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The Debate: Should Spelling Be Taught?

Say it isn't so. Some teachers and academic researchers say that they no longer teach spelling. Their argument is that the rote memorization they teach is no longer necessary thanks to spell check.

So, let's see. If I right this blog with misspellings, will anyone notice? Oh, wait ... the computer can catch my errors FOR me.

Something's wrong with this picture. Did the rise of calculators mean that students needn't learn addition and subtraction? Maybe, it's because I work in a profession where spelling and grammar mean something, but I still believe learning to spell has merit and warrants being taught. It's bad enough that students are writing their essays with instant messaging shortcuts. Spelling is a job requirement where I work. If someone sends me a resume with a spelling mistake, it dooms the job hunter. And I certainly expect those whom I edit to attempt to spell their words correctly.

What camp are you in? Is spelling getting the short shrift or is it a waste of valuable teaching time?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  May 18, 2007; 7:30 AM ET  | Category:  The Debate
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Comments


I'm solidly on Stacey's side on this issue. Spelling is a vital component of knowing how to communicate; anyone who relies on a spellchecker to find errors is going to be sadly surprised when the teacher marks up their paper, or they don't get the interview.

Posted by: John L | May 18, 2007 7:36 AM | Report abuse

The teachers who decide to not teach spelling must be forgetting that not ALL writing is done on a computer. A colleague of mine was writing some brainstorming ideas on a big white piece of paper during a meeting and had trouble spelling! Obviously standing in front of a group of people not knowing how to spell is probably worth a spelling test here and there...

Posted by: Melissa | May 18, 2007 7:46 AM | Report abuse

I adored spelling when I was a kid (still do) and it is ridiculous to think that children don't need to learn it in school. I hope that's not the case in my kids' school, but if it is, I guess we'll be having spelling bees at the dinner table.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | May 18, 2007 7:48 AM | Report abuse

This is reason #9,584,246 why I homeschool!

Posted by: Sara | May 18, 2007 8:05 AM | Report abuse

I don't think this is a new thing that they aren't teaching spelling, I think it is just now well-publicized. When I was interviewing for jobs with my IT degree and also an English degree, every single company said that my writing, editing, and spelling ability (even in jobs where writing would not be one of my main tasks) was what separated me from the pack. Schools are doing a disservice to students.

Posted by: Bee | May 18, 2007 8:08 AM | Report abuse

Of korse speling shuld be tot

Posted by: Omie | May 18, 2007 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Fun question!

Spelling is important not only because the inability to spell correctly is embarrassing and potentially career-limiting but also because, taught correctly, spelling lessons help to expand literacy.

Most obviously, they are likely to increase vocabulary, an important function in a society where "serious" reading at any age has declined. Lessons in spelling also help students learn the building blocks of words, which, in turn, helps them learn new words in the future. Consider, for instance, families of words such as sensitive, sensate, sensuous, sentient--all or which have to do with feeling. Or omnipresent, omniscient, omnivorous, and omnibus. No spelling or vocabulary lessons can teach all the words that it is useful to know, but they can provide a foundation for future learning.

Posted by: THS | May 18, 2007 8:15 AM | Report abuse

Don't teach spelling? Knowing how to spell is as much a part of literacy as is basic grammar. When radio was invented I don't think anyone seriously suggested we quit teaching reading because the radio would allow us to listen.

No! Quit teaching algebra perhaps - I still haven't used it and I'm way past any age in which I would - but spelling helps us capture language and make it our own.

A poorly spelled document doesn't communicate the writer's intent. The reader can't get to the message. Spelling helps develop thinking skills which, whether I like it or not, even help us later understand how to decipher algebra. True education is about knowledge and the skills needed to obtain it. (The grammar programs and spell check are written by people who are advanced educated to a 010011 type of literacy. In that literacy they MUST know how to "spell".)

Finally, I wonder if these unaware teachers realize that spell check is dumber than a rock and is useless with a good 20% of words. It will also acknowledge as correct words you didn't mean to type - on instead of one, how instead of who, and vice-versa. When I worked in a locksmith supply house our mantra was - wishin' don't make it so. This truth applies to education also.

Posted by: The Rev | May 18, 2007 8:16 AM | Report abuse

If I "right" this blog--I surely hope this was a test. They've already done away with learning the multiplication tables. Why should spelling be any different? Seeing a word spelled wrong just gets under my skin. And I form a negative opinion about that person immediately. By the way, I am an administrative assistant, so spelling is paramount to doing my job well.

Posted by: mbrumble | May 18, 2007 8:19 AM | Report abuse

i can't even believe that they are considering not teaching spelling - that is insane. i started in the work force about 15 years ago, before email was "the thing" and i've increasingly seen more and more people (highly paid people, i might add) who simply cannot spell or maybe they just don't care to proofread their work. a coworker who regularly sends out emails with spelling errors, typos or grammatical mistakes loses professional respect in my eyes.

on a related note, when i went to school - calculators were not allowed until high level collegiate math. they are prolific in schools these days - what impact will that have on our kids abilities to do simple tasks, like make sure their bill is correct in a store or even calculate tax or the tip!

Posted by: Mom | May 18, 2007 8:21 AM | Report abuse

It is shocking that spelling is not being taught. If you can't spell, you are not educated - its as simple as that.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 18, 2007 8:22 AM | Report abuse

"So, let's see. If I right this blog with misspellings, will anyone notice? Oh, wait ... the computer can catch my errors FOR me."

Obviously knowing how to spell doesn't necessarily help with comprehension of sarcasm.

