In many schools across the country, weekly spelling tests are a routine of the past. Sound spelling, learning to spell by seeing words in context or using “word sorts” may be the preferred teaching method. Unfortunately, children who struggle with reading also may struggle with spelling, and, as these fundamental skills are interconnected, both struggles need to be addressed. Here’s how to help your child read and spell better when they dually struggle with phonics and literacy:
- Understand your school’s teaching methods and schedule a meeting to discuss concerns
- Learn what’s causing your child’s struggles (this could be medical like ADHD or dyslexia)
- Use flashcards at home
- Create DIY spelling tests (your teacher can help!)
- Use an online reading program that improves literacy and phonics
Uncover the Teaching Methods
To advocate for reading help, parents should first schedule a meeting to discuss concerns with the child’s teacher (or an administrator). A child who has reading difficulties may also lack phonetic proficiency, which may impact spelling; some reading programs at school may help address both issues. To address only spelling issues, though, parents may wish to inquire how the school is teaching phonics and spelling.
If your child’s school has dropped the skill and drill lessons of the past, it’s important to understand the educational theories behind teaching the skill of spelling and the reason for dropping those tests. The Edvocate explains that “they only test a student’s short-term memory and do not assist students in gaining spelling mastery.” Schools may feel that the test is ineffective at helping children gain this important skill.
That being said, not everyone agrees with the argument against spelling tests. In an article for Psychology Today aptly titled “A Fad that Fails our Children: No More Spelling Tests!,” J. Richard Gentry, Ph.D., referenced a story about fifth-graders who were learning to spell words well below grade level (2nd grade). The district dropped spelling tests from the curriculum, and the kids seemingly fell behind in spelling. Gentry states in his article: “There is, to my knowledge, no independent empirical research to show that sorting words to “discover” the patterns in a “word study program” works for spelling.”
What Can Cause Spelling Concerns?
Spelling difficulties may be caused by how a child hears a word (auditory processing), ADHD or dyslexia. Spelling issues also can coexist with reading difficulties (in the case of dyslexia), or one problem may impact the other. What strategies can parents use at home to provide enrichment beyond the classroom? And can some methods make difficulties worse?
Flash Cards and Spelling Tests
Sometimes rote memory could be the best way to help a child learn to spell. If a school opts out of spelling tests, parents can practice at home instead. Most schools still provide a list of words kids should know how to spell. Parents can use flashcards to help kids memorize the words or do an at-home spelling test.
If your child’s school doesn’t provide a list of grade-level words, ask the child’s teacher for a list. Many teachers are happy to provide enrichment if the teacher knows a child is struggling.
Should You Use Pattern Cues?
Many schools still teach patterns for proper spelling. There are certain rules that guide spelling, and when children learn them, the patterns sometimes make spelling much easier. You’re probably familiar with the saying: “I” before “E” except after C or when sounding like A as in “neighbor” and “weigh.”
However, our language is full of words that don’t follow the rules. As Merriam-Webster notes, “weird” and “seize” (among other words) don’t follow this rule! While common spelling rules may seem beneficial, they also aren’t always accurate.
The randomness of our words—and their spelling—could confuse some kids who rely on patterns for phonetic understanding. For other kids, patterns may work fine and they may understand that the patterns aren’t perfect.
Should You Teach Sound Spelling?
Should you encourage younger students to ‘sound spell?’ This may lead to interesting guesses regarding phonetic grouping. Remember the weirdness of ‘weird’ and how it doesn’t follow the “I before E” rule? If you spelled weird the way it sounds, it might look really “weerd” or “weard!” Kids may think “weird” rhymes with beard…and just spell accordingly.
But what if spelling isn’t the only issue? If reading is impacting spelling how, then do you get a child on track?
Reading Apps Like Readability Can Help!
To improve both reading and phonics, choose a learning method that focuses on mastering both fundamental skills. Online reading programs like Readability can help boost a child’s comprehension and help increase phonetic awareness.
A virtual reading tutor will correct any pronunciation errors during reading instruction, and proper pronunciation impacts a child’s ability to fully comprehend text. If a child reads the word “hope” as “hop,” the mispronunciation immediately changes the meaning of the text…and the story.
Reading lessons also grow with the child. This allows them to advance at their own pace so that lessons aren’t too challenging or too easy. Stories also feature vocabulary that is appropriate to the child’s reading level. As children learn new words through the lessons, parents could notice that their child struggles with the pronunciation or identification of those new words.
It’s important that parents read with their child because when parents engage in lessons with their children, they can identify struggles. If you notice that your child is stumbling over a particular word during Readability lessons, zero in on that word. Write it down, if possible. As you gather vocabulary words that seem to cause reading struggles, create flashcards to help improve mastery…both in reading those words and in recognizing their phonetic structure. If for any reason you are not present, don’t worry, all these struggles will come up in the reports that Readability has designed for parents. In them, you will be able to follow your little reader’s performance and progress!.
Not sure if Readability is right for your child? Try it for 7 days for FREE!