method is ineffective; yet teachers feel unprepared to change how they teach spelling (Fresch 2007; Heard 2011). A possible outcome of this has been for teachers to approach spelling instruction in their own, often varied ways (Schlagal 2002).
Chandler (2000) and Sipe (2008) discussed a common notion that secondary teachers shouldn’t need to teach spelling and if students can’t spell by the time they reach secondary school, they probably won’t. Chandler explains how she realised that ‘as students’ writing and thinking become more complex, so do their spelling needs, and their teachers must be prepared to meet those needs.’(p. 88) She further outlines that ‘when we hold secondary students accountable for poor spelling but do not provide any deliberate instruction regarding how to become better spellers we abdicate our absolutely essential responsibility to help all the writers in our care move forward from wherever they may be in their development.’ (p. 94)
Comparisons were made between the use of natural or incidental learning methods and the more traditional spelling instruction approaches (Asselin 2001; Graham 2000). Conclusions from these authors and others (e.g. Gentry 2010; Simonsen & Gunter 2001) were that the systematic, sequential, explicit teaching of spelling was far more successful than reliance on natural or incidental learning. The Department of Education, Science and Training in The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (DEST 2005) noted that ‘where there is unsystematic or no phonics instruction, children’s literacy progress is significantly impeded, inhibiting their initial and subsequent growth in reading accuracy, fluency, writing, spelling and comprehension.’ (p. 12)  
Also identified as problems were approaches to differentiation consisting only of weaker students having shorter lists of words (Culpepper 2010) and an over-reliance on phonological strategies misleading students into believing that spelling always represents sound (Devonshire & Fluck 2010).  
Considerable research and discussion took place in identifying the most successful strategies and ideas for the teaching of spelling. These effective strategies included:
o   Word selection should be based on word patterns and include some high frequency words (Chase-Lockwood & Masino 2002; Gentry 2004; Scott 2000). Words learned from the 4000 most commonly used words list account for nearly 98% of words used in ordinary writing (Schlagal 2002; Sipe 2008). Have students use their writing to keep personal spelling dictionaries or journals; add these words to spelling test lists (Chandler 2000; Gentry 2004).

o   Explicit instruction Teach students explicitly about morphemes as well as phonemes (Devonshire & Fluck 2010; Griva & Anastasiou 2009; Hauser 2007; Nunes et al. 2006; Simonsen & Gunter 2001). Systematically study the predictable patterns in spelling (Chandler 2000; Gentry 2007; Nunes et al. 2006; Simonsen & Gunter 2001). Use etymology to assist students in spelling and understanding meaning (Chandler 2000; Hauser 2007).

Explicitly teach students words that have irregular spelling; these need to be learned using the whole-word approach (Simonsen & Gunter 2001).

o   Strategies for students A combination of spelling strategies is essential (Chase-Lockwood & Masino 2002; Devonshire & Fluck 2010).
Generate a class list of spelling strategies, help students to monitor their own use of these strategies (Chandler 2000; Sipe 2008), teach students how to approach unknown words (Gentry 2004) and how to isolate errors that they commonly make in their writing (Chandler 2000).
Use a large range of word learning activities such as LSCWC (Look Say Cover Write Check), word sorts (classifications), word wall, matching, transformations, word construction, analogies and game-based practice (Gentry 2004, 2010; Graham 2000; Hauser 2007; Schlagal 2002).
Have students self correct their own Pre-test and test words and rewrite incorrect words no more than three times (Gentry 2004; Schlagal 2002).
o   Differentiation Use Pre-tests to find out words students know and to individualise instruction (Gentry 2004, 2007, 2010; Hauser 2007).
Students achieving 50% or less on Pre-tests should be working at an easier level as they are unlikely to successfully retain studied spellings (Gentry 2004; Schlagal 2002). Further to this, Schlagal found that students given a spelling book at the lower, instructional level performed better when tested at the end of the year on words of a higher level. It was thought this was because they had successfully grasped principles that could be applied to more difficult words.
Place students into three fluid groups – at grade level, above grade level, below grade level. Apply the same spelling rule or pattern to all groups but modify the length of the words. (Gentry 2004, 2007; Wallace 2006)
o   Application and Review It is important to regularly review previous spelling words and principles (Chase-Lockwood & Masino 2002; Schlagal 2002; Simonsen & Gunter 2001).
Emphasis needs to be on the application or connection of spelling knowledge to writing. In addition, capitalise on incidental opportunities to teach spelling (Devonshire & Fluck 2010; Gentry 2007, 2010; Hauser 2007; Schlagal 2002).
Automaticity is important; this can be achieved through daily, short bursts of practice and the use of technology (Gentry 2004, 2007, 2010). Capitalising on the student use of, and ease with technology draws upon students’ ‘funds of knowledge’ (Moll 1992).
Encourage reading – research has shown that ‘as little as 10 minutes each day can have a significant impact on students’ spelling and vocabulary.’ (Hauser 2007)
For older students particularly, highlight the importance of correct spelling and shift this responsibility to the student (Sipe 2008).