Posted by: john | May 18, 2007 8:27 AM | Report abuse

my previous post was in response to mbrumble

Posted by: john | May 18, 2007 8:30 AM | Report abuse

Having argued above that spelling should be taught, which I truly believe, I also want to point out that spelling, like other skills, is partly a function of the talents people are born with.

One of my best friends is a highly educated man--a man whose undergraduate degree was in English and who reads constantly--is a poor speller. He simply doesn't retain the correct spelling of words.

As a kid, I was always the first one chosen for spelling bees, so it was a surprise to me to realize that a highly literate person could still be a poor speller. For me, knowing a word also means knowing how to spell it, but that's not true for him.

Such differences don't constitute an argument against the teaching of spelling. Indeed, as with other skills, spelling lessons can sharpen even weak spelling "muscles". They can also help students learn their strengths and weaknesses and teach them about tools, such as spelling dictionaries, that can help them compensate for their weaknesses.

To the extent that spelling is only imperfectly related to intelligence, however, those of us who are great spellers should occasionally remind ourselves to cut people who aren't good spellers a break.

Posted by: THS | May 18, 2007 8:36 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps it is too early in the morning but the suggestion in the article sounds different to me...

As popular as spelling bees have become, academic researchers say many schools are giving spelling short shrift. That, they say, is because some teachers don't believe great spelling is necessary to pass the high-stakes standardized tests that drive public education. And because many don't know how to teach it.

-------------------

It also says the weekly word quizzes are still there - but classroom lessons about spelling are missing (I don't really remember those?)

Posted by: ????? | May 18, 2007 8:45 AM | Report abuse

I teach college mathematics, and it drives me absolutely crazy when my students turn in quizzes and test papers with misspellings and incorrect grammar. I teach a lot of statistics courses, which require (for a math class) a lot of writing. It makes the students look uneducated when they make these basic errors! I'm on a hiring committee now, and correct spelling and grammar is one of our screening criteria. If you can't take enough care to edit your cover letter and resume, that's a bad sign!

A lot of it ties back to spoken language, as well, though. I sat in on an education class for middle grades education majors. They were presenting lesson plans for Geometry. Not only were their written language skills atrocious, so were their verbal! These were formal, end of the semester capstone presentations! And these are the people who will be teaching our children in just a few years.

And to The Rev, I'll agree with you (to an extent)- for many people, there is not much need to know mathematics beyond a pretty basic level of algebra. You do probably use more than you think you do, though. But I think EVERYONE should have to take a statistics course. If there's concept from mathematics that gets used and misused frequently (especially in the media), it's statistics.

Posted by: Math Prof | May 18, 2007 8:45 AM | Report abuse

"If you can't spell, you are not educated - its as simple as that."

Please allow me a moment of pedagogy.

"Its" is a possessive pronoun. It is used to show ownership by singular nouns that are not defined by gender.

For example, we say: A business risks ITS reputation if it does not convey to ITS employees the importance of ethical behavior in their work.

"It's" is a contraction of "it is".

For instance, we say: IT'S a big risk for a business to ignore ethical lapses.

You can ALWAYS determine which version is correct by asking yourself whether it would be possible to substitute "it is". If not, ITS is what you need.

P.S. The two phrases in the quote above should be punctuated as two separate sentences.

Posted by: THS | May 18, 2007 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Spelling should be taught for the first few years of elementary school to give kids the skills they need to learn on their own for the rest of their lives. After that, the time should be devoted to other subjects. More importantly, kids should be held accountable for correct spelling and grammar in their schoolwork. You don't need formal spelling instruction to learn to spell once you have the basics down.

I honestly don't remember being formally taught spelling beyond the second grade but reading, grammar, and other language based subjects all expanded my vocabulary and, by default, the words I could spell.

Posted by: MOMto3 | May 18, 2007 8:55 AM | Report abuse

Spelling should be taught for the first few years of elementary school to give kids the skills they need to learn on their own for the rest of their lives. After that, the time should be devoted to other subjects. More importantly, kids should be held accountable for correct spelling and grammar in their schoolwork. You don't need formal spelling instruction to learn to spell once you have the basics down.

I honestly don't remember being formally taught spelling beyond the second grade but reading, grammar, and other language based subjects all expanded my vocabulary and, by default, the words I could spell.

Posted by: MOMto3 | May 18, 2007 8:55 AM | Report abuse

I am shocked by the idea that spelling is no longer taught. I had an assigned spelling list ever week starting in second grade. This turned into a weekly vocabulary list in fifth through eleventh grade -- and yes, we also had to spell the words correctly! The result: while I am not the world's greatest speller, SATs were a breeze, and the computer is catching mainly my typos and not my ignorance!

Posted by: steathreader | May 18, 2007 8:59 AM | Report abuse

That's reely stoopid too not teech speling. Holey Cowl. U nede 2 no how 2 spel 2 get a hed.

Seriously, folks, I adored spelling and words and literature in school. (Not worth a sh*t with math, though.) I especially liked word origins -- finding the root of the word to know its meaning. How many words with the same root have similar meanings. Regal, regimental, regulation, rex, reign, that sort of thing. I used to read the dictionary for fun.

Bring bak speling in skool.

Posted by: Hate to Shop | May 18, 2007 9:08 AM | Report abuse

A basic understanding of math (algebra too) is necessary if you want to be able to do simple mental exercises when making purchases, or calculating interest, for example. It's also absolutely imperative that if you go into certain fields of study (science, engineering, etc), you must have basic math down, no questions asked. Problem is, in middle school there's no way to know who will be the engineers and who won't, so they teach it to everyone.

