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"Use Your Sounders!" - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
"Use Your Sounders!"
In kindergarten Skylar and her classmates at Manzanita were told to use "kids' spelling" all the time. When I was volunteering in her class I'd say, "Use your sounders!," because that made-up word did the best job of reminding them what do do. Now that they're in first grade, though, they have spelling tests each week. The transition from an approach where the emphasis is on expression alone to one where being correct takes precedence has been confusing at times. As my friend whose daughter is two years ahead of Skylar once noted, even six and seven-year-olds can sense ideological conflict in the classroom. Luckily for Skylar, though, the injunction to start doing things the grown-up way has been tempered by plenty of encouragement to use "kids' spelling" in other assignments. When she writes us her weekly note or does her homework, she is permitted to translate sound to paper phonetically in order to bridge the many gaps in her orthographic expertise.

Although I find her hybrid spelling status vexing at times -- I had to learn the correct spelling for words from the get-go -- I have to admit that it makes her writing a lot richer in content than it otherwise would be. Not to mention that her attempts to sound out words regularly results in transcriptions that reveal something about pronunciation that would otherwise go unnoticed. This week's homework is a great example:

I struggled to figure some of the words out, but once I did, I was delighted. "Veginya" for "Virginia"; "cheravled" for "travelled"; "Callaforsyu" for "California" -- these transcriptions capture the nasal quality of American English pronunciation beautifully. Linguists can learn a lot from children. Toddlers especially. But the lingering use of "kids' spelling" at Skylar's age gives that utility a longer shelf life. I just hope that the transition from this hybrid spelling situation to all-grown-up all the time works out as well as the last one.

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art_thirst From: art_thirst Date: February 2nd, 2006 02:53 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Two issues from my observations:
1) Those that don't read much have to tendency to misspell more often because they don't have correctly spelled words visually reinforced.
2) With so many foreign born people around these days, we often use phonetically spellings in an attempt to do the right thing, often failing in the end though.

That, of course has nothing to do with Skylar's spelling I don't think but, having been an avid reader when I was young, actually excited to read books from my brother's classes (he's 2 yrs. older), made me want to know how words are spelled and what they meant. I tell univ. students all the time to go buy a dictionary. Most of their responses? *eyeroll* Can they spell? No!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 2nd, 2006 03:30 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I agree with both points, more or less. The interesting thing about #1, though, is that reading more doesn't necessarily lead to more correct spelling. Skylar reads a lot now. But when she sits down to write, the phonetic approach takes over and she uses "kid's spelling" even for words she knows how to spell the grown-up way. It's clearly hard for a lot of children, including Skylar, to switch back and forth.

As for today's college students, I have some otherwise bright ones this semester whose spelling is only marginally better than Skylar's. On the first-day assignment where they were supposed to assess their strengths and weaknesses, one of them wrote, "I'm pretty good at granmer." I kid you not.
art_thirst From: art_thirst Date: February 2nd, 2006 03:51 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Skylar is young still even though she may read a lot. I'm really speaking about older kids, high school age and beyond. I'll admit to having some trouble spelling because of the foreign languages (what little I really do know) in my mind. That's one reason I don't like going back and forth between English and Spanish when using the "chat" programs. It really gets bad for me then. But, I have dictionaries within arms reach when I'm writing and, I use online resources when available. I've looked back over some of the stuff I've published online and think, "Gawd, did I really publish that with all those mistakes?!" :-))
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:21 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
We all overlook things. I had a terrible time going back and forth between English, Spanish and German when I was an exchange student. Spanish eventually got put in a box and locked up.
From: e4q Date: February 2nd, 2006 03:46 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
united 'staats' has a pleasingly germanic feel, or looked at another way, maybe dutch. meanwhile i love 'cheravled' makes me think of cheval, which would be a good enough marker for travel in french, perhaps the words are in some way related.
one of my school memories was of an explanation of how english was a hybrid language of many languages for various reasons, but one of the core reasons was from a time when the toffs would speak french and the peasants a kind of german. hence we have beef/boef at the table and in the fields would be acow/kuh and still in scotland a coo - which sounds exactly the same as the german but has been spelled at a far later date.
i am all for language mushing. this is one of the reasons why english continues to survive - it is almost viral.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:22 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I love reading that sort of stuff. English has a fascinating history. But the spelling is so hard to master! Do you realize that in many languages the spelling test isn't a big part of the curriculum? It's only when there are so many exceptions and so few rules that spelling comes to the fore.
From: e4q Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:44 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
this is the pro/con nature of this language in a nutshell. being such a monster lamguage including bits of all sorts from sanskrit to sami and being so historical and bowlderised in it's very nature, stolen from elsewhere, spellings made up, using root languages that are in some way fundamentally incompatible is going to give you a spelling headache, but on the plus side, all this making up and shunting in it's history makes it a pleasure to continue to continue to make up, whether you are an academic coining a new word the better to fit your lovely theory, or a kid trying to be economical in a text message. i have a sense of regret that etymology is lost along the way, or even just the evidence of the root of a word (simply colour/color) but i would rather live by the vulgar sword of the bawdy english than die by the sword of the uptight french, be it ever so elegant.
fermi_daza From: fermi_daza Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:03 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
My kids are now 12 and 14 and they started writing in a similar manner. It used to drive me crazy that teachers didn't require that they use correct spelling. Though spelling gradually improved as time went on, I finally noticed that they were up to speed by fourth or fifth grade. My younger son still has trouble now and then, but my older son has no trouble at all and is an eloquent and creative writer.

