Do your pupils struggle with spelling? Linda Evans offers support for SENCos and classroom teachers when helping thempdf-2611172

SENCO Week – Helpsheet 19.pdf

Pupils who have weak literacy skills invariably have difficulty with spelling, and this will often have a negative impact on their willingness and ability to communicate in writing. Structured phonics programmes, now widely adopted by schools and promoted by the DCSF and the recent Rose Review, have been beneficial to many children, but there will be a significant number of pupils who, for a variety of reasons, continue to struggle.

Here we look at some of the approaches to helping them.

Support for Sencos
The first step in reducing problems with spelling is to support colleagues in developing a whole-school approach and being consistent with strategies they employ in the classroom. Regular reminders in staff meetings, on notice-boards, as part of Inset days will all help to reinforce a uniform approach (see support for teachers below).

Significant difficulties with spelling will require some sort of structured programme (often be undertaken outside the classroom, away from distraction and any possible teasing from classmates). It is useful to assess children’s spelling development in an analytical or diagnostic way before embarking on targeted work – this way you can focus on building their strengths as well as addressing their weak points, eg, has the child got stronger visual or auditory memory? Remember the importance of ‘feeling the word’ as it is written – this element becomes much stronger once the child is using joined-up writing; encourage writing ‘in the air’, on a partner’s back, in sand, with different writing implements and in different colours.

Make sure that intervention work:

  • is well structured and multisensory
  • is undertaken regularly, for short periods
  • is appropriately paced, with time for consolidation and revision but also lively enough to keep pupils interested and challenged
  • uses a range of materials and technology. Look at catalogues from Semerc, Inclusive Technology, REM; visit the Education Show (March 26th -28th) to see demonstrations and get advice. The BDA and Dyslexia Action also have excellent materials
  • links to the work in class, with the classteacher:
    • checking the child’s application of the spellings she or he has learned
    • having reminders of spellings and rules in the classroom
    • giving encouragement to the pupil while she or he is writing in the lesson
  • is regularly reviewed and evaluated against measurable progress made by the children.

Support for teachers
Everyone needs to be a teacher of spelling – even those of us who are weak spellers ourselves. Admitting to children that we need to look up a word provides good role model behaviour, so don’t be afraid of using a dictionary or spellchecker yourself, in lessons.

Think about:

  • displaying key words in the classroom or on the tables (in lower case), with a focus on topic words (‘word of the week’, etc)
  • providing plenty of practice: frequent but not too lengthy writing tasks
  • playing ‘spot the mistake’ by deliberately misspelling the word on the board and asking pupils to correct it
  • allowing pupils to try out spellings on the left-hand page of their books, while writing the correct spellings on the right-hand page
  • correcting spellings of a few selected words rather than every error (which can be very disheartening). Target particular words for students to learn, rather than making comments like ‘Improve your spelling’. Point out the ‘tricky bit’ in a misspelt word and suggest ways of remembering this in future
  • providing a selection of dictionaries and thesauruses (easy to use and phonetic)
  • always write down a spelling when a pupil asks – a verbal response is harder to remember (lacking a visual prop); whenever possible, ask the pupil to try first
  • use ‘look, say, cover, write, check’ prompts
  • play spelling games occasionally.

Support for pupils and parents
Involve the children (and their parents) wherever possible, in taking responsibility for their learning and developing effective strategies. The pointers listed on the HELPSHEET could be used or adapted to make a handout for pupils and parents.

(See Supporting Children with Dyslexia by Garry Squires and Sally McKeown for other great ideas)

NB. Learning spellings for homework can become very stressful for both children and parents when there are difficulties. The task can be boring and seem irrelevant; if too many words are given, it can seem impossible and the child knows that he is almost certainly going to fail the test on Friday morning! If you find that this is happening, discuss with the teacher how the task might be differentiated – there is no reason at all why every child in a class has to learn the same spelling list every week.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2009

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.