My oldest daughter is a second grader and a whiz at spelling. Every Friday she brings home a list of “Word Wall” words for the upcoming week and asks me to “quiz” her. She knows them all every time.
One of her favorite past times is writing. (The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, eh?) A few days ago she brought me her latest story and read it to me. I smiled and told her what an awesome storyteller she is, especially because she builds suspense throughout the story. She beamed and began talking about how she thought of the idea while walking to lunch.
Instead of listening, I was calculating the percent of misspellings. 92% of the words were misspelled. As she jabbered on, I took a closer look at the misspelled words. The majority were words she knows how to spell in a snap. She even misspelled “the” and “in!”
I couldn’t take it anymore. I waited for a pause and said, “Sweetie, you have a lot of misspelled words in this story.”
“That’s because when you write, you stretch the words out to hear the sounds. Then you write down the letters that make the sounds.”
“That’s a good idea when you don’t know how to spell a word, ” I smiled.
“I know,” she said. (Are all second graders this modest, or just mine?)
“After you write, you should go back and reread, checking for spelling. You know how to spell a ton of the words in this story, let’s look through it again and see if you notice any words you know how to spell. Let’s start at the end and put your pencil on the word. Say the word. Then ask yourself if it’s spelled correctly.”
H. tried out the process. “Oh my goodness, Mom, you’re right!” (Shocking, I know!) “There were a ton of misspelled words. I think I’ve corrected them all.”
I looked over her paper. “Yes, you did. From now on, before you consider a story finished, you should read it backward, touching each word, asking yourself if it’s spelled correctly.”
Last night H. brought me her latest book, All About Pets. We read it and I complimented her on writing a nonfiction book. What a diverse writer she is — personal narrative, fiction, poetry, and nonfiction all in less than a week! Then I noticed her spelling.
“Wow, H., your spelling is a lot better than a few days ago. There’s not a single Word Wall word misspelled. How’d you do that?”
“Well, you know how you said to always reread my writing to check my spelling?” she asked.
“Yes, is that what you did?”
“Nope, I decided that would be a waste of time, ” I lifted my eyebrows at her. ” Why should I wait until the end to spell something correctly? I decided that when I write I should ask myself if I know the correct way to spell a word. If I do, then I write it right. If I don’t, then I stretch it.”
I smiled, appreciating her honesty and her insight. “That’s a really good idea, do you mind if I share it with other writers?”
“No, but it’ll cost you,” she opened her arms wide and I hugged her tightly.
These little conversations make me realize the importance of helping our young writers transition into conventional spelling. In kindergarten and first grade inventive spelling is a necessity for our writers. However, as they become more aware of spelling common words, it’s important to explicitly teach them to use the conventional spelling in their writing. I imagine there are many writers like my daughter, who have the misconception that in writing we stretch all of the words. By taking a few minutes to teach students to only stretch the words they don’t know how to spell, we are able to drastically improve the conventions of our young writers’ drafts.
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