Through schooling, we have been conditioned to look for perfection within spelling; we have even created monikers to assist this philosophy: always use spell-check before turning in an essay, I before E except after C, etc. With all of the attention put toward spelling, it would appear that it is a majorly important component of learning, and that it somehow increases one’s phonological awareness. As we discovered through our in-class discussions this week though, promoting perfect spelling does not increase one’s phonological awareness. In fact, I argue that it confuses students as to what their main objective should be.
From our earliest days as students, spelling was always taught the same way every week: successive lessons with little deviation. Each Monday we would start with a spelling test, and each Friday we would be re-tested on the same words to track our improvement. For those that are able to reflect on these times and say that they enjoyed spelling tests, it typically correlates with the fact that they received good scores. And adversely speaking, for those that did not enjoy their spelling test days, it typically relates to the fact that they received poor scores. Students were labeled week after week as either a good or bad speller, and their spelling homework for the week would be contingent on how well they did on their Monday test.
It is important to remember that phonological awareness is defined as a persons awareness of the sound structure of words. Research shows us that early phonological awareness is an important and reliable predictor of later reading ability, and thus, the most effective method for reaching students is a highly debated topic.
In today’s educational system, the testing of spelling is standard across most education formats; there has even been a movie, Akeelah and the Bee, about Spelling Bees and ESPN annually chronicles the national spelling bee on its main network. Clearly there is a dynamic in place that promotes perfect spelling, and we revere those that are able to do this. Overall, our group concluded that spelling tests were not the most efficient method for promoting phonological awareness in our early schooling days. While there was much repetition, there was no actual learning of the meaning of words; spelling patterns and rules were discovered, but through the practice of copying words week after week, true phonological awareness was never truly initiated.
As future teachers, it is imperative to establish phonological awareness in young students so that they can continue to mature along the continuum as they go through schooling. We have established that spelling tests alone are not adequate to initiate this, so the question remains: what is the best way to establish solid phonological awareness for our young students?
-Seth, Emily, Morgan, Elizabeth