Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Inventive spelling or not?

Let's face it....I am "old School" about many things.
Inventive spelling has  always had a "wrongness" to me until.... I watched my 5 year old grandson writing up a storm using inventive spelling. I knew he wouldn't be writing that much if he was worrying about how to spell each word, so I decided to take a closer look at it.


"I love you mommy and Elizabeth"

I am a visual speller...words look "right" or they don't!  None of those spelling rules with their exceptions. There are too many exceptions for me to believe in using those rules.
I work with children with disabilities. It is my belief if they see a word misspelled too often it will be harder for them to relearn the word with the right spelling.

However, my grandson was spelling certain words correctly as he wrote, words like "is" and "we". He knew how to spell those, the rest of the words he sounded out. He carefully said each sound he heard and wrote the corresponding letter down. It made me tear up to watch him. He wasn't doing it for homework or a class assignment. He was writing because he wanted to!

I decided this "old school" teacher should do some research on inventive spelling!

Invented spelling, sometimes referred to as inventive spelling, is  defined as the practice of spelling unfamiliar words by making an educated guess as to the correct spelling based on the writer's existing phonetic knowledge. (source: Google)

Let's begin with Charles Read. He was a linguist and in 1975 he  conducted a study with preschoolers. They were beginning to relate letter names to their sounds.
He discovered that students commonly "invented" spellings for words in their daily vocabulary by rearranging letters to fit their perception of the rules of the English language. He wrote,
"One sees clearly that different children chose the same phonetically motivated spellings to a degree that can hardly be explained as resulting from random choice or the influence of adults. Learning to spell is not a matter of memorizing words, but a developmental process that culminates in a much greater understanding of English spelling than simple relationships between speech sounds and their graphic representations."
So from a technical perspective, invented spelling is not an instructional technique. It is the natural process that all children use as they begin to write.
In 1982, J. Richard Gentry describes the five stages of spelling as: precommunicative, semiphonetic, phonetic, transitional, and correct. Here's a brief summary of each stage:
  1. Precommunicative: student uses letters from the alphabet, doesn't show knowledge of letter-sound relationships or upper and lower case or left to right directionality.
  2. Semiphonetic: Student begins to understand the letter-sound relationship, and may use single letters to represent words such as writing the beginning letter.
  3. Phonetic: use a letter or group of letters to represent sounds that they hear in words, such as KOM for come.
  4. Transitional: they begin to apply visual representation/familiar structures of words. They may spell Hiked as HIGHKED.
  5. Correct: The speller knows the English orthographic system and its basic rules. They understand how to deal with prefixes, suffixes, silent consonants and irregular spellings.

This article recommended that teachers encourage  spelling in purposeful writing (messages, lists, plans, signs. letters, stories, poems) rather than to conduct rule-based instruction or to rely on memorization. Students' invented spellings must be seen as opportunities for them to contribute actively to their own learning. By combining an understanding of invented spelling with formal spelling instruction, teachers should be able to develop more effective spelling programs.

Source:  "Invented Spelling and Spelling Development." ERIC Clearinghouse, author: Lutz, Elaine, publication date: 1986.

" On summer vacation I didn't go to the lake."

Words Their Way (Donald R. Bear, Marcia Invernizzi, Shane Templeton, Francine Johnston) used the work from Charles Read, Edmund Henderson and colleagues at the University of Virginia developing  a comprehensive model of developmental word knowledge. Using students' invented spellings as a guide, word study instruction was created. Word Study enables teachers to differentiate efficient, effective instruction in phonics, spelling and vocabulary.

Word Study serves two purposes:
1. It teaches students to examine words to discover the regularities, patterns, and conventions of English orthography needed to read and spell.
2. It increases specific knowledge of words-the spelling and meaning of individual words.

Words Their Way uses invented spelling as a guide for instruction. They divide the instruction into 5 stages:
1. Emergent Stage
2. Letter Name-Alphabetic Stage
3. Within Word Pattern Stage
4. Syllables and Affixes
5. Derivational Relations

I have used this program inconsistently the last few years, not with any sort of fidelity (don't you love that word?) and signed up for a 2 day training this August. Word Study is very versatile and is easy to
individualize. I'll know more after the training!

"1 cent 2 candy"

Louise at Reading Rockets writes an excellent post about spelling and students with learning disabilities. Her recommendations include: use a systematic phonics program, teach irregular words early, teach useful spelling rules, grade appropriate words, emphasize activities that involve writing or building printed words with letter tiles instead of oral spelling, teach how to use root words and how to use the computer spell checker.

An awesome systematic phonics program I have used for years is the Making Words series by Patricia Cunningham ( I have the Systematic Sequential Phonics They Use). It is very "special ed" friendly. Easy to adapt and individual for students at different levels in the same lesson.

Write to Read-Read to Write recommends to
"Allow students to use “kid writing” for words not yet taught, but expect that they use conventional spellings for words that have been formally introduced in the classroom".

I like that and it is exactly what I saw my grandson doing.

So! Inventive spelling isn't a method of teaching spelling, it is a natural part of the writing process. It is important to remember that students are learning to spell through out their school careers. Continue to teach them how to spell high frequency words, as they learn those words, require they be spelled correctly (using resources such as the word wall), help them build on their word pattern knowledge and their correct spelling will grow.
Programs such as Words Their Way and Systematic Sequential Phonics They Use give teachers a sequence of lessons to follow. This is helpful in being sure not to miss important skills/spelling patterns.

I didn't begin this post thinking about these books, but after researching inventive spelling a little (there is so much more) I naturally thought of them.

There is a LOT of information out there and many teachers have put in their two cents.

Other interesting reading on this subject:

Cn U rd ths? A guide to invented spelling

Invented Spelling-Pros and Cons

Pros and Cons of Invented or Inventive Spelling in the Elementary Classroom
(my favorite)

How Children Learn to Spell (Scholastic)

In case you are wondering about the writing samples, yes, my grandchildren wrote those! (proud grandma here) Elizabeth has been wanting to go swimming at the lake in their neighborhood and is annoyed with her parents that it hasn't happened yet! Tristan likes to write in his Star Wars notebook, the sample is from his other writing. They really do LIKE to write and draw. It is GREAT.

From your unique viewpoint, depending on the age and skill group of your students, what do you think?