But spelling should be taught up to 3rd grade and after that points taken off any time words are misspelled on any written report. If the kids complain, the teacher (parents too) should point out that sometimes the difference between success and failure in the real world is a well composed and articulate report/resume/article.

But, since I've seen even news articles with misspelled titles, apparently everyone hasn't learned that.

Posted by: John L | May 18, 2007 9:22 AM | Report abuse

After a short discussion with my officemate, we've decided that after the basics spelling doesn't necessarily need to be specifically taught. This is because READING should take over teaching new words and how they're spelt. People who read more are better spellers because they are generally more familiar with words.

I would say that people not being able to spell isn't a reflection on schools not teaching spelling; it's a sign that people are not reading. Reading improves spelling, comprehension, memory, writing, grammar, and speech beyond basic enjoyment and learning about new ideas. Reading is one of the most life enriching things you can do and fewer and fewer people are doing it. This is far more upsetting to me than the idea that people can't spell.

Posted by: Em | May 18, 2007 9:26 AM | Report abuse

For many people this is about politics, not pedagogy.

The thinking goes like this:

In the old days we did a lot of spelling, and life was better back then. People were better people because society believed in right and wrong. Emphasizing rote spelling less at a younger age signifies liberalism and relativism. If it doesn't matter any more what's "right" in spelling, then it doesn't matter anymore what is "right" morally.

This is why some of the loudest drumbeats on this topic and related topics of reading pedagogy come from the religious right.

Political symbolism aside, here are the facts in our school district (far away from most Post readers' districts).

Spelling is taught. My kids have spelling words and a phonics component to their reading lessons.

However, what is different now is that children are encourage to write before they have learned how to spell all the words--to try to spell them by phonics as best they can. The teacher can evaluate the ideas and thinking even if the spelling isn't up to speed yet. She will correct it but that is not emphasized as much early on. As they go on, they are taught better spelling and in their writing, the spelling improves.

This makes a lot of sense to me. Most other activities are learned by doing. Why not writing? Little Mikey shouldn't be allowed to write about his trip to the zoo because he can't spell "elephant" yet?

Posted by: di | May 18, 2007 9:33 AM | Report abuse

To mbrumble: As John points out, I was writing in a sarcastic manner, pointedly misspelling a word that the computer spell check may be unlikely to catch because it is correctly spelled but the wrong usage of the word.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | May 18, 2007 10:03 AM | Report abuse

"For many people this is about politics, not pedagogy.

The thinking goes like this:

In the old days we did a lot of spelling, and life was better back then. "

Okaaaaaayyyy. I find this attitude totally mystifying. We learn to spell because:

1. Many english words sound the same when spoken, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. If you don't spell them correctly, people may misunderstand what you write.

2. Even if people do, eventually, understand what you write (by deciphering your "code"), the act of having to decipher slows them down and renders them unsure whether that's REALLY what you mean. Did you really mean a different word? Perhaps what really happened is the spelling is correct but you omitted a word that would make the sentence make sense? Did they decipher your intentions correctly?

3. Many english words are derived from latin or greek roots. Knowing the spelling of words allows you to extrapolate the meanings of unfamiliar words.

I don't see what politics has to do with it.

If teachers aren't teaching spelling, multiplication tables, handwriting, and arithmetic algorithms, then what exactly ARE they teaching?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 18, 2007 10:04 AM | Report abuse

"For many people this is about politics, not pedagogy.

The thinking goes like this:

In the old days we did a lot of spelling, and life was better back then. "

Okaaaaaayyyy. I find this attitude totally mystifying. We learn to spell because:

1. Many english words sound the same when spoken, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. If you don't spell them correctly, people may misunderstand what you write.

2. Even if people do, eventually, understand what you write (by deciphering your "code"), the act of having to decipher slows them down and renders them unsure whether that's REALLY what you mean. Did you really mean a different word? Perhaps what really happened is the spelling is correct but you omitted a word that would make the sentence make sense? Did they decipher your intentions correctly?

3. Many english words are derived from latin or greek roots. Knowing the spelling of words allows you to extrapolate the meanings of unfamiliar words.

I don't see what politics has to do with it.

If teachers aren't teaching spelling, multiplication tables, handwriting, and arithmetic algorithms, then what exactly ARE they teaching?

Posted by: m | May 18, 2007 10:04 AM | Report abuse

I don't usually post here, but I felt compelled after reading the headline, and subsequently the article. I graduated from a university just a few years ago and discovered that many classmates could not spell, and worse- they could not even put coherent thought to paper. Many more still do not understand simple grammar, and thus their comprehension suffers.
First, let me state for the record that I grew up on food stamps, and yet my mother managed to instill in me a love for reading. She taught me my vowels on the back of a cigarette carton in the home of an alcoholic stepfather. If she can do this, then there is no reason for anyone to rely only on school alone. If you do not take the time to make up for what is lost in school, then your children will suffer.

Next, let me say as a Political Scientist and Sr International Security Specialist who always tries to take the long view, that removing the foundations of language instruction from our education system can and will ultimately result in a peasant class of sheep. It sounds harsh, but that is the long view of it. Even now one of the simplest of statements is being manipulated in an attempt to sway the masses, who at this stage already suffer under a faltering education system. That statement? The 2nd ammendment of the Constitution!
Regardless of your feelings toward guns, let me make it clear that the document that is supposed to guide our country leaves no room for interpretation- but is being manipulated right before our eyes anyway. And before I lose you, let me say this has everything to do with parenting- for only you have the power to instill free thought and critical thinking in your kids. One of the first things my mom taught me was to question everything. Right now the schools do not teach this. Regardless of your thoughts or feelings on the subject I am introducing, I ask that you at least see it as but one example of the potential for manipulation if the education system is kept diluted.

