"Just Use Spell Check..."

May 14, 2021

For a whole host of reasons that won’t be raised at the moment, writing is difficult to adequately assess, even though there are standardized measures that practitioners and education specialists use in the assessment of writing.

I would be willing to go out on a pretty significant limb to say that a vast majority of school struggling children maintain some level of  mild, moderate to severe problems with writing and spelling.

However, when parents raise the issue of writing/spelling with the school they are frequently told variations on the following:

 

  • “Spelling doesn’t matter – they can just use spell check.”

 

  • “Maybe the child has ‘dysgraphia’ and you should go to a neurologist or an O.T. (occupational therapist).”

 

  • “They can get ‘A.T.’ (assistive technology) and dictate into speech-to-text programs.”

 

  • “All that matters is that they express their feelings – that they write what they feel.”

Even though the motor-component of most children’s writing is typically an issue, I don’t think the results would be very different if the writing is  composed on a computer or through dictating software.

From where I sit and the kids I evaluate, the issue with their writing struggling has more to do with the child’s understanding of the concepts of writing and is less a matter of whether the child uses a pen/pencil or some type of assistive technology.

For example, today I gave 8 year old Logan a picture from a standardized test in which he was asked to write a paragraph to a story of the picture.  (Keep in mind, the picture has a lot going on.)

Logan was told the paragraph should have a beginning, middle and an end

Here’s what he wrote in about 20 seconds:

                        “I am gooing to hlep mom oops I dopd the eggs.”

If your child is struggling with writing, I wish I could offer an easy answer to “fix” the problem.

The reality is Logans of the world need a great deal of direct guided instruction starting at the basic, simple sentence level. Once the concept of a simple sentence is mastered and internalized, then somewhat more complex sentences can be taught and practiced.

This instruction would also focus on the concepts involved with punctuation.  There would be talk about why do we use commas, periods and capital letters?  What is their point?

Such an approach is the direct opposite of  the “just write what you feel” approaches.

It’s difficult work and there are no short-cuts.  Direct instruction practiced over time is the only ticket I know.


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All comments (2)
  • Jane
    May 14, 2021 at 8:21 pm

    Thank you for your thoughts on this subject. I’m more and more frustrated with each passing year, regarding all of the “new” methods that are […] Read MoreThank you for your thoughts on this subject. I’m more and more frustrated with each passing year, regarding all of the “new” methods that are prevalent in so many school systems. I guess I’m really showing my age, but....isn’t “direct instruction practiced over time” exactly what years of teaching and learning in school is supposed to accomplish? That’s what I remember experiencing in the 1960s and 70s in public school. Are the methods that teachers are using today truly an improvement over what was utilized in the 20th Century, or is this just more proof of failed experiments with our children and grandchildren as the test subjects? The methods used should show improvement over past methods, otherwise they need to be jettisoned. Maybe it’s high time we go “back to the future”, rather than allow the whims of educational “experts” and teachers union leaders dictate what is beneficial. This “write down or type your feelings and use Spell Check” paradigm isn’t working. Read Less

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    • Richard Selznick, Ph.D.
      @Jane
      May 18, 2021 at 10:21 am

      Thanks for the comments. They are much appreciated. I think it is very challenging on different levels, especially when one reflects on the changes over […] Read MoreThanks for the comments. They are much appreciated. I think it is very challenging on different levels, especially when one reflects on the changes over the years in educational theory. For example, I distinctly remember when everything was centered on "top-down" vs."bottom-up" approaches. The bottom-up approaches fell on extreme disfavor, which I think resulted in legions of children being unable to read, spell or write adequately. Read Less

      Reply

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