basic phonics rules and can actively apply
them to both reading and spelling. This
usually occurs by the end of grade one.
The Skill Development stage is the most
difficult, the most critical, and the lon-gest for emerging spellers. Because forty
seven percent of the high frequency
words in English are not phonetic, spelling becomes primarily visual at this
stage. Confusions occur because words
like bird can be spelled berd, bird, or
burd. Said should be sed, and the word
green could be spelled grean or grene.
Phonics rules need to be de-emphasized
at this stage because they are no longer
needed to help the student learn to read.
In fact, over-teaching phonics at this
stage can actually create unnecessary
confusion in spelling.
The overriding neurological principle
is that, because of the numerous inconsistencies in our language, new and different spellings must be connected to context in order for the new information to
be linked correctly and permanently to
long term memory. As students encounter new vocabulary over several grade
levels, spelling skill increases as they apply consistent strategies to master more
complex spelling patterns and a greater
number of irregularly spelled words.
Research tells us that the best, most ef-
fective way to teach spelling is through
copy work and dictation. Select a short
one hundred word passage about some-
thing interesting, at least one grade level
below the student’s reading level. Have
your student copy the passage three or
four days in a row, each time marking the
“tricky” parts in the words, things like
vowel chunks (ee, ea, ai), double conso-
nants or silent letters. Then, at the end
of the week, slowly dictate the passage
back to your student, helping them as
they go. Give them immediate feedback
if the word is incorrect, and try to link
those “tricky” parts to words they already
know. Praise them lavishly when they get
those non-phonetic words correct. Keep
the session short—not longer than ten to
twelve minutes. Then count the words
they got right, including the words you
worked on together. Spelling is hard, and
they need to leave the table feeling suc-
It takes a long time to learn to spell this
Dr. Karen Holinga is a Reading Specialist
who is the author of the new Spelling You
See program recently published by Demme
Learning. www.demmelearning.com. Karen
successfully homeschooled her own three
children for twelve years and after struggling
to teach one of her own children to read,
Karen determined that she was going to help
others with the same problem. Now she does
over 700 assessments each year, focusing pri-
marily on solving reading problems among
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Without something meaningful to connect the words to, the brain simply reverts
to rote memory, storing the words for a few days and then discarding them.