See, there is something important we need to realize about the 2nd ammendment that does not limit the right to bear arms only to militias, as we are often told today. This important thing is called a comma, and it can signify an addition of a thought, it can signify a sentence getting more specific, it can signify both (as is the case here). When you read the previous sentence, you'll see you can take the first part, and combine it with the last, or most of its parts to get an independent complete thought. Additional complete thoughts do not cancel eachother out unless they specifically state such, so why the big push to take away rights?

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Using above conclusion that commas can merge complete thoughts, we can deconstruct the sentence. When broken down you have in essence: A well regulated militia shall not be infringed AND
The right of the people (that's a generic term for citizens) to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

The sentence gets more specific to protect the rights of PEOPLE as it progresses. Any gradeschool kid should have been taught in basic grammar that you combine things with a comma. Why are people having such a hard time doing it?

A judge with a well regulated instruction in grammar, being necessary to the sanity of a free state, the instruction of the people in grammar, shall not be infringed.

Gosh, when you put in other words instead, could anyone in their right mind not figure it out? I guess some folks weren't paying attention in class.

When you take away the building blocks of education, you cannot build anything.

Already we can see the effects. As a disabled vet, I was appalled when I was inprocessing when the woman could not spell Pentagon, and then proceeded to blame me for the 20 other people waiting when I kept asking her to fix spelling mistakes in my job title. No, these were not simple typos, and those people would have been waiting anyway. She asked me how to spell simple things. This pales in comparrison with what is happening to my wife, who has been waiting for test results for a week. She would call and leave messages, and nurses would promise to get her message to the doctor so he would call her back. It took a week for them to figure out who the doctor was because they never put his name in the computer system. All her messages kept getting tossed out. Someone finally bothered to look in her file and figure out who the doc was, put two and two together, and get her the results! Unfortunately, time is of the essence in certain health concerns, and delays such as this can be dangerous. Everywhere there are examples of the costs of eroding education, and they will continue to get worse, as society decays, as laws are manipulated and discarded, as the long- term effects and hypocrisy of political correctness are revealed and corruption runs rampant and unchecked because the people are not educated enough to stand up and argue for what is right! Look to the customer service sector already. How many times have you been shuffled around, delayed, disconnected, and ultimately fail or give up in receiving the fair treatment you deserve? Without educations, with rampant corruption, the frontline of human interaction becomes poisoned, and used as a weapon of control against the population. Extreme? The company, whichever it may be, wants to make a buck, and every time you challenge that, it costs them. Far easier to make you give up your right to fair treatment.

What does this have to do with parenting and education? Everything. I don't care what you believe at this minute, but at least think critically and teach your children to do so because they will depend on one another more than ever in the coming years- especially if something ever happened to spell check. ;-P

Posted by: Chris | May 18, 2007 10:05 AM | Report abuse

John L: As one who has a fear and loathing of math, I've gotten along pretty well with a basic concept of adding and subtracting. I can balance my checkbook and that's all I care about. As for algebra, there is no use whatsoever in this life for it. I had to take an Algebra 101 class in college (never took it in high school) and barely passed with a C, the lowest grade I ever got in my life. I have never used it in real life and have forgotten everything about it. I did not go into the scientific, engineering, or rocket science professions. For computing interest, I let the bank do that. For the price of tomatoes, I let the supermarket set that. Just as I have a fear and loathing of snakes and deep water, I avoid those too. I do, however, know how much change I'm due back when I pay with a $20, and the cashiers have cash registers that tell them how much to give me. Apprently basic math isn't being taught nowadays, either.

Posted by: Hate to Shop | May 18, 2007 10:06 AM | Report abuse

PS- I made some spelling errors. ;-P

Posted by: Chris | May 18, 2007 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Math Prof--I couldn't agree with you more, on every point.

I think statistics should be one of the standard core courses in high school, preferably along with logic, so that students learn to be critical thinkers and readers.

The education students you saw presenting their geometry lessons? My daughter has their older counterparts teaching her now. They are actually very good at teaching second grade material, but their own ability to communicate is shoddy. I can't tell you how many notes I've gotten from the teachers with grammar errors and misspellings.

FWIW, spelling is "taught" in my daughter's school, but I'm not sure how much actual teaching goes on. She brings home a spelling list each week, she has daily homework related to that (much of it is just recopying the words in different ways, but occasionally she'll also have to write sentences or stories with her spelling words), and they are tested on the words every Friday. But I don't think classroom time is devoted to spelling, and I know they aren't taught what the words mean (that job is left up to me).

Posted by: Sarah | May 18, 2007 10:14 AM | Report abuse

My nephews attend a very highly regarded public school near Chicago. Cursive handwriting is not part of the curriculum because "kids will end up using keyboards anyway." I always thought that development of fine motor skills enhanced other learning ability. I've heard of other schools that discourage memorization of math facts and the use of flash cards. Long division is a lot more intimidating if you don't know multiplication to 12.

Posted by: HappyMom | May 18, 2007 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Oh, yeah, then we have newspapers chock full of spelling and grammatical errors. I sit with my local newspaper with a red pen and circle the mistakes. One obituary explained the deceased 'was formally from Carroll County.' You'd think a newspaper, in the business of writing and spelling, would have better editors and/or reporters.

