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How To Fail At Spelling

By Academic Associates founder, Cliff Ponder

Why is spelling words so difficult for some? Scientists say that we never really forget anything that enters our minds. This serves a very useful function, but it can also cause a great deal of trouble each time a false premise is introduced into our thinking. When a false premise is introduced under the guise of truth, the brain accepts it and acts upon it as though it were in fact true.

Each week teachers throughout the land inadvertently introduce several false premises into the minds of students as they administer the regular Monday morning pre-test spelling. The pre-test is usually administered before the students are allowed to see the word list, which almost invariably contains some words with which the students are not familiar. As they try to spell these unfamiliar words, they often misspell some of them.

A common error in giving spelling words is the pre-test.

When a word is spelled incorrectly, the brain's complex data processing center begins to store that spelling as useful information. According to current research, the misspelled words are permanently stored in some remote recess deep within the brain. The practice of administering a pre-test initiates this process for every word the student misspells. Consequently, a pattern is created within the brain to convey erroneous information to every cell that is involved in memory, thus assuring the perpetuation of the misspelled word.

When the correct spelling is introduced later, the brain must first try to override the erroneous spelling before it can be learned correctly. But a faulty pattern has already been established, so the brain is forced to work harder that it would have had it learned the correct spelling initially.

So how should spelling be taught? First, before students are asked to spell unfamiliar words such as those on the weekly spelling list, the teacher should write the words on the board or on a handout sheet, separating the word into syllables, and explaining the sound of every letter in each syllable. Point out that some words are partially non-phonetic, such as "Lieu - ten - ant," which has a silent IE in it. Or "one," whose only phonetic component is the N.

Point out that all vowels, A, E, I, O, W, and Y, are sometimes silent, as is the A in "boat," E in "ate," I in "sail," O in "people," U in "four," W in "low," and the Y in "day." Also explain that specific letter combinations create their own unique sounds, like the OO in "boot" or the OUGH in "cough."

Students need to know that some consonants are also silent, as is the T in "listen" or the H in "honor." The extra P in "hopping" and other such words also needs explanation. When these concepts are thoroughly understood prior to the test, students have a much better chance of establishing useful memory patterns within the brain without cluttering it up with errors.

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Combine vocabulary development with spelling words will add relevance to the words while also make spelling easier. Teachers who use the method described above will notice a marked improvement in their student's spelling scores and self-esteem, and a significant decrease in their frustration level.

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