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Spelling: More than just good luck.

Who would have thought that spelling would be such a “hot” topic?

When I was asked to present a whole day workshop on the subject of spelling to WA Speech Pathologists, I was so excited to speak about something that I feel so passionate about!

I am delighted to say that the event was really well attended and participants engaged in high-level discussion about the nature of spelling development and disorders. There were many “take-home” messages, and some of the most salient were:

Speech pathologists know a lot about speech, language and phonological awareness. Our understanding of these areas (and their relationship to spelling) allows us to teach word patterns using a highly “verbal-orthographic” approach.

However, we have to up-skill ourselves in processing speed, working memory ability, rapid automatic naming and orthographic processing. These are vital to automatic execution of accurate spelling.

Once we have taught a rule or pattern, there is still work to be done; children don't always generalise what they have been taught, even when the learning process has been relatively easy for them to engage in.

Difficulties in speed, memory, processing and naming “fight” against the solid “bedding down” of new information. Words “evaporate” from the minds of children with Specific Learning Disorders.

We cannot assume that just because they have learned a rule such as short vowels need double letters after them in 2 syllable words (happy, better, hopping, biggest, funny), they will remember to apply that rule when they are writing. It might be many days or weeks until they actually write a story requiring some words from this rule-based category.

Will they remember what they have been taught after just one therapy session? The honest answer is probably not! It our responsibility to promote strong and reliable generalisation of new learning. We must design tasks to provide children with constant revision and integration of new learning. We must never leave learning to chance!

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