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Stop testing and start teaching spelling

21 MARCH 2017
There are a quarter of a million words in the English language and in the past we have been far more inclined to test spelling rather than to teach it

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Spelling it Out, a new Australian Cambridge University Press title by Misty Adoniou advocates that good spelling comes from good teaching and crushes the myth that the spelling of words in English is random or chaotic. Adoniou demonstrates that it is actually a system based on both meaning and a fascinating linguistic history. Teaching the students this system will give them essential confidence in their spelling.

“When students and adults feel unsure about their spelling, they can actively avoid tasks that involve writing. And when they do write they often choose words they feel safe with rather than the words they may want to use. The result can be writing that doesn’t do justice to their understanding and creativity.” (Spelling It Out p11)

Instead of a Friday afternoon spelling test where students are required to memorise a list of words, they should be taught a multi-faceted strategy including explicit and accurate instruction about a word’s etymology and morphology as well as the conventions of spelling, so that students can apply that knowledge when they encounter new words. Adoniou suggests that when spelling instruction is focused on tasks rather than preparing for a spelling test, the learning from the teaching is maintained.

In addition to spelling, Adoniou is passionate about grammar and has challenged the once rigid rules set by ‘prescriptive grammarians’ in an article for The Conversation entitled, Things you were taught at school that are wrong. Rules such as ‘you can’t start a sentence with a conjunction’ and ‘put a comma when you need to take a breath’ ignore the evolution of our language and the variety of writing styles acceptable for different audiences.

We should all “read widely, think deeply and listen carefully. And remember, neither time nor language stands still — for any of us.”

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Essential English Skills for the Australian Curriculum Second Edition provides a multi-level approach to developing key language and literacy skills for every student and covers word origins, the meaning of the components of words, plus the conventions of spelling and how to apply them. Cambridge Dynamic English Skills is a unique interactive online resource that provides students the opportunity to use interactive activities to consolidate their learning and keep them engaged in spelling and grammar. For a comprehensive and interactive tool for teaching essential English skills, trial Dynamic English Skills today.

For more information on Spelling It Out visit the Cambridge Academic site.

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