Spelling is an area where many well-educated adults lack confidence, let alone children who are still developing as writers. It’s important to have a whole-school policy for teaching this important skill. Support for SENCOs

Spelling

It can be useful to use staff meeting time (or departmental meetings in large secondary schools) to refresh colleagues’ minds about spelling policy and remind them of useful approaches.

A quick spelling test will demonstrate how tricky the English language can be when it comes to spelling: accommodate, (two sets of double consonants); commitment, (one set of double consonants); bureaucracy (‘eau’ rather than ‘o’); diarrhoea , psychologist (phonics are no help at all with words like these). You could also ask them to make a list of all the words they know which contain the ‘eez’ sound (breeze, cheese, knees, fleas, tease, these, seize) to demonstrate how the same sound can be spelled in different ways, and to list words spelled with the ‘ough’ letter combination (bough, cough, dough, enough, though, through) to demonstrate how words that look similar may sound very different. (This activity also demonstrates how stressful a spelling test can be !)

Spelling is not just a case of identifying sounds in a word and being able to relate them to letters, though this is a big help in many cases. Being a good speller also involves:

  • breaking words into component parts and writing each one correctly
  • remembering some spelling rules
  • being able to see the word in your head and ‘read it off’
  • learning some ‘word families’
  • having good visual recall and being able to tell if it ‘looks right’

Supporting good spelling

All teachers and teaching assistants should adopt a common approach to supporting spelling, which might include the following:

  • Being familiar with the school’s spelling policy (and handwriting policy − the two are interlinked).
  • Displaying word banks, ‘word of the week’, etc.
  • Taking time to introduce subject-specific, or ‘technical’ vocabulary: explaining meaning, looking closely at spelling − practising it.
  • Encouraging the writer to ‘have a go’ if the word they want to use is regular: ‘Well let’s see, there are five letters in that word… let’s put five dashes on this bit of scrap paper. I’m sure you know what the first letter is…..’
  • Support the pupil in building up the word as appropriate; the middle bit is often the tricky part − fill in this part for him if necessary. Praise for trying ‘that’s nearly right, well done’.
  • Providing the word straight away if its irregular and can’t be ‘built up’ eg ‘two’.
  • Always giving the pupil a visual model of the word rather than just spelling it out verbally , then encourage him to do LSCWC (Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check) to help him remember the word next time:

    look
    at the word carefully − ‘take a photo’ in your head; notice its shape and any double consonants, or any small words inside the bigger word ( if you can remember the ‘hoe’ in diarrhoea, you will usually get it right)

    say
    it aloud − using a mnemonic for tricky words can help, eg should… ‘O U Lucky Duck)

    cover
    it up

    write
    it down − have a go at writing it from memory

    check
    that it’s correct − if not, run through the procedure again, paying attention to the bit you got wrong.
  • Pointing out when the word is part of a family: fight, light, might, night, sight, tight.
  • Being ready to admit that you’re not sure of a spelling − far from being a sign of weakness, this provides a good model for the speller. Refer to a word bank on the wall, at the back of the text book or get out a (spelling) dictionary and look it up together.
  • Making sure that there is a range of dictionaries and thesaurus in the room for pupils to use − and actively encouraging their use.

Next week we’ll consider interventions and the use of technology to help with spelling.

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SEN News This year’s Education Show at the NEC near Birmingham is on between Thursday 28 February and Saturday 1 March. As always, SEN will have a major presence at the event with some 50 exhibitors lining up in the dedicated Special Needs Zone, but you will find that many exhibitors outside the zone also have resources for SEN. Do try to go. The hall is huge, and there’s a lot to take in (especially if you also try to fit in one or more of the SEN seminars). Planning is essential if you want to make best use of your time there − so many visitors end up with a dazed look, dragging round huge bags full of catalogues and fliers destined for the bin once they have been hauled around all day and carried back to school. Think about what you want to get from the day (resources for reading/writing/maths; ideas for CPD; software; specialised equipment; mobility aids) identify suppliers most likely to be of help, and plan your route round the hall accordingly. Lots of publishers have special offers and discounts for the exhibition, so it’s a great opportunity to stock up on professional reading material and up-to-date titles for the staffroom/SENCO bookshelf.

Nasen will be hosting the SEN information point (SN-X10 in hall 11). www.education-show.com

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This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2008

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.

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