Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why Generated Spelling

In writing workshop I encourage students to generate spellings for words that they do not know how to spell. The beginning goal in writing workshop is for students to get their ideas onto paper, so that they can develop those ideas into cohesive pieces of writing. Young students who are concerned primarily with spelling words conventionally tend to be more conservative writers: “I love my mom. I love my dad. I love my dog.” They like to stick to words they are sure they know how to spell. Or they rely on others to help them spell, which undercuts their developing independence as a writer. Or they take so long to look for the spelling of a word, they forget what they were going to say next.

A willingness to use generated spelling frees the student to focus on getting those ideas into writing. I find once a student makes this step, the writing becomes more varied, and the student works with more confidence. When I ask students to generate spellings, I ask them to stretch the words out and write down the letters that represent the sounds they hear. The goal is for them to represent the words phonetically. As their understandings of words develop, they can draw on what they learn about how words work, for example using two l’s in spelling wall because they have learned to spell “ball.”

An additional value is that the process of generating spelling is a type of encoding. There is research that shows that the process of working to encode words supports a child’s developing reading skills.

In other parts of our language group work, we do word study. In word study we work to add frequently used words to both the students’ reading and spelling vocabularies. Over time we also begin to explore common spelling patterns and word families. So encouraging generated spelling in writing workshop does not mean that spelling is not important. What is important is to explore it in areas that do not undercut the student's developing independence as a writer.

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