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TEMPORARY SPELLING Andrew P. Johnson, Ph.D. Minnesota State University, Mankato www.OPDT-Johnson.com This is an excerpt from my book, Teaching Reading and Writing: A Guidebook for Tutoring and Remediating Students.
Should you insist on correct spelling when children are getting their initial ideas on paper? Short answer: no. • Real writers edit last. There’s a time and a place to look at spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors: in the editing stage (the 5-step writing process is be described below). We want students to view their writing as a way to capture and express their ideas. Overemphasizing conventional spelling in the beginning stages can inhibit writing. This reflects what happens in the real world where initial drafts are messy things with lots of spelling and grammar errors. In the writing of this book, my initial drafts had lots of errors (less so because I have grammar and spell check). The point is that we should treat our students just as real writers are treated. Real writers have messy first drafts and revisions. They edit during the final phases of their writing. • Good writing is writing that expresses ideas efficiently and effectively. Good writing is different from error-free writing. Attending to the mechanics of writing is very important, but it must occur in the appropriate place in the appropriate way. Indeed, spelling, punctuation, and grammar should be seen by students as elements the help them transmit their message more effectively. Errors in any one of these areas will dilute or diffuse the message. Editing of spelling, grammar, and punctuation should occur near the end of the writing process, after a piece has been revised many times. This enables students to see editing in the context of effectively delivery of their message. • Temporary spelling enhances the flow of ideas. When students are writing and they ask how to spell a word, tell them to use as many letters as they can hear to hold the idea. This is called temporary spelling, a placeholder for the idea. You might want to have students underline their temporary spelling so that they’ll know which words to give attention to during the editing phase of their writing. • Learning to spell is a developmental process. Won’t children learn the incorrect spelling if they are allowed to use temporary spelling to hold the idea? No. Learning to spell, like learning to talk, is a developmental process. We proceed through a series of stages until we become mature talkers or spellers (Gentry, 2006). There is very little correlation between the use © Andrew P. Johnson, Ph.D.
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of temporary spelling and students’ performance on spelling tests. There is some evidence to support the idea that the use of temporary spelling will speed students’ development or process through the various stages (Manning & Clark, 2005). • Teachers need to model temporary spelling. Students often feel reluctant at first to have a go at unknown words (especially low achieving students). They don’t want to be seen as doing something wrong. You must create the conditions whereby temporary spelling it acceptable. This can be done by composing in front of students, thinking out loud as you do so. When doing this, use a word you may not know how to spell (even if you have to pretend you don’t know how to spell it), and tell students, “I’m not quite sure how to spell this word, so I’m going to just use a few letters to hold the idea. I’ll come back to this one later.” • Temporary spelling enables success. Temporary spelling enables teachers to recognize and value students’ ideas. It also provides a venue for low achieving readers and writers to experience success. Often students who have reading difficulties experience nothing but failure for the entire time they are in the classroom. Is it any wonder that they sometimes act out? Earning success can contribute to students’ overall academic achievement. Success contributes to positive self-esteem. Self-esteem is highly correlated with students’ achievement (Woolfolk, 2007). (Note: This doesn’t mean the high self-esteem necessarily causes high achievement - just that the two are strongly related.) • Temporary spelling improves phonemic and phonetic awareness. Temporary spelling improves children’s ability to hear letter sounds within words (Martins & Silva, 2003). This is called phonemic awareness. It also improves their ability to make connections between letters and sounds. This is called phonetic awareness. These are both important prerequisite skills in learning to read. By listening for sounds and using as many letters as they can to hold their ideas during the writing process, students become better able to hear and make letter sound relationships. Examples of early authentic writing.
My nephew Thor was 4 years old when he wrote me this letter. I have a little pug named Mickey. He “letter” contains a picture, plus his spelling of “Mickey” and then his name.
© Andrew P. Johnson, Ph.D.
My nephew Sven was six years old when he wrote this. “I love you Andy with all my heart.”
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References Gentry, R. (2006). Breaking the code: The new science of reading and writing. Heinemann Graves, D. (1983). Writing: Teachers and children at work. Portsmouth, NH Heinemann. Manning, M., & Underbakke, C. (2005). Spelling development research necessitates replacement of weekly word list. Childhood Education, 81, 236-239. Martins, M.A. & Silva, C. (2003). Relations between children's invented spelling and the development of phonological awareness. Educational Psychology, 23, 4-16. Woolfolk, A. (2007). Educational psychology (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
© Andrew P. Johnson, Ph.D.