What Does Spelling Tell Us?

spelling Feb 15, 2024

A student came to my center with her spelling test in hand. While the errors were marked on the page by her classroom teacher, if we look beyond the idea of a spelling test, we can see what her spelling indicates as far as her learning and instructional needs. Why?

We can think of reading and spelling as being different sides of the same coin. Reading, or decoding, is applying the sound-symbol relationships and successfully blending them to read a word. Spelling, or encoding, is the ability to segment words by individual sounds and use the correct sound-symbol correspondences in written form. When students write, their spelling gives us great insight into their understanding of sound production and how they represent those in written form. Read more about the connection between reading and spelling in this past blog post.

This young student showed consistent miscues in the use of digraphs ch and sh. Upon first glance, one may think that she simply didn’t know the difference between these digraphs. If we analyze this through a different lens, however, we see some clues as to instructional implications for this student. 

The Insights From Spelling

First, in the area of phonology, the student has a clear understanding of individual sounds within words and is able to represent those phonetically and with many of the orthographic patterns expected in first grade. This student is not leaving off or omitting sounds, but is showing a confusion in the phonological representation of words with /ch/ and /sh/. What could we do instructionally to aid this student?

There is widespread agreement that phonological skills such as perceiving sounds in speech, and blending and segmenting words are the foundation for learning to read and write. When we explicitly teach phonemes' articulatory features, we are helping to create links between the individual speech sounds and the letter representations. Sound production and mouth formations are key to helping students link the phonemes, those sounds that they hear, to the graphemes, which are the letter representations of those spoken sounds. They also provide students and teachers with cues for error corrections.

What is the difference between the /ch/ and /sh/ sound production? They both are formed with a puckering of the lips. They are both unvoiced sounds. The difference lies between the amount of air flow - /ch/ is a puff of air while /sh/ is a stream of air. Bringing this awareness to the student can aid in their knowledge and understanding of the differences between these somewhat similar sounds.

Steps to Helping Students

Steps to helping this student:

  1. Have the student repeat the word to ensure they are saying the word and sounds correctly.

  2. Use a mirror to isolate the /ch/ and /sh/ sounds. Discuss the difference of the air flow.

  3. Give student minimal pairs, or words with these target sounds, and have them identify the correct sound (ship, chip; chop, shop).

  4. Have students segment words with the target sounds /ch/ and /sh/

  5. Give students practice reading and spelling with target words (ch/sh)

Spelling is a powerful tool we can use to analyze student knowledge of sound-symbol relationships. How do you bring spelling analysis into your dyslexia sessions? What does student spelling tell you?

Want to read more about spelling? Check out these blogs and articles from The Dyslexia Classroom.




EdWeek article with Casey - https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/encoding-explained-what-it-is-and-why-its-essential-to-literacy/2023/01

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