The approach to teaching spelling has changed since today’s parents were
learning to write. One of the most significant differences is the acceptance
of what teachers call “invented” or “temporary” spelling.
The teacher looks beyond spelling mistakes in favor of understanding the
message the young writer is trying to get across. Overly focusing on how
to spell words during the early writing stage may derail the child’s creativity.
This is a natural progression in writing. Editors work with writers at
the end of the writing process, rather than at the beginning. First the
writer has to have something to say.
This response mirrors the one that parents make when a baby is learning
to speak. When a toddler picks up an empty cup and says, “oos,” a parent
doesn’t say, “Now wait a minute. If you want juice, you are going to have
to practice making that “j” sound.”
Rather, the parent accepts the approximation, understanding that learning
to speak takes several years. During that time, the child will have many
opportunities to hear people say “juice” correctly and that she will learn
how to say it as they do. In the meantime, the parent is proud that the
child has communicated what she wanted.
Similarly, a child writing a story may not know how to spell “friend.”
Many teachers will encourage beginning writers to say the word slowly and
write down the sounds that they hear. If the child does this, she will
likely write “frnd” on his paper.
The teacher wants to strengthen a crucial concept to the emergent writer:
the relationship between the written symbol on the page (the letter) and
the sound that it makes.
Later, while editing, the teacher points out missing or incorrect letters.
It’s also a good time to teach about spelling conventions.
In addition, the teacher has the same confidence about the child’s learning
to spell that the parent had about her learning to speak: that she will
be exposed to the word “friend” many times in future reading, and will
come to incorporate its proper spelling in her own writing.
This column has been incorporated and expanded in Teach Your Children
Well: A Teacher’s Advice for Parents.