Asselin, M 2001, 'Supporting Students' Spelling Development', Teacher Librarian, vol. 29, no. 2, p. 49.

Chandler, K 2000, 'What I Wish I'd Known about Teaching Spelling', English Journal, vol. 89, no. 6, p. 87.

Chase-Lockwood, R & Masino, M 2002, 'Improving Student Spelling Skills through the Use of Effective Teaching Strategies', Master's thesis, St Xavier University.

Culpepper, MA 2010, 'Spelling Instruction: Effective Practices', unpublished minor thesis, Sierra Nevada College.

DEST 2005, Teaching Reading: Report and Recommendations, The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Devonshire, V & Fluck, M 2010, 'Spelling development: Fine-tuning strategy-use and capitalising on the connections between words', Learning & Instruction, vol. 20, no. 5, pp. 361-71.

Fresch, MJ 2007, 'Teachers' Concerns About Spelling Instruction: A National Survey', Reading Psychology, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 301-30.

Gentry, JR 2004, 'Discovery #5: There Is One Best Way to Teach Spelling - Assess and Teach Individual - Hooray for Spelling Books!', in The Science of Spelling: The Explicit Specifics That Make Great Readers and Writers (and Spellers!), Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH, pp. 55-76.

Gentry, JR 2007, 'SPELLING COUNTS', Instructor, vol. 116, no. 7, pp. 39-41.

Gentry, JR 2010, Effective Strategies for Teaching Spelling, <>.

Graham, S 2000, 'Should the Natural Learning Approach Replace Spelling Instruction?', Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 92, no. 2, p. 235.

Griva, E & Anastasiou, D 2009, 'Morphological strategies training: The effectiveness and feasibility of morphological strategies training for students of English as a foreign language with and without spelling difficulties', Journal of Writing Research, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 199-223.

Hauser, I 2007, 'A Way With Words: Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary in the Middle School', Practical Strategies: Literacy Learning in the Middle Years, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. i-xi.

Heard, H 2011, 'Old-school plan to give literacy a lift', Sunday Herald Sun, April 17, 2011, pp. 18-9.

Milton, M, Rohl, M & House, H 2007, 'Secondary Beginning Teachers’ Preparedness to Teach Literacy and Numeracy: A Survey', Australian Journal of Teacher Education, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 1-20.

Nunes, T, Bryant, P, Hurry, J & Pretzlik, U 2006, 'Why morphemes are useful in primary school literacy', Teaching and Learning Research Programme, no. 14, retrieved 12/04/2011, <>.

Schlagal, B 2002, 'Classroom Spelling Instruction: History, Research, and Practice', Reading Research and Instruction, vol. 42, no. 1, pp. 44-57.

Scott, CM 2000, 'Principles and Methods of Spelling Instruction: Applications for Poor Spellers', Topics in Language Disorders, vol. 20, no. 3, p. 66.

Simonsen, F & Gunter, L 2001, 'Best Practices in Spelling Instruction: A Research Summary', Journal of Direct Instruction, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 97-105.

Sipe, RB 2008, 'Teaching Challenged Spellers in High School English Classrooms', English Journal, vol. 97, no. 4, pp. 38-44.

Wallace, RR 2006, 'Characteristics of Effective Spelling Instruction', Reading Horizons, vol. 46, no. 4, pp. 268-79.