Thursday, June 23, 2011

Spelling test

My six-year-old son was a precocious reader. He had "Are You My Mother?" memorized before age 4, and we often tell the story of how his preschool teacher asked him to help read a dinosaur-themed book to the class because he could read and more importantly pronounce some of the most difficult dino names.

I was also an early and avid reader, and happen to be handy at spelling. What fascinates me is how my 6 year-old can read literally grades above his age level but isn't that great at spelling. I am curious about the connection between reading a word and remembering how to spell that word correctly.

For instance, he could read the word "squeak" probably two years ago. But if he writes it himself, he still spells it wrong.

My 6-yr-old's artwork. "Squeak" is spelled 3 ways.

In school, his kindergarten teacher encouraged him to write the word as he thought it was spelled, often called "inventive spelling."

According to a brief but in-depth explanation on, I was expecting my son to rely completely on visual word memory. Pretty limited of me.

Instead, learning to spell requires stage by stage acquisition of letter combinations, rules, consonants, vowels and digraphs (like "ph" sounds like "f"). Children move from phonetic to transitional spelling and then integrated spelling.

One spelling convention that fascinates my son is the "silent e" or any silent letter in a word, like the silent "b" at the end of "lamb" or "comb." My guess is he feels like he has uncovered a secret in the code that is reading and writing the English language. He loves patterns and deductive thinking puzzles, so this aspect of learning to spell is most appealing to him.

He learned to read so easily, I assumed learning to spell would be easy, too. Now that I have learned more about how he will learn, I look forward to noticing the next signs he's mastered a new stage.