I was speaking to a colleague a few days ago who attend a training seminar on literacy instruction for children with LD. She was curious to know my opinion on whether I teach spelling rules to children with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.

Spelling rules are a core part of teaching a child how to spell and are a very effective tool you can equip a child with. In order to be good at something, we first have to understand it and the same applies to spelling. Every child I have taught, has been taught the core spelling rules and found them very valuable (& has remembered and been able to apply them!).
I have outlined my 5 reasons why I think spelling rules are important to teach:

  1. Children with LD (learning difficulties) may take more time to learn the spelling rules, but by using the correct methods, they will learn them. All children have the right to be equipped with the knowledge of the English language and part of that is spelling rules, whether they have a LD or not.
  2. Understanding the English language is a core part of being a good speller. Spelling rules are an essential part of understanding the English language. Research has shown that good spellers have better understanding of morphographs, than poor spellers. Similarly, explicit instruction in morphological structure significantly improves the spelling ability of students identified with dyslexia as compared to students matched by age and by initial spelling performance (Tsesmeli & Seymour, 2008).
  3. Students who lack spelling rules will likely have difficulty spelling new words with prefixes, suffixes, base words and understanding short and long vowels. Words such as ‘hopping’ and ‘hoping’, using rules to drop ‘e’, magic ‘e’ on the end of a word changes the sound such as ‘mat’ and ‘mate’, ‘ck’ follows a short vowel such as in ‘click, rock, deck, pack, luck’, or the flossy rule, doubling the letter at the end of word following a short vowel in a 1 syllable word. Without this basic understanding, children are left to ‘guess’ how to spell words they are unfamiliar with.
  4. Once children have learnt basic spelling rules they can apply this knowledge to numerous words. It opens up a bank of spelling that they may not have been able to otherwise.
  5. Equipping students with knowledge of spelling rules, gives them confidence and autonomy, increasing their intrinsic motivation to try new spellings.

Natalie Nicholls
Education Consultant
Dyslexia and Learning Difficulties Specialist

Styliani N. T and Philip H. K. Seymour (2008) The effects of training of morphological structure on spelling derived words by dyslexic adolescents. British Journal of Psychology 1-29.