Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Reason #80 gazillion to homeschool

At least, that's what he says -- and I happen to agree. Consider the following:

"Ther ouns was two flawrs. Oun was pink and the othr was prpul.Thae did not like ech athr becuse thae whr difrint culrs. Oun day thae had a fite."


The writing tells you a lot about what the author has and has not learned about spelling in English. She has mastered simple consonant-vowel-consonant words like "not," "had" and "did." She knows that adding an "e" to the end of a word can make the vowel sound long, although she does not always know where to apply this rule: "thae, fite." She has mastered some irregular, but often-used words like "was," "day" and "two," but she still needs to work on "were," "they" and "there." She does not yet know how to use the common –er ending in words like "other" and "flowers," but she clearly understands that the spellings of words must reflect each sound you hear in the word: "flawrs," "difrint."


If you don't remember being praised for spelling like this when you were in school, it's no surprise. For a long time spelling was considered to be mainly a process of memorizing individual words. Today, many experts believe that spelling is a developmental process in which children acquire certain ideas or theories about spelling as they are exposed to correct, or standard, spelling

Ok, I don't really object to the idea that being exposed to standard spelling will help your child learn to spell correctly. That is a vital part of learning to spell. However, taking the focus off of proper spelling instruction is, in my mind, a horrible idea. I have some experience with this, after all.

It does not surprise me much that I am one of the worst spellers of my acquaintance. It also doesn't surprise me that when I was younger, I considered myself an excellent speller. I believe that to be because I was a prolific reader -- and so of course I picked up some good spelling habits! My little sister went to a traditional school for her younger years and was lucky enough to be taught phonics. I was taught "whole language" -- and until a few years ago when I was investigating homeschool curriculum and stumbled across some phonics programs, I was completely ignorant of phonics rules. I never knew, for example, that adding an 'e' to the end of a word made the vowel long, although the rule made perfect sense once I read it. It was simply never taught to me (so far as I can remember). Those of you who had solid phonics programs in your youth might cringe at this, but I used to believe that phonics was not a necessary part of language instruction. I felt that the only important part of English instruction was reading and writing. Grammar, phonics, spelling... these things were all well and good, but they were not essential -- and if you look at my educational past, it would not be difficult to discover why!

In elementary school, I have no memory of spelling tests except in first grade. There was a spelling list that we were required to get a certain grade on before we could move on to the next list. I did quite well on those, and was somewhere near the top of my class. I also have one single memory of spelling instruction. It was in second grade, and we were talking about the difference between homonyms and homophones.

The next memory I have of spelling -- instruction, tests, phonics, whatever -- was in seventh grade when we moved to another state. The focus there was actually on vocabulary: that is, the meaning and use of the words. But I was so hopelessly lost on the spelling part that I couldn't possibly catch up that quickly. I made the lowest grade I have ever made on a report card (D), and I pretty much gave up on learning to spell. We moved to another state after that year, which meant that the next time I was introduced to the subject of spelling was in eleventh grade.

As far as grammar, I honestly do not remember a single lesson on grammar until I was in 8th grade. My little sister was diagramming sentances by the time she was in 7th (I believe), but I was not even introduced to the idea in school until I was in 11th. The idea of a gerund phrase or an infinitive was new to me in tenth grade, and the idea of properly using commas is still a mystery to me. The only comma rule I remember 'learning' was for using lists -- and I'm pretty sure that I was taught that one incorrectly. At least, my teachers never could agree on what the proper way to end a list was (ex: red, white, and blue OR red, white and blue? I was taught the first, but was marked down for it in papers later on in life). What I picked up from school was that commas were to be used whenever you paused when you read. Somehow I think that's not quite right, but I don't have a clue what the real rule is.

Just think about it -- if I had just a few basic phonics rules that I had learned, I might have been able to do better on those seventh grade spelling tests EVEN if there had been a lapse in my spelling education. But I knew no such rules, and the whole process of spelling has quite honestly always felt random to me. And of course, the same is true with grammar. One of the things that I am really looking forward to in homeschooling my own children is finally learning how to spell and use proper grammar. One thing I am sure of -- any proper spelling and grammar that you see in my writing came from one of three places: 1) listening to my parents, who have a fairly good grasp on both subjects (although they are not perfect); 2) reading good literature; 3) Mrs Mason (11th/12th grade English) -- although by that time it was a little bit late.

As a side note, I know that I am capable of being a good speller -- I have taken many foreign language courses (Spanish, French, German, Korean), and after learning the spelling/grammar rules of the language, I always made excellent grades. For some reason I always felt that foreign languages were easier to learn than English. I wonder why......