And one more thing -- if you don't know the difference between cite, site and sight you're pretty stupid in my book.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 18, 2007 10:17 AM | Report abuse

My 6 year old daughter *loves* learning to spell. It's a challenge and learning new words brings a smile to her face. Shame on teachers who do not "teach spelling" any more. I am constantly amazed and, frankly, appalled at the number of people I meet who are terrible spellers. It's laziness, pure and simple.

Learning to spell comes along with something else our schools seem to be deemphasizing of late: reading. I spent the first 10 years of my life outside the U.S., and I was shocked when I arrived here (in 1980) to find that so many kids my age could not spell very well and did not read very much. I was reading several "grade levels" ahead of the school's top students. I attribute a great deal of that to educational systems that stressed the importance of reading.

Don't even get me started on proper grammar...

Posted by: RestonVAMom | May 18, 2007 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Actually, the argument about the religious right is simplified and wrong the way it's presented here. What many conservatives object to is the constructivist school of education which basically is the dominant paradigm in education schools today. The constructivist argument goes something like this:
1. Everyone has skills and abilities and experiences that they bring to the table when they are students.
2. Teaching is better if instead of simply teaching one way for one idealized kind of student teachers consider all of the different kinds of students, their backgrounds and how they learn.
3. That said, it's important to realize that there's actually no absolute truth (just the ones that people themselves construct and accept). There are many kinds of answers and many viewpoints for just about every question.
4. STudents need to 'construct' their own knowledge through -- getting in small groups and deriving their own understandings of multiplication, current events, spelling, grammar, literature, etc.
5. It is ethnocentric and sexist and arrogant for a teacher to assume that he or she is the only one that knows anything, and that other's "inventions" are not valid.

Most conservatives (including those on the religious right) object to the notion that "everyone should decide what's best for them". That's the constructivist view of the family, sex education and most social issues today. Many of us feel that there is an absolute truth, which comes from God and that there is an order to the universe (not chaos) because God made it that way.

It's not really about spelling. It's a much bigger issue -- whether there should be standards and where they should come from and who should decide. That's why people homeschool.

Posted by: Sorry so long | May 18, 2007 10:42 AM | Report abuse

"Quit teaching algebra perhaps - I still haven't used it and I'm way past any age in which I would - but spelling helps us capture language and make it our own."

Really? I feel like that there are often times we're solving for X even if we aren't thinking of it that way.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 18, 2007 10:44 AM | Report abuse

My partner and I are constantly dealing with this in our daughter's school. They never taught her multiplication tables, and actively discouraged the kids from learning them on their own (they went so far as to tell them that it was bad to learn them since it was just memorizing and a poor way to learn). They then decided that typewritten work was acceptable instead of handwritten, and emphasized typing over handwriting even for simple tasks (leading to a child who can barely write a coherent sentence without a computer). This is from a gifted and talented magnet middle school!

My ability to write simple sentences and craft a paragraph has gotten me in doors that I'd otherwise never had a chance at. I have been told that my skills are such that I surpass many of my coworkers, even senior to me, and am frequently asked to proofread documents and write articles for our department newsletter. I attribute this, and my love of reading, to early and frequent spelling lessons and encouragement to use a dictionary, which gave me a vocabulary that allowed me to understand anything I wanted to read. Kids today can't read simple books (Huck Finn, Charlotte's Web, The Secret Garden, etc.) without Cliff's Notes - and god help them when they get to Candide, Don Quixote, The Tempest, or even our very own Constitution and Bill of Rights. They don't stand a chance.

Posted by: Rebecca in AR | May 18, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Hmmm... I'm not sure where the idea of 'not teaching spelling' is coming from. Isn't the article about spelling bees? That the teacher from Fairfax doesn't care for the bee?

That aside, spelling is still being taught - infact both my kids have been getting spelling words since kindergarten. This is in Montgomery County.

I sat in on open house day for my 1st grader and was very impressed about how she was taught her words. 'Sight' words VS words your can sound out, and she related current words to past words, rhyming words, etc. They have a spelling test every Friday

My fourth grader's class does something different. Each child brings in a top 10 list every Friday to share with the class. So, they are exposed to 240 words on Friday(not counting repeats and duplicates, but still). They can be new words that they heard that week, read in a book, old words that they have a hard time spelling, etc. At first, I was skeptical, but all year long, he compiles a list of words and looks them up in the dictionary for spelling.

Someone said that spelling lists are less necessary once reading starts, and I think that is the reasoning behind my fouth graders spelling lists.

Also, someone else said (mbrumble?) that multiplication tables are no longer being taught. Tell that to my kids, who have to do Mad Math Minutes every Friday! They are all about knowing the multiplication tables.

About cursive not being taught anymore either - that seems to be true. They focus on it in the 3rd grade, but it is not mandatory.

I kind of disagree with the other teacher in the article that classroom spelling bees should be voluntary. That they make kids embarrassed. I seem to recall always being called on to spell a word. And on occasion we would have a spelling bee with another class - and I seem to recall enjoying those times. But I could just be a tad geeky...

And finally, my husband the English major says the big joke is that English majors can't spell. But that doesn't make it excusable (sp?) - that's what double checking and editing is for! I really hope that as my kids get older, it is not acceptable to use IMing terminology on school work. That would drive me nuts!

Posted by: prarie dog | May 18, 2007 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I can't imagine a school not teaching spelling. I think someone made this up. My kids are in public school, one high school and the other elementary. The younger one gets spelling each week and the older one has vocab tests where spelling is graded.

