What Spelling Tells You
The way a child spells a word is a window onto what that child knows about the structure of the word, and how the word is held in memory. The research evidence tells us that good readers process every letter in a word as they read – instantly, unconsciously, effortlessly, but every letter counts in the decoding process.
A good reader looks at a word like handle, and scans over h–and–le. That child sees situation and recognises the known parts sit–u–a–tion. This child will have little trouble reproducing these words in writing.
What is the child who spells handle as hadil or situation as sityouashun or sichuayshin actually absorbing and processing as they read? Even with situashun, the child is processing just part of the word.
As reading becomes more complex around Year 4 or 5, the text will contain less familiar words and comprehension will require more sophisticated skills.
For the child whose decoding skills are already weak, figuring out the words becomes more challenging and more demanding of their attention, just when comprehension requires the child’s full focus. Many of these children do figure out the words, and seem to do it quite well, but it is at the expense of comprehension.
There is a common profile at this level. The child seems to be a good decoder, but spelling is poor, comprehension is weak, reading is a chore, and written work is brief and unstructured. The reading may lack fluency, there may be many self-corrections. The necessary focus on decoding