The title of Simon Horobin’s book poses what, at first blush, seems a banal question. I imagine most readers would answer “Yes, spelling matters”, perhaps adding “though not as much as some believe”. Yet if the question of how words should be written is not uppermost in many people’s minds, its nagging everyday presence is nonetheless evident in the existence of spell-checkers and school spelling tests, as well as in mnemonics designed to help us with spellings, such as the venerable “i before e except after c”.
So begins Henry Hitchings’ very interesting Guardian review of Simon Horobin’s book Does Spelling Matter? As one of those highly challenged when it comes to spelling, this is always of great interest to me. In fact, I feel one of the many ways computers turned me into a writer were their non-judgmental spell checkers — I could get a ton of errors and no one besides me and my little computer would ever know.
Next week I will be doing one of my favorite lessons with my fourth grade class — having them “translate” a few pages of Mourt’s Relation, the 1620 publication of the Pilgrims, in its original form which means unconventional spelling. Understandably, fourth graders love it!
As a teacher I think spelling matters because we all want to be able to read what the other writes and some sort of standard spelling makes that possible. I tell my students that they should want their readers to notice what they have to say and not be distracted by spelling errors. Being a poor speller myself and a professional writer I’m able to help them understand the importance of being able to independently correct spelling without feeling a shame about it.
We still use an old-fashioned spelling workbook in my classroom with a weekly spelling test. I feel it isn’t so much about learning spelling rules as much as it is study skills — becoming adept at figuring out written directions in the book as they will have to do in standardized tests, having to memorize a bunch of words as they will when they begin foreign language in 5th grade, and so forth. (Of course, we also do a lot of work separately with their writing and proofreading.) I’m curious — do other classroom teachers out there still use such programs? If not, how do you teach spelling?