You'll find that remedial spelling assistance is a critical consideration for some students in your class every year.
There are a few ways children can end up having difficulty with spelling patterns. Let's examine the three most common problems along with the remedies.
After that we'll address other issues that can cause poor spelling in your classroom.
Problem 1: prior grade-level issues
Yep… the most-common cause of spelling challenges is our own school system. As I mention on the spelling lesson plans page, some teachers do not approach spelling with the rigor necessary to achieve mastery.
So these kids end up in your classroom not knowing their previous-year core words… or sometimes even core words from the last several years.
What can we do about that?
Three steps for shoring up skills
We can't abandon our own spelling lesson plans and re-teach last years' words or we'll never get to our own grade-level word lists. Fortunately, in many instances, most of the spelling patterns remain the same from the prior years – it's just the words that get more complex.
So following a comprehensive approach to spelling (such as my Word-Sort Spelling program) will accomplish some level of remedial spelling improvement because pattern recognition and application will reinforce words that aren't on their weekly lists.
The second remedial spelling assistance will be the “culture of good spelling” that you establish in your classroom. If the students are focused on the topic, they will be more attuned to striving to learn words they missed in past years. In other words, if your communication signals that it is important to you, it becomes important to them.
And the final, most potent, remediation step is individualizing. Practicing spelling words – even difficult ones – becomes natural for challenged spellers if you are adding prior-year words to their notebooks when you see them being misspelled in their written work.
Looking up these words as they polish their writing will gradually imprint them on their brains until wrong spellings just look… well… wrong.
Video tips: How to use spelling resources
Problem 2: poor letter recognition
Sometimes a learning disability such as dyslexia or other issues with letter recognition can cause students a real spelling patterns issue. If identifying lower case p's, q's, b's and d's is problematic for a student, then improper letter choices will result.
This issue is also a developmental one and with practice is often quickly outgrown – but we can help that process along.
Addressing the larger issues of the learning disability is based upon the student's IEP, but specific spelling strategies can help. The most effective approach is allowing the student to sort and manipulate not just words (as in my Word-Sort Spelling Program) but the individual letters.
This is accomplished by supplying lower-case letter tiles or magnets. It's also possible to set up virtual letters to drag around on an interactive whiteboard. This provides great visual and touch-based reinforcement and a chance to get the spellings right before copying them, thus avoiding practicing misspellings.
Problem 3: speech and hearing disabilities
Every year you will have children with speech issues. Remedial spelling support is critical for their continued success – and to help them overcome frustration driven by a condition that takes a lot of hard work to remediate.
Hearing-challenged students come with a different set of issues, but often the solution is the same.
In my experience, kids' spelling problems go hand-in-hand with speech issues for the simple reason that they cannot sound out words accurately.
A girl who says w for r will sound out the word “crust” as “cwust.”
If she also expresses the th sound instead of s (a common combination for kids who have significant speech issues), “crust” now becomes “cwutht.”
Is it any wonder this kid's spelling suffers?
Sometimes hearing issues lie at the root of a speech impediment, in which case you are working with the speech-language pathologist.
Sometimes the hearing problem is related to perceived volume, which must be addressed through an amplification system.
But sometimes there is a high-frequency loss which can result in a child not hearing all letter sounds, no matter how much they are amplified; it's like parts of words are missing. For example, I worked with one boy who could not hear the s or th sound. They were simply not in his hearing range.
The result can be similar to those experienced by speech kids, and so can be addressed as a “speech issue” using the same remedial-spelling reinforcement activity, as outlined below.
Visualizing the way forward
The first step is ensuring these children are set up to work with your district speech therapist or speech-language pathologist. The ultimate solution is proper pronunciation. But what can we do in the meantime?
First: Coordinate with the speech therapist. She will have tips and recommendations that you can use and will be working on skills that may very well tie in closely with the practicing of spelling words. He or she may have some simple approaches you can teach to your students.
Second: Understand that for severe speech issues, “sounding out words” will have to stop.
The perils of “sounding out”
Before anyone objects to backing away from phonics, stop and consider: Did you just sound out a single word in this sentence? Of course not – you just glanced at it and instantly knew the words. In short, you have thousands of words so well memorized that you barely have to see them.
Our ultimate goal for creating great spellers and fast readers is to have them memorize words; we are just going to speed up that process for our speech-challenged students.
Besides, how useful is pure sounding out for the majority of our crazy English words anyway? What kids beyond the first-grade level are doing when they sound out is part phonics and part applying the rules we are teaching them.
How else does a child know to sound the i in “besides” as a long i and not a short one? And would you really advise a child to sound out the word “knight?”
So with our speech-challenged girl (the th and w kid – of whom I've taught several), we are going to work on her visual memorization. That's how we give her a fighting chance at overcoming remedial spelling issues.
Step-by-step through visualization
Get out the weekly word cards and follow along…
Step 1: “Get your camera ready!” Have the student focus, ready to memorize. Show the card slowly while saying the word. Have her take a visual picture then put the card away.
Step 2: The student repeats the word while picturing how it looked, then spells it.
Step 3: Immediately show the card and have her self-correct if she gets it wrong. Remember: never let a student practice a mistake to avoid having it become a habit.
Step 4: After she has it right, do the process again. Then move on to the next word.
Step 5: On succeeding days, speed up the process until you are only flashing the card for one second while you say the word. The student begins to rely more and more on her mental picture, rather than what the card says.
Step 6: Before the spelling test, only the word is being said with no cue card. She is now ready for the test; just like all the other kids, she hears the word and writes it.
Don't do this alone
This is a team effort. You have lots of kids to help in your class, so…
- Train her partner of the week. The entire class is aware of her speech issue and will be paying attention to the special approach. They'll figure out how to be her partner quickly (but keep an eye on things).
- Ensure that the parents are well aware of this remedial spelling approach so they can reinforce it at home. Which brings me to my next point…
- Adjust her spelling homework as necessary. She'll also need to take a set of cards home with her.
- Continuously coordinate with the speech therapist so your efforts are mutually reinforcing.
Remedial spelling conquered!