I would like to see more emphasis in the schools on math and science rather than so much emphasis on language skills. Not that language skills aren't important, but I guess I disagree with math prof and think that the balance is skewed.

For one thing, boys lose interest in school at a time when they are ready to be sponges. If only they could be learning about real "stuff" like life and stars and dinosaurs. Instead, they are sitting at their desks learning to write in small little letters. I think that elementary schools work so hard to get kids proficient in writing skills at such a young age that they lose an opportunity to pack the kids heads with knowledge. The same skills can be learned but in a different time sequence.

Now that my son is in high school it is hard for him to get in the math and science classes he wants to take because he is required to take language and social studies every term. I'm sure math prof is right that most people don't need more than algebra but those entering into engineering and science do. Taking these bright kids and force feeding them language classes hour after hour results in a loss of interest in learning.

Posted by: free bird | May 18, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

As a poor speller, with only adequate grammar, and poor handwriting, I could point to notion that the classical methods of teaching all of these things do not necessarily mean that you will be good at any of them.

As an English Major, I also take some solace from the fact that spelling and grammar (though not handwriting, alas!) are relatively modern concepts (no earlier than the 1800s) and that it is perfectly possible to be an excellent writer without them (albeit, probably not in the current age).

That said, I think spelling should be taught, albeit not in the traditional manner. I would prefer to see a much greater emphasis on morphemics (the use of word parts, roots, and their meanings) as opposed to phonetics (sound/letter corellations). The lessons I've used and seen used with the former rely less on rote memorization, and also have the benefit of working better teaching individuals with learning disabilities. It's much more about learning vocabulary than spelling.

Integrating spelling and grammar with the teaching of writing works well too (correcting/editing multiple drafts as a learning process) - a good practice to teach anyone. I can't help but wonder if the teachers who are not "teaching spelling" are doing this. Though I would hate to break it to them that they are actually teaching spelling anyway.

Posted by: David S | May 18, 2007 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and one more thing. I do agree that actual big nation-wide spelling bees aren't really about learning. It's kind of like a sport, and if you like spelling, and are good at it, it's good, even fun to compete. My cousin was a spelling bee champion when she was in grade school (now she's in a rock band!), won state a bunch of times, and nationals at least once. She received scholorships, encyclopedias, and other prizes. Good times for her. She really got into word origins, stuff like that.

But, for those that struggle with spelling, I don't think a spelling bee is going to help at all. Perhaps that is what the teacher was thinking about in the article.

Posted by: prarie dog | May 18, 2007 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Know, eye can naught si Y wee knead two teach are quids too spell.

Spell cheque will due are work four S.

Posted by: Bob | May 18, 2007 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to "Sorry so long" for explaining my point for me. You are exactly what I am talking about.

Posted by: di | May 18, 2007 12:08 PM | Report abuse

And three cheers for the spell checker! It's great for those of us who can spell but don't type very well.

Posted by: di | May 18, 2007 12:10 PM | Report abuse

I guess I need a repeated-word check too.

Posted by: di | May 18, 2007 12:52 PM | Report abuse

And you are exactly what WE are talking about. Don't worry. We'll be praying for you. Whether you want us to or not.

Posted by: sorry so long | May 18, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Upon observing my daughter compose a freelance written assignment, (around 7 years old), I noticed that she was taking a lot of time writing down her thoughts. She was afraid of making spelling mistakes and paid so much attention to her handwriting that a 5 sentence paragraph became a laboreas task.

From that moment on, I began to favor an educational structure that put more emphasis on expressing a thought rather than the procedural methods for doing so. In my daughter's case, I thought that the procedural methods were actually hampering her ability to communicate through writing, which defeats the purpose of correct spelling and the correct direction the "e" or "r" is printed.

I think the more a person writes, the better they get at it, and the details of spelling and punctuation will come with the experience.

I also think that a spelling assignment that has the child write each word out 10 times is an absolute waste. Language arts punishment! The time be better served exposing the child to expanding vocabularly.

Posted by: Father of 4 | May 18, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

And I pray that in the future Sorry So Long will express his or her supposed Christian charity for others in a less smug and triumphalist manner.

Posted by: di | May 18, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I agree that spelling correctly is important. I'm less convinced that it's something that should be taught. Good spelling, like good grammar, comes through reading widely and writing often. Occasionally it's helpful to learn the rules, but in English spelling in particular, there are so many exceptions that a lot of it is just brute memorization. I'd rather my kids were spending their days reading good books and absorbing good spelling from them than memorizing lists of words.

Posted by: KL | May 18, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

KL, I agree as reading skills get better, less attention to spelling lists is necessary.

However, for both my kids, the words they learned in kindergarten really helped boost thier reading skills. So, I think early on, it helps a lot.

That's why I started to really appreciate my 4th grader's "top 10" assignment. He reads a ton of books each week, and often comes across words that he doesn't know. So, he adds them to the Top 10, looks them up in the dictionary, and reads them to his class. There isn't a test, just sharing. The next time he sees these words in a book, they will be more familiar to him. And, perhaps he'll even remember some of his other classmates' words as well.

Posted by: prarie dog | May 18, 2007 1:40 PM | Report abuse

If we do not give our children the basic skills of spelling, grammar, and mechanics to use our language correctly and coherently, they will be just as ineffective in oral and written communication as an engineer who does not have firm grounding in basic and higher mathematics and physics. While school should not be all drudgery or filled with nothing but onerous tasks, it should not be all fun, games, and very easy tasks that do not call a child to stretch out of the comfort zone to learn. Where have we gone wrong? By somehow expecting that school is fun and easy all of the time, that everything should be entertaining and exciting, and that no one ever gets something wrong or, heaven forfend, fails at anything. "Real life" is quite a rude and painful time to learn such things....

