Friday, March 7, 2014

Spelling - Organisation Pt. 3

Tim is has selected the word, 'appeared' for word building.
This series looks at spelling issues as they relate to human information processing and working memory. How we learn to spell is dependent on how the brain processes information by encoding, storing and  retrieving stored information. The first post looked at the encoding of spelling information while the second post dealt with the retrieval of that information from long-term memory. This is the third posting in this series and discusses the notion of storage and organisation of that information. 

To begin this discussion it must be understood that spellers are active constructors and processors of information. In the past many teachers and others have assumed that learners merely identify and store spellings in there heads by systematically spelling or sounding out each word over and over again until the word is encoded or printed on a sort of mental chalk board. However, we now know that various elements of the encoded words are stored in different locations of the brain. For example, some graphic letter patterns may be stored in one area while the sounds and meanings may be stored in other areas. Dual Coding theory is particularly relevant in our overall understanding of this process. According to this theory the orthographic elements of words are stored in the visual memory while the sound elements are stored in the phonological store of working memory. What this essentially means is that good spellers have good organisation strategies and efficient linking mechanisms to enable them to reconstruct the target word.

Created from Visuwords
There are lots of ways to help children organise and develop these linking processes. We will discuss two methods that can be used together to link the semantic, orthographic and phonological aspects of words. Visuwords is an excellent application on the Internet to enable people to explore the meaning and relationships of a targeted word. How words are related to each other is shown with the use of colour coding and line style. For example, the red coloured link shows the antonyms for the word 'appear' while the coloured spots indicate the grammatical relationships. In conjunction with this activity a table or feature analysis chart could be made up to explore word building by using 'appear' as the root word and showing how other morphemes such as 're', 'dis', 'ed', 'ing' or 'ance' can be added to change the meaning.

Many children with spelling difficulties are often passive learners who exhibit a limited set of spelling skills. They typically lack confidence and it is important for teachers to help them set appropriate and specific goals that are not only challenging but achievable. This, lack of confidence and disengagement can be partially overcome by giving them a choice of words to learn. In this way they will develop more effective and longer-lasting word learning than they will for words chosen by the teacher. Spelling also improves when children are expected to generate word meanings by giving them the opportunity to experiment independently using the techniques mentioned above.   

This is the final part in the three part series on spelling from a working memory perspective. I would suggest that you visit Trevor Cairney's Blog, Literacy, families and learning, for an excellent overview of the teaching of spelling called "Spelling, caught and taught."