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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Does spelling count?

Does spelling count?

Related Tags: 6-8 Middle School
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Does spelling count? That used to be the big question. What students meant was “will you be taking off points for misspelled words?” While using technology in class now, the question is essentially, “do we have to spell words right on purpose?” I frequently use an online discussion tool. Many students use text speak and emoticons whenever they are using an online tool in their personal lives, be it social media or mobile. Students have learned a variety of ways to make their words become their voice, including emoticons, CAPITAL LETTERS, and lots of punctuation!!!!!! Some teachers allow that style of writing while using online discussion tools because it increases their excitement and engagement with the tool, freeing them to “learn the way they live,” Other educators feel that if you are using the tool for a class students should be practicing proper writing skills at all times, including spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, etc. What do you think? Does digital writing count?

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Joe Beckmann's picture
Joe Beckmann
Retired teacher educator - UMass, EDC, various school systems

Spelling may be important, but usage is a lot more subtle and a lot more compelling. When you use "very essential" it's worse than redundant - how could anything be "sort of essential" or "essentially essential" and still make any sense.

Not to be too tacky, but be a lot more careful about your adverbs - words like "greatly" and "solely" flutter like the leaves of a poplar in the breeze and distract from your point. That point - that spelling is important, particularly in important works, since people expect important words to show in important ways - is, perhaps, not very subtle.

It might be framed more directly: say what you mean, and leave it at that. It's hard to spell badly, incidentally, when you write on a computer, and nobody uses typewriters anymore. Most important papers can be self-corrected with any common word processor. It may take an afternoon to figure that out, but, Katie-the-teacher could simplify her correcting of papers to run them through a word processor self-correcting program.

Keep it Simple...S.

Valerie Derrick's picture

Back in the dark ages, before computers and smart phones, I was an avid letter writer. As a teen-ager, when I wrote letters I dotted my i's with hearts, used multiple exclamation points, drew happy and sad faces and so on. Kind of like the hard copy version of emoticons. My English teachers simply explained to me that when I was writing to my friends it was perfectly fine to write like that but a formal paper for school shouldn't include such things. I think the argument still stands.

Joe Beckmann's picture
Joe Beckmann
Retired teacher educator - UMass, EDC, various school systems

Can, for many, be a flash and snap. In online conversations, for example, my response to such simple explanations is LOL. That, I'm sure, is not your intention, so it's wise to specify to whom, when, and under what circumstances such "explanations" involve examples, insights, comparisons, and identities. Multiple explanation points are sometimes important in online communications, for example!!! and might be seen as rude in a formal paper intending a slower, more circumspect response. Yet in third grade, that response has substantially less circumspection than in grad school, and the deliberate intention is probably - unless AP reaches farther than I'd ever expect - more measured. It is in sharing those measures that a teacher "teaches," but the most memorable methods are rarely "simple explanations." Beware keeping simple THAT simple, for yet another ironic example.

Valerie Derrick's picture

Joe, not sure I understand your response. The point I was trying to make was that it was easy for me as a young teen-ager to understand there was a difference between the type of writing I used in corresponding with friends and the type of writing required for school papers once it was pointed out to me. My suggestion is that one could make the same argument today about the difference between texting, etc. and writing for school papers.

Joe Beckmann's picture
Joe Beckmann
Retired teacher educator - UMass, EDC, various school systems

Sorry, but I'm too conscious of how teachers intervene, slip into directive vocabulary, and fail to encourage students to find their own voice. My experience is that kids initially view things with school the way they view things in their lives - and texting, etc. - produces odd anomalies. Then, preferably by comparing notes with each other, they teach themselves more nuanced communication. If anything, I'm a high school montessorian, who would rather "direct" the way they do in theater than the way they do in first and second grade. And I always, almost ritualistically remind them that there are more of them than of me, and that they can teach each other better and more than I can. OTOH (to use their own shortcuts), I know lots of stuff that can make their success a lot easier. Within a short time, they come to agree. Unless, of course, they don't.

I also cite community blogs, which are much better vehicles to "publish" papers about their lives and communities, and where the more formal "standards" are more intrinsic to the community they're gradually joining. So, rather than write for my eyes only, I find it far more productive for them to write for others, including me, and the advice they get is ... simply ... advice.

Incidentally, the software for this kind of communication doesn't always capture spelling, and I also get enraged at "grownups" who casually dump unedited text where intelligence should be the norm. Thanks for your timely and literate response.

Segow's picture
One man science department

I actually prefer to approach spelling much in the same way I approach writing - in layers. The first draft is designed to get the ideas, concepts, images, etc. out on the paper. Now that the ideas are safely out of my head, I can focus on making them as clear and concise as possible ( as well as handling any grammatical sins). The third draft is when someone else examines my work (usually my wife).

I teach my students to emulate this process. First, they write down their answers, ideas, hypothesis, etc. Next, they proof read their own work. This process includes underlining words they feel they might have misspelled. With dictionary in hand they then make any and all necessary changes. I then look over the third draft.

This offers me several tactical advantages. First of all, I can clearly differentiate between whether a student is having trouble understanding a concept or expressing their understanding. Second, it allows me to not only stress the material but reinforce the importance of proper spelling. Finally, it allows me to avoid the trap of just rewriting a student's work.

Bruce Deitrick Price's picture
Bruce Deitrick Price

I actually have this on craigslist; might be useful for some:
"TIPS ON HOW TO WRITE AN ESSAY: Don't try to dash it off; there is a more efficient way. First, write down all the items you would like to cover. At least 10, maybe 20 or 30. Write them in any order and with just enough words so you don't forget the point. Read the list and ask: "Is this everything I want to cover in my essay?" Answer yes, and that means you have defined your CONTENT. Now go to the second phase, which determines STRUCTURE. Find the point that would be the most interesting way to start. Label that A. Then ask, what will be the next most interesting point to discuss. Mark that B. The next most interesting point is C, and so on to the last point. Now go back and read the points in the new sequence. If it sounds good, then rearrange the points on your computer screen and print them out. (Maybe wait a few days and come back with a fresh viewpoint.) Now you have a short version of your essay, sort of like a movie script on story boards. You can let your mind walk back and forth through your essay. When you are sure you have a good sequence, then you are ready to write. You may spend an extra hour at the start following this protocol; but you can save many hours in editing, rewriting, and worrying."

Yo Miss's picture
Yo Miss
8th grade English language arts teacher in urban school district

As a writing teacher, my students and I always talk about purpose and audience. If the students are writing for themselves and you doing a casual assignment, then I would say you CAN give them leeway with spelling. If the audience and purpose is more formal and is being read by more than just you and your students, the writing should be more formal.

I think it's GREAT you're having them write in different ways. The most important thing is that their audience understands them.

Ghostwheel's picture

Determining if spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc., counts depends upon what you are looking for. If you want creative writing, spelling (etc.) should be noted and have the student correct it, but not count against a grade as long as it gets rewritten correctly. You want to know the students' ideas and if they know how to put a creative piece together. If spelling (etc.) is part of the assignment (a research paper), then it does count. If you want age driven comments, it shouldn't count. If you want proper discourse, it does. Just marking something wrong and giving a poor grade teaches nothing except that if you aren't perfect the first time, there is no use in learning it at all because you are stuck with the grade you have. The learning comes when you give students the opportunity to improve what they have written. So if you prefer they not use text speak, a good lesson would be to open a topic twice, let them text speak response on one thread and require proper spelling (etc.) on the second thread. Then have the class compare and contrast the two. You'd be amazed at the reflection you can get from the students.

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