Posted by: Former English teacher | May 18, 2007 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I think that some of this comes down to what should kids be taught in school, skills or knowledge. We stress skills for the young kids and knowledge for the older kids.

As a mom, it's not about my kid having fun in school. It is about and developing skills and a life-long love of learning.

I think that we could rebalance our educational system so that more knowledge is taught early and skill building continues into college. Of course, we don't want to read something written by someone who can't spell. But isn't it better than reading something from someone who doesn't having anything to say?

Posted by: free bird | May 18, 2007 2:10 PM | Report abuse

"I think the more a person writes, the better they get at it, and the details of spelling and punctuation will come with the experience."

Your writing skills can definitely improve over time, however, basic grammar won't necessarily improve. These are things that have to be taught.

Posted by: MV | May 18, 2007 2:20 PM | Report abuse

My daughter is in second grade. She brings spelling words home every Monday and has a test on them every Friday. Her class has just started learning the times tables this week. She is in an FCPS Title I school (gets extra money based on the number of children who get free or reduced price lunch). Her teacher is also teaching them handwriting, which is often not taught, but has been associated with better writing skills.

Posted by: a mother | May 18, 2007 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Let me mention another teaching method that I think is a complete waste of time: Giving a child a list of words, have them look up the definitions and write them down. If you want somebody to learn the meaning of words, just give them the list with the definitions and sample sentences so they can be used in context.

Does anybody actually think the drudgery of flipping through the pages of a dictionary and copying down a definition of a word out of context makes the definition more memmorable? I call it Language Arts punishment!

If a kid finds reading or writing enjoyable they will WANT to read and write. Their increased exposure and understanding of the language and vocabulary will increase with the experience. They will learn on their own and won't need special instruction to be "taught".

I can garentee you that the best way to diminish a child's language art skills over the long run is to do like some old school educators are still doing... Make it a chore!

Posted by: Father of 4 | May 18, 2007 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Posted by MV at 02:20 PM:

"Your writing skills can definitely improve over time, however, basic grammar won't necessarily improve. These are things that have to be taught."

I did not get the impression that the "with experience" position advocated against teaching grammar. You do not necessarily have to be taught what a split infinitive is to learn that it is grammatically incorrect. In practice, a teacher (or parent!) would correct a piece of writing in a process of editing/revision and explain that instead of "to boldly go where no man has gone before" it should be "to go boldly where no man has gone before." The lesson is still learned, just not from grammar worksheets.

Posted by: David S | May 18, 2007 2:58 PM | Report abuse

I certainly think we need less rote memorization and more comprehension and cognition processing done in schools.

However, when you're talking about the basics, sometimes it's just what you gotta do. Drill it in, try and make it stick and then move onto the skills you form from connecting all that basic knowledge.

Most people can tell an occasional typo from a really bad speller. And it's simply true that when communicating in a certain medium, the most effectively you can use that medium for your purpose, the more respected you will be perceived. This is true in public speaking and writing.

Good spelling is one of the basic keys to being a good writer and being able to form and communicate ideas effectively through writing.

Most people are fairly ok spellers and it's not a big deal. And of course there are some fabulous authors in the world who suck at spelling. But I think there's far more going for this than against it.

I'll also add that I think the more a person reads books, the better they are at comprehension and spelling as well- they get to see the language used and how it works in real life.

Posted by: Liz D | May 18, 2007 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Vocabulary words were a nightmare in second grade. Ten words to transcribe from the dictionary every Monday. My daughter took ten minutes for each word (times tables! do the math!) It was torture, I didn't understand the point behind it, and I spoke with the teacher about it. She said to hang in there, I would see the light. Eventually I did. It's more about time management, focus, and study skills and it has served my daughter well. My son starts 2nd grade this fall and I will be introducing him to the magic of vocab in August. I don't to go through this as homework every again.

Posted by: HappyMom | May 18, 2007 4:01 PM | Report abuse

'They've already done away with learning the multiplication tables.'
Over here in the UK they did away with the times tables in the 80's, but now they are bringing them back. Which is good in my opinion. If you can quickly remember them it can make life easier.
Spelling is also important to me. You can change the meaning of something totally by misspelling words. Plus, to me, it's just plain lazy not to spell properly. (Not forgetting that the spelling differences between the USA and UK are pretty drastic at times in themselves :) )

Posted by: Sally | May 18, 2007 4:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm 31--we had *very* little grammar instruction in my entire education. Fortunately I'm the child of an English major who corrected me at every opportunity.

I think it's a mistake to not teach spelling, just as it's a mistake not to teach grammar. I'm now an engineer, and most of my coworkers can't put together a coherently written email--even with the presence of spell check and Word's grammar checking. It saddens me, not to mention the loss of productivity when I have to get them to translate what they've written.

Posted by: Annapolis | May 18, 2007 5:10 PM | Report abuse

"Maybe, it's because I work in a profession where spelling and grammar mean something, but I still believe learning to spell has merit and warrants being taught."

I can't believe this sentence was posted as written. Obviously the first comma should be removed. Where is your editor???

Posted by: Lynne | May 18, 2007 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Actually, that sort of vocabulary activity (looking words up in the dictionary and writing down the definition) would have been a very effective strategy for me to learn vocabulary. I learn kinesthetically--by doing. In my high school Spanish class one year my teacher lectured from prepared notes. I took notes and never looked at them again. I didn't read the book. I got As all year. The next year the teacher opened the book and lectured using the text as his notes. I figured if it was in the text, I didn't need to write it down, so I didn't take notes, but I read the book. I got Cs all year. The process of writing the information down helped me learn it.

