Teachers point the finger at technology and parents for students’ poor word skills

Alarming numbers of secondary students are "catastrophic spellers", a quarter getting nearly every word wrong in a test to gauge word skills, a new study has found.

Children were tested on words including "laboratory", "fulfil" and "government", and 79 of 310 got less than five correct out of 40.

Teachers pointed to the increasing use of technology as part of the problem and suggested curriculum changes were to blame.

Jill Corkin, past president of the Auckland Primary Principals' Association, said many kids started school in catch-up mode, partly due to increasing use of technology.


"For instance, people texting each other instead of talking contributes to the overall problem," Corkin, now head of Snells Beach School, said. "If kids are listening to and watching their parents communicate this way, it certainly must have an effect on their own reading and writing."

A year-long research project by literacy adviser Jessica Craig tested the spelling of 13- and 14-year-olds at six North Island schools.

Any score below five was described as "catastrophic" in the Crumpler and McCarty diagnostic test.

"It was a difficult test but it was interesting in that there were quite so many who were really, really bad spellers. I wasn't expecting that," said Craig.

Further testing revealed up to 35 students did not know how to write vowel blends such as "oi".

Craig said it highlighted a lack in education around word skills.

Craig also discovered teachers did not know how to teach pupils how to write down the sounds of English and some were ill-prepared to handle students with major gaps in fundamental learning.

Former headmaster of Auckland Grammar John Morris, now an education consultant, said the curriculum in high schools was "too soft" in reading and writing.

"Previously, students were required to write full essays but now just a few paragraphs are required, which precludes some from learning how to write properly," he said.