I've been doing classroom observations and something that has struck me (and my college student partners) is that some (or all except one?) of the teachers tell the kids, when they are writing and ask how to spell something, that spelling doesn't count. Then on Monday, I witnessed students in one class with little dictionaries, looking words up. In this class, spelling does matter apparently. A light bulb went off in my head! The other teachers are using the whole language approach, and this teacher is using phonics! I can tell you anecdotally that whole language doesn't work. I know it is the "modern" way that is supposed to encourage writing, because phonics was the more traditional approach that might turn off kids' natural creativity or something, but that isn't what I see at all. I see students becoming lifelong bad spellers who over rely on computer spell checkers.
Mark Twain wrote about spelling:
I have had an aversion to good spelling for sixty years and more, merely for the reason that when I was a boy there was not a thing I could do creditably except spell according to the book. It was a poor and mean distinction, and I early learned to disenjoy it. I suppose that this is because the ability to spell correctly is a talent, not an acquirement. There is some dignity about an acquirement, because it is a product of your own labor. It is wages earned, whereas to be able to do a thing merely by the [grace] of God, and not by your own effort, transfers the distinction to our heavenly home—where possibly it is a matter of pride and satisfaction, but it leaves you naked and [bankrupt.] (March 27, 1906).
I think he may be right that spelling comes easy to some and not to others, but it it also true that phonics trumps whole language in producing good spellers! I am not sure that I agree with him that being able to spell well isn't an important skill. I don't think being a bad speller = character flaw, but I do think knowing how to spell is one attribute that makes it easier to utilize expansive vocabulary and write well. Twain was a master writer, and produced work that will be admired for eternity. He had no illusions about this. Is it just a coincidence that he could spell? Sure, primitive spelling can be charming, in a child's stories or even in a humble adult's letters, but I think there are educational methods that work, and they can be done in a humane fashion. What I see in the whole language philosophy is spelling separated out as its own unit, and I think that is likely to be the approach that causes worry for kids who are not among Twain's naturally talented spellers. Which reminds me, I finished the autobiography and am now reading Margaret Atwood's latest book.
Once again, this reminds me of the most extreme position on teaching reading and writing: simplified spelling, my i.t.a. experience.
Last day of my Thursday class! It was a good semester.