Not everyone learns like I do. I have acquired the skill of learning by listening, which I needed to succeed in graduate school. I have never mastered the skill of learning by reading, although I enjoy reading for pleasure. I completed an entire master's program in the late '80s and recently took 9 grad classes. I read only as much as I had to read in order to get by. And yet, my classwork has been good, my grades are good, and my classmates and colleagues think I have learned the material. I am confident of my learning, but I learned it by being active (talking, writing, creating), not by being passive (reading).

As for spelling, I am lucky in that I have a natural ability to spell.

Posted by: To Father of 4 | May 18, 2007 8:33 PM | Report abuse

I think learning spelling can be a natural process as well as one done by rote. The more you can encourage children to read the more words they learn without knowing it. Maybe that is the idea of getting them to look definitions up in a dictionary. They look for the word they want but come across others in the process and their brain takes them in.

Posted by: Sally | May 19, 2007 7:17 AM | Report abuse

I've never been a good speller, but I'm very good at math. My friends tease me about my emails and ridicule bad spelling they see in public. Yet, when we go out to dinner, they hand me the bill to figure out what we owe. When they get job offers, I have to figure out what percentage increase they have been offered. I find it all rather hypocrtical.

Posted by: RT | May 21, 2007 8:55 AM | Report abuse

I've never been a good speller, but I'm very good at math. My friends tease me about my emails and ridicule bad spelling they see in public. Yet, when we go out to dinner, they hand me the bill to figure out what we owe. When they get job offers, I have to figure out what percentage increase they have been offered. I find it all rather hypocritical.

Posted by: RT | May 21, 2007 8:55 AM | Report abuse

Every school teaches spelling. This is a ridiculous thread. What is happening is what Di said way up above: it is just not being placed first the way it once was. Spelling is taught and correct spelling is expected by about 4th or 5th grade but schools are encouraging students to write fluidly without worrying about spelling. When parents of first graders hear this, they are alarmed and say the kids are not taught to spell. Some are won over when they see what lovely, complex writing kids can do at a very young age. By second and third grade, the initial draft is revised, spelling is corrected, and the work is "published." I can't recall a single piece of writing I did in first grade, but my kids will.

Despite going to the same school and having the same teachers, one of them can spell and the other one can't.

Posted by: TrudyLou | May 21, 2007 9:45 AM | Report abuse

You would think that, with so many people unable to spell, capitalize, or punctuate, people with such skills would be in great demand -- at least to edit everyone else's prose! But, nooooo... It seems that NO ONE CARES ANYMORE, and those of us who try to get it right are just wasting our time.

Posted by: Lynne | May 21, 2007 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Their our serious dangers in relying up on spell checkers. There called "homonyms." Four example, my spell checker passed these comments with flying colors, although they contained five errors. The percentage of the population which knows the difference between the words "its" and "it's" must be in the single digits. It is one of the most visible indictments of our failing education system.

Posted by: Karen | May 21, 2007 11:44 AM | Report abuse

i hate spelling and i never want to see it again!!!! U guys who love spelling suck!

Posted by: bugerbutt | May 21, 2007 1:49 PM | Report abuse

i hate spelling and i never want to see it again!!!! U guys who love spelling suck!

Posted by: bugerbutt | May 21, 2007 1:49 PM | Report abuse

i like to fart when i see spelling!!! lol

Posted by: lemonaid | May 21, 2007 1:52 PM | Report abuse

i like to fart when i see spelling!!! lol

Posted by: lemonaid | May 21, 2007 1:52 PM | Report abuse

i love tender thies!!1
don't u

Posted by: tender thies | May 21, 2007 1:55 PM | Report abuse

i love tender thies!!1
don't u

Posted by: tender thies | May 21, 2007 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Of course there is no reason to teach spelling. Any normally intelligent person can pick up on that very easily, it just takes exposure to words and practice in writing with the goal to be effective and respected by literate readers. A similar question would be, should a teacher invest precious class time in having kids memorize how use a cell phone? They also pick up on that just fine. There are insights a good teacher can transmit to students, but "I before E" -- which has so many exceptions, and in any case only works for English -- isn't one of them.

Posted by: frank burns | May 30, 2007 9:31 PM | Report abuse

Of course there is no reason to teach spelling. Any normally intelligent person can pick up on that very easily, it just takes exposure to words and practice in writing with the goal to be effective and respected by literate readers. A similar question would be, should a teacher invest precious class time in having kids memorize how use a cell phone? They also pick up on that just fine. There are insights a good teacher can transmit to students, but "I before E" -- which has so many exceptions, and in any case only works for English -- isn't one of them. Spend a lot of time on spelling in the early grades, and you'll get an adult that loves to write tirades about the merits of good spelling, but then votes for George Bush, and thinks Dick Cheney was following proper hunting procedure when he shot his hunting partner in the face. "Peppered" they call it. Like a whole nation of impeccably-spelling Stepford wives. Oh, the horror...

Posted by: john norman | May 30, 2007 9:37 PM | Report abuse

Look, What you get with teaching too much spelling are people who write phrases like "one of the most visible indictments of..." I suppose as opposed to invisible indictments? C'mon, we need to teach reason, and we just aren't managing to do it somehow.

Posted by: frank burns | May 30, 2007 9:42 PM | Report abuse

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