But back to the California teaching philosophy, what horrifies me most is the idea that teachers are taught to *praise* children for being "creative spellers". That is akin to praising a child for hitting their brother and assuming that if they see the correct behavior in action for long enough they will cease to hit him. Their standards are shockingly low:

"Certainly by middle school when students are using computers with spell checker, they should be accountable for very close to 100% correct spelling in final drafts of their work."

Are they joking? By middle school children should be accountable for very close to 100% correct spelling -- that I agree with. However, saying that a child can use spellcheck and still be allowed to misspell? I really can't believe they would accept such low standards! My only savior in the spelling arena has been spellcheck. When I use it, I do well. When I don't I'm liable to make an embarrassing error that everyone but me (it seems) will catch. The proper use of a computer should never be mistaken with the ability to use language correctly.

I wonder what kind of instruction other people had in the area of spelling and grammar? I hope that I am in the minority, but these days you never quite know....

Related Posts:

6 have poured out their souls in electronic text:

  • Anonymous

    It's also reason #80 gazillion NOT to ever accept a job in California. I'm so glad I had already accepted my current job, lest I ended up moving out there where they would be paying me about $28,000. A year.

    I lived in California for a period of time, when I was little. I don't think it has done much damage to me. Let's see...am I a dirty flaming liberal? Nope. The only liberal things I believe in are the ones I believe to be in accordance with the Bible (these are somewhat few, you see).

  • Anonymous

    I remember being praised in front of my first grade class for my best guess at spelling vacashun (vacation). My teacher absolutely raved about it.

    Notice a few things about this. First, we were writing a paragraph about what we did during the summer, in first grade. Second, the teacher also told me the correct spelling. Third, I was being taught phonics, and I used what I learned to guess the spelling of the word.

    A student should not be permitted to use an automated spelling checker until they have demonstrated the ability to spell correctly at the expected level. Spell checkers should be for catching clerical errors, not for hiding ignorance. (The same thing applies for use of calculators).

    BTW, it's sentence not sentance ;-)


  • Anonymous


    The sentence diagrams began, I believe, in 5th grade.

    7th grade was extremely thorough in the diagramming department, though: by 8th grade I could diagram the Preamble to the Constitution without much trouble. And I could to that from memory because we had learned the Preamble in 5th grade.

    I find it interresting that a disproportionately large percentage of my education happenned in a very small fraction of my school years. (4th, 5th, 7th, 11th, and 12th grades might cover more than half....)

    Speaking of comma-separated lists, I was taught early in 3rd grade to omit the last comma, but later in the year my 3rd grade teacher marked off for leaving out the comma. She told me it had been changed in some Body of Standards. I have used the final comma ever since.


  • Harmony

    "BTW, it's sentence not sentance"

    Argh... I *always* spell that one wrong. :P Just as a side note, that slipped by Blogger's spell checker...

    About your experience in first grade: they didn't have kindergarten back in those days, right? I think I would have been impressed by that, too. I have a memory of a big "WOW" written on a paper I wrote in 1st grade (I think) where I attempted to spell "medical technologist" (something to the effect of "medical tecnologest" -- it wasn't *that* far off). Unfortunately, my spelling hasn't much improved since then. ;)

    "I find it interresting that a disproportionately large percentage of my education happenned in a very small fraction of my school years."

    That is a very good point. My big learning years were 3rd, 5th, 7th, 11th, and 12th. Most of that learning was in math, science and social studies.

    I also remember that the ONLY thing I learned in 4th grade was bad words on the school bus. I bet 6th grade was kind of like that for you?

  • Anonymous

    "I also remember that the ONLY thing I learned in 4th grade was bad words on the school bus. I bet 6th grade was kind of like that for you?"

    Haha. What, you think that just because I learned nothing in math, science, social studies, or language arts, I didn't learn anything from my teachers? I mean, I had electives... beginner orchestra*, a drama class that didn't involve acting, and, erm, I think the other one was something like "Career Science." Yep, that would've been the year to start homeschooling.

    Good thing I had OM and private violin lessons.

    *Footnote for people who don't know me: I had been playing the violin for three years by this point.

    **Footnote for everyone: I do recall some intense geography quizzes, including one where I had to know all of the former USSR states. Now if only I had remembered them so I didn't have to relearn them in German last year...

  • Headmistress, zookeeper

    That last comma in the series (red, white, and blue) is known as the Oxford comma, and it is at the discretion of the person proofing or grading your work.
    I think it's important and I always include it.

    For a truly fascinating read about it, see Eats, Shoots and Leaves (note the lack of an Oxford comma there and the confusion it causes).

    There's also a picture book version of it that is terrific.