A site for spellers, teachers of spelling and reading, and students of english words
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Elements and Procedures

Preface: To the Teacher

Many of the problems students have with spelling arise from their feeling that our spelling system should be more "phonetic" than it is. They can be disappointed and frustrated by the lack of a simple relationship between the way words sound and the way they are spelled. But our spelling system must do more than spell sounds. It must also spell meanings. The units of spelled meaning are called elements, the smallest parts of a written word that add meaning to the word and are spelled consistently from word to word.

For example, the element sign occurs in the words signs, signal, design, designation. In each of the four words the element spelled <sign> is pronounced differently: Sometimes it is all in one syllable; sometimes it straddles two. Sometimes the <g> spells a [g] sound, sometimes not. Sometimes the <s> spells a [s] sound, sometimes a [z]. Sometimes the <i> spells a long sound, sometimes a short one. If all we worried about were the sounds, we, like dictionaries, would have to resort to four different phonetic spellings, which would obscure the underlying unity and pattern among the four words.

But once we recognize that all four contain the element sign, plus a few other common and short elements, combined through predictable procedures, then spelling the four words is easy, systematic, and not at all "irregular." Recognizing word elements and how they go together are the main concerns of Elements and Procedures: A Basic Speller. Students work with elements and with the procedures that take place when elements combine to spell words: simple addition, twinning of final consonants, final silent <e> deletion, assimilation of prefixes, and palatalization.

Throughout, Elements and Procedures works on the assumption that English spelling is not whimsical and unreasonable, that it can be understood and taught and learned — if gone at carefully, thoroughly, reasonably. English spelling is much more regular and rational than we may have been led to believe. In order to convey this regularity to the students Elements and Procedures leads them through an active process of analysis and induction: A certain problem is posed — such as, "When do you twin the final consonant in a word?" The students are given carefully controlled word lists. They work with these words — sometimes analyzing them into their elements, sometimes combining elements into words, and sometimes noticing sound-to-spelling relationships. Then they are given questions that help them organize and display the results of their analysis. More questions lead them to write descriptive summaries of what they have discovered. Thus they go — analyzing and synthesizing, organizing and displaying data, observing the data, describing what they see and hear, setting up hypotheses and testing them. And finally they have written a description of a spelling procedure that is reliable and powerful enough to be rightfully thought of as a spelling rule.

The approach is active, analytical, and inductive. Over the years at the Academic Skills Center at Central Washington University, we found that with this analytical and inductive approach, students can learn descriptions — or spelling rules — that are detailed and thorough enough to be reliable and useful. One of the main problems with the traditional "spelling rules," with their notorious exceptions, was that they were taught deductively and thus had to be overly simplified, in order to make them short enough to be memorized. Oversimplified rules always let too many exceptions leak through. However, when they are taught inductively and analytically, rules can be detailed enough not to be burdened with all those exceptions. We have found, too, that with this approach students can learn something about doing work with their minds — analyzing, observing, patterning, setting and testing hypotheses, writing descriptive summaries.

Although students who like to memorize things certainly may and do memorize a certain part of what they learn through these inductive techniques, Elements and Procedures does not normally require, or even particularly encourage, self-conscious memorizing. By going through the process, slowly and carefully, doing the thinking and writing asked of them, the students learn English spelling and become more sensitive to the pattern and order in English words, without resorting to uninformed memorizing.

Spelling students usually have very little sense of the structure of words. Words exist for them as rather undifferentiated blurs of sounds or letters. They aren't able to hear or see as much in the word as they might — and thus they have trouble remembering its shape, especially when it comes time to try to spell it. Elements and Procedures works on the theory that the more you know about the word, especially about its structure, the more you can hear and see in it, and thus the more you have to remember it by.

  cummings, spell, spelling, english, words, spellers, teachers, reading, read, reader
cummings, spell, spelling, english, words, spellers, teachers, reading, read, reader