Carterton school tries a new way to spell it out

By Brendan Manning


A Wairarapa primary school is trying to stay abreast of research which shuns conventional spelling lists in favour of a bigger focus on phonetics, suffixes and prefixes.

New research has found New Zealand teachers had difficulty finding time to teach spelling and their initial training did not give them the adequate skills to teach the subject proficiently.

Carterton Primary principal Alison Woollard said teachers had received training and a new spelling programme had been developed to keep the teachers aware of the different stages of learning spelling and how to better encourage students.

The new programme broke up the different skills related to spelling which supplemented traditional spelling lists.

Due to daily time restraints, spelling was spilled into other subjects, Ms Woollard said.

"If you try to just do a specific half-hour a day, you might find that difficult, but if you can build it into your writing and reading programme, or if you're looking at a particular way of spelling a sound, you notice it when you're reading and when you're writing, you notice it as well."

University of Canterbury senior education lecturer Dr Brigid McNeill said teachers typically used a memory-based strategy - spelling tests with pre-taught words - rather than concentrating on developing skills which would help children spell all words correctly.

"They need to teach children about prefixes and suffixes, to identify sounds within words, and about common spelling patterns in English. If they know how to spell a word such as 'define' and they know the spelling of the suffix 'tion', they have a good shot at spelling definition correctly."

Dr McNeill surveyed 405 primary school teachers from a variety of regions and schools of varying socio-economic statuses on their spelling instruction and assessment practices.

There was a large variation in practices, but most teachers focused on development through analysing spelling errors.

Teachers struggled to find time to teach spelling within the curriculum and lacked professional knowledge about English language structure.

"Many teachers also reported that their initial teacher education programmes did not provide them with adequate training in this area."

Dr McNeill said teachers needed to build their language structure awareness so they could provide explicit instruction in spelling.

Working on language structure awareness not only benefited spelling, but also vocabulary development and reading skills, she said.

New Zealand children were struggling more with writing than reading, with 32 per cent performing below national standards.

Although spelling was only one component of writing development, accurate and fluent spellers had more cognitive resources to focus on higher-order aspects of writing, Dr McNeill said.


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