Spelling: teaching and learning spelling

Colin Harrison and Greg Brooks | View as single page| Feedback/Impact

Teaching spelling - first principles

A defining feature of dyslexics is that they reverse letters- either at the single letter level ('d' instead of 'b') or at the word level ('saw' for 'was'). Right?

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Sometimes dyslexics do reverse letters in words- but they do so only slightly more frequently (and in some studies just about as often) as normally developing beginning readers. In fact, just about all beginning readers and writers reverse letters in words some of the time. And this is perfectly understandable: to a child a cup is a cup, whether the handle is on the left or the right- so why shouldn't the same principle be applied to letters or words? To make this confusion is perhaps little different from when an adult types 'saw' for 'was' on a keyboard- it's not because they can't spell, but because the letters are typed almost simultaneously, and the fingers get the letters down as a group, rather than as an ordered set. Children have to learn such constraints; they aren't born knowing them. Thus, at the first (logographic) stage of learning how to spell, many children know words as 'wholes', and might spell them forwards or backwards, because they haven't as yet developed a set of alphabetic or orthographic spelling rules.

Having said all this, however, it is important to note that if a child is still consistently reversing letters or groups of letters after age 8 or 9, then this might be a strong indicator of dyslexia, as poor phonological skills make it difficult to learn the links between letters and phonemes.