I truly believe that reading is the key.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:20 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's good to know. She's already very creative when she writes with "kids' spelling." I don't think she'd feel so free to compose if she were trying for correctness at this juncture. Thanks for writing!
cpratt From: cpratt Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:31 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I have to admit that I've always been kind of shocked at Skylar's spelling. Is there actually any research that shows it's beneficial to a child's development to not bother to learn how to spell anything correctly until they're nine, ten, eleven years old?
kdotdammit From: kdotdammit Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:47 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Funny how different people see things differently. I've never felt "shocked" at Skylar's spelling. Rather, I've always felt absolute awe and amazement over her imagination and her lack of intimidation. Her ability to flow freely with her thoughts and ideas. Her ability to conceive grand stories, narratives, and ideas. Her ability to sit down and work on a book for nine hours straight. So yeah, accurate spelling (look at mine for christsakes)is nowhere near as important (in my opinion) as the ability to conceive, create, produce, follow through. In my book, it's more important that her creativity isn't stifled if you ask me.
cpratt From: cpratt Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:50 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
You're absolutely correct, you know. My problem is that I work as a test engineer, and when I read stuff, most of my brain processing power goes into 'is this spelled correctly,' 'is this grammatical' and other relatively useless stuff. I'm great at totally missing the point and/or not understanding texts, but very good at superficial criticism. You know?

And I'm kind of embarassed by that, by sometimes only seeing the form and not the function.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:52 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
There's also a way in which attention to correctness can inhibit expression. As I recall, you were always very good at college at being precise, but sometimes struggled to string your individual points into something cohesive. Sometimes accepting fuzziness is a prerequisite for following through on one's ideas.
cpratt From: cpratt Date: February 2nd, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Overattention on correctness can both inhibit expression and serve as a tool for getting people [and for people, read The Man, or what have you] to take you more seriously. A grant proposal written in anything other than standard English probably won't get taken seriously, for example; as I often point out, overemphasis on correct spelling, for example, tends more to serve as a control mechanism than anything else [eg increasing legibility].

I was just surprised that a school would encourage expression without apparently putting any value on correctness.

What grade is Skylar in again? I keep forgetting... :(
kdotdammit From: kdotdammit Date: February 2nd, 2006 08:31 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Skylar is in First Grade. And they do have eight new spelling words every week and have spelling tests on Fridays. Some of this week's words are rainbow, paintbrush, highway, before, and always. I can't remember the others. (Jeesh, I hope I spelled these ones correctly.) So the school does a balance of cultivating creativity and individual voice while also teaching mechanics and, yes, spelling. But yeah, Bean is only in First Grade, and in all honesty she is very advanced compared to many of the kids in her class, and her class has bright kids.
cpratt From: cpratt Date: February 2nd, 2006 08:33 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Well, that's 80% plus of my problem right there. First grade? She's doing really well for first grade. I keep forgetting she's so young - she doesn't strike me as a first grader when I speak with her in person. My bad. :)
kdotdammit From: kdotdammit Date: February 2nd, 2006 10:22 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I forgive you. (KDD delivers mild swat on butt and moves on.)
art_thirst From: art_thirst Date: February 3rd, 2006 01:15 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Now, I'm getting an even better understanding as to your humor, or whatever you want to call it, that I fall into with my usual seriousness. I'm thinking back to your "icon" that I made a fuss about. But, looking at your entry page on your website is the same thing. Serious, but not really serious. That almost always pulls me right in.
art_thirst From: art_thirst Date: February 3rd, 2006 01:26 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I also was trying to make sense of her age when she cooked some food for you that I questioned you about. I love that children in general are more open to experimentation. Once they get older it seems to be more rebellious rather than real creativity. I also tell my students the classroom is a place of experimentation and a place where mistakes are to be made. I invite mistakes of the creative kind. The process of exploration is important and each person needs to find their own way to that creative spot. The road might be bumpy but, the end of the journey should be good and fun. :-)

Which I guess I should also say, if you ever want to have me publish any of Skylar's drawings, let me know. Miamiartexchange.com is open to a multitude of ideas. :-)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:47 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Well, Chris, I wish you'd paid somewhat closer attention to what I wrote. She is taking spelling tests -- and getting perfect scores on them -- but that doesn't mean that the phonetic approach she learned earlier goes out the window. Also, see my comments to art_thirst above for insight into the way in which the phonetic approach sometimes overrides the grown-up one when she does know how to spell the word correctly.

There has been research, as should be obvious to you. Things don't end up in the curriculum without some sort of institutional legitimation. Basically, the idea behind the phonetic approach is to get kids writing fluent sentences before they can spell many of the words they use when speaking.

As for your shock, I can sort of understand. But I'm willing to bet that your first-grade compositions were more faulty than you remember. I know mine were, because I recently looked at some of them.
cpratt From: cpratt Date: February 2nd, 2006 04:52 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
It's never obvious to me that there's research behind lots of popular academic things, eg Rudolf Steiner-inspired teaching methods, hence my question.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 2nd, 2006 07:04 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I mean the sort that pass muster in public educational systems. There's a reason why all that alternative stuff like Montessori and Waldorf is only found in private and charter schools. Not that they're bad, necessarily. But their value is hard to quantify in the sort of studies that end up supporting curricular changes in public schools. I mean, obviously research is often biased and flawed even when it has institutional legitimation.

But you're right to suspect -- or at least, to suspect what I suspect you suspect -- that the studies that promote early use of "kids' spelling" don't mesh with the traditional approach that puts correctness at the fore.
cpratt From: cpratt Date: February 2nd, 2006 08:04 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
You know me - I'm deeply suspicious of things that seem like radical approaches to learning that I didn't personally experience or encounter at university. However, as you're well aware, I do not have a degree in education and am far from familiar with current theory and practice in that area.

In short, sounds weird, never heard of it, ergo am suspicious. But it's legit, huh?
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 2nd, 2006 11:13 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
It's called "Whole Language" and there is massive research that it doesn't work and it's been gigantically discredited in California in particular. In most schools, including Skylar's (where my daughter also goes to school -- two years older), whole language is now tempered with phonics. Having said that, I strongly believe that whole langhuage is the better approach -- partly for the reasons Kim mentions -- but what I really wanted to say is the thing I always say which is that it's a wonderful approach for kids from more "advantaged" educational and economic backgrounds. It doesn't work for kids "at risk" educationally. FYI Charlie, Alice spells better than Elliot (he's 16). And even Elliot spells pretty well. Personally, I have always thought there was a "spelling" gene -- but I also have always thought it was all about reading, like 90% of everything is all about reading. My 2 cents.
gpratt From: gpratt Date: February 3rd, 2006 07:26 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
..."It doesn't work for kids "at risk" educationally."

Gotta agree, as a poor kid who went entirely through to HS with the 'poor spelling gene' tag. My parents had been advised while I was in the second grade that I may be dyslexic when my spelling wasn't improving at the level of my classmates. Following year, a teacher who took a liking to me reported that my spelling reflected my creativity, my personality, and so on. Well, I am dyslexic. And nobody (including parents) bothered to act on what should have been clear signs- for years, thanks to my cute spelling.
Fortunately for Skylar, she has parents who read with her, look over her school work and are aware. She's writing books and is not shying away from sharing her work? She can recognize kid spelling v adult spelling? She's (better than) fine.

PS- any adult out there who knows a kid is struggling in skool and does nothing to help them gets a voodoo curse from me.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 4th, 2006 01:34 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I hadn't heard about the discrediting. Based on the comments from gpratt and other things I've seen, though, I bet your point about the "kids' spelling" approach working out best for already "advantaged" children is right on the mark.
nondescriptgirl From: nondescriptgirl Date: February 4th, 2006 01:15 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Hopefully this is a new way of teaching writing/spelling. If it’s been around a while, then I have an argument. I teach high school and my students, 9th through 12th grade, have some atrocious problems with spelling. This goes for handwritten work and typed / “spell checked” work. If my students were taught using the “whole language” method in elementary school, and it was successful then, it’s clear something has gone seriously wrong between fifth grade and ninth grade. But if the program is new, then I guess I cannot find fault with it. Yet.

If my students were actually taught with the whole language method and are as bad as they are (and it’s scary bad), then it doesn’t work, or … it does work until the kids are older and are required to start turning in typed work. Then they get a hold of the spell check feature on their computers. It becomes a crutch. They take the thing’s suggested word as absolute, click, click, click, in goes the wrong word (although phonetically it may sound correct), and out go their spelling skills. And then there’s kids not reading enough, teachers not catching or correcting mistakes along the way, parents not catching or correcting mistakes along the way, and the rules of spelling in the English language being more ridiculous than those of any other language on this planet, genetics, motivation, yadda, yadda. I guess it’s difficult to say how my students ended up where they are now. There are just too many variables.

Whatever the explanation, the papers I see today are collectively much, much worse than those of eight years ago (in content, character, and form). I just hope I’ve seen the worst of it.

(Note: I apologize for any spelling errors. I was raised in Kentucky. Yet another variable.)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: February 4th, 2006 01:31 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's really interesting. Maybe the "kids' spelling" approach does bear troublesome fruit. I don't have a clear sense of how things are tending with Skylar, yet, but I'll keep an eye out. Her mom isn't that great a speller unless she concentrates, but she does alright when she needs to. I'm not a spelling bee-champion, certainly, but am better than most. Nature or nurture?
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