Stephen Krashen © 2002
following is adapted (and used by permission of the author)
from a letter from researcher Stephen
Krashen to Education
Week, suggesting a more practical approach to
spelling instruction than direct instruction. It was
sent in response to an article on spelling and writing
research by Steve Graham ("Studies
Back Lessons in Writing, Spelling," Nov. 20, 2002)
like reading, remains a focus for various factions in literacy
research, though it comes with less of the political and
rhetoric used in reading battles. Two of the most frequent
important is spelling in the writing process?
do we best polish student spelling skills?
is ample evidence that diverting attention to spelling
when writing "disrupts the planning
process" of writing, there is an alternative to those
who propose spending more time on direct spelling instruction:
to delay focusing on correct spelling until their ideas
are firmly in place, while, at the same time, building
up spelling competence through massive reading.
A number of studies show that
good writers delay editing concerns until the final draft,
and "premature editing" has been shown to be
a predictor of the frequency of writing blocks. Mike
Rose found this was the case for writers in English,
and Sy-ying Lee of National Taipei University
has shown that premature concern with form and editing
relates to writing blocks for writers in Chinese, as well
as for writers in English as a foreign language.
There is also very good evidence that direct instruction in
spelling has limited effects. It begins with J.
M. Rice's study "The Futility of the Spelling
published in 1897, that showed no relationship between
the amount of time devoted to spelling and spelling achievement,
when measured on tests involving words in sentences and
compositions. And it includes Oliver Cornman's study,
published in 1902, showing that dropping formal spelling
instruction had no effect on spelling accuracy, whether
measured in isolation or in compositions. In a 1991 paper, Howard
White and I reanalyzed the Rice and Cornman data
using modern statistics and confirmed their results.
In 1977, Donald Hamill, Stephen Larsen, and Gaye McNutt reported
that children who had spelling instruction spelled better than uninstructed
students in grades 3 and 4 did, but the differences disappeared by grades 4
and 5. This suggests that spelling instruction, when it works, only succeeds
in helping children learn to spell words that they would have learned to spell
on their own anyway.
Additional evidence comes from Sandra Wilde's work:
Ms. Wilde estimated that each spelling word learned through
direct instruction takes about 20 minutes of instructional
time. Given the huge number of words, this result strongly
suggests that instruction cannot do the job.
A focus on spelling rules is equally hopeless. W. Cook,
back in 1912, tested high school and college students who had just completed
a semester of intensive study of spelling rules. There was no difference in
spelling accuracy among those who said they knew the rules and used them, those
who said they knew the rules and did not use them, and those who said they
did not know the rules. He also found that even though the students had just
studied the rules, many could not recall them. When asked to state the rules,
they typically gave versions much simpler than the complex rules they had been
most likely candidate for building spelling competence
is reading. This conjecture is supported by studies
showing that each time readers read a passage containing
words they cannot spell, they make a small amount of progress
in acquiring the correct spelling, as well as by studies
showing that spelling gets worse when we read misspelled
words. Also, some studies show positive correlations between
spelling competence and the amount of reading done.
I am fully aware that many people who are well-read are not perfect
spellers. My claim is that reading will make one a very good, but not a perfect
speller; well-read writers usually have problems with a tiny percentage of
the words they write.
I think that the solution to this problem is to let spelling develop
naturally through massive reading in the early years, and provide older writers
with some guidance in the use of spell-checkers and spelling dictionaries,
as well as advising them to delay spelling concerns until the final draft.
Good evidence that this is a reasonable solution is the fact that
so many of us know when we are about to make a spelling mistake, and we can
usually recognize the correct spelling of a word when presented with alternatives
on a spell-checker. I think that this feel for correctness comes from extensive
reading. It is pointless to urge children to look up words before they have
developed this "spelling sense."
from Trelease on Reading & Spelling
obsessing over spelling and phonics, here's something
to ponder. In fact, if you ponder it long enough,
it could drive you crazy or at least make you
reconsider previous positions. The following
paragraph arrived in my email in October, 2003.
Nearly every word of it is inexcusably misspelled
and phonetically impossible, yet I had no trouble
reading and understanding it. You probably won't
to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it
deosn't mttaer inwaht oredr the ltteers in
a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is tahtthe
frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.The
rset can be a total mses and you can sitll
raed it wouthit any porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae
the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by
istlef, butthe wrod as a wlohe.
First of all, there
is no such Cambridge Research; it's an urban
legend. The paragraph,
however, did provoke quite a storm of letters and
discussion world-wide. For a look at both the research-rebuke
actual research, check out these links:
all NCLB, NRP, and Reading First essays and articles