Spelling Problems: Strategies That Really Work in the Classroom
Tip 1 - Teaching Spelling Strategies That Suit Individual Students
Spelling strategies are those approaches used by children with spelling problems to help spell a word. They range enormously, and what works for one student will not always work for another. Teaching spelling strategies is at least in part a matter of finding out what works for individual students. It's a bit like teaching reading: Some students will learn regardless of how you teach them, while others will need you to persist until you find the strategies that work for them. This is the inherent danger in a 'one size fits all' spelling program - it does not take account of individual differences in student needs.
Tip 2 - Spelling Programs
Sometimes structured reading and spelling programs such as THRASS can work well for students, but it is important to ensure they are not forcing the student into learning in a way that does not suit them. THRASS in particular is a very complex spelling program that requires high levels of auditory processing, fine motor control and visual tracking skills to work effectively, and it will not be well suited to some students who have particular learning needs in these areas. It also tends to be very much a phonics-based method, which may not take into account students who have family backgrounds with language accents that are different to their teacher's.
Tip 3 - Online Spelling Programs
Online spelling programs such as Spelling City that allow the teacher to structure the learning experience and level to ensure student success can be helpful. Some children are highly motivated by online learning and will do spelling practice tasks online that they would not do as a traditional pen and paper activity. But make sure you don't overdo the computer learning tasks for spelling (or any other learning area, for that matter). Computers come with their own set of potential problems such as muscle strain, overuse injuries and vision problems.
Tip 4 - A Place for Spell Checkers
Spell checkers do have their place as spelling strategies for students with spelling problems, just as calculators have their place for math tasks. Students need to learn the most effective way of using a computer spell checker and not become reliant on using it to spell every word. Sometimes a combination of a spell checker such as Word Web used together with traditional word attack strategies can be helpful for some students. Word Web is also handy because it can sit down at the bottom of the toolbar and be used easily and unobtrusively when required.
Tip 5 - Spelling Diaries
For some students, spelling strategies can be personalized to suit their own spelling habits and issues. A spelling diary where tricky words are recorded alphabetically or under subject-related topics can help them find and learn words that are hard to spell correctly for the individual student. The diary can be a small, subtle booklet kept in the front of a folder or work book and therefore is not obvious to other students.
Probably the most important thing to remember when working with students with spelling problems is the power of self fulfillment and control. Many students with spelling problems have experienced long periods of reading and academic failure, and they may be disinclined to continue trying and exploring new spelling strategies that may or may not work for them. Use frequent, appropriate and meaningful praise as well as considered teaching of skills and approaches that you feel will work for your students. Take the time to listen to their experiences and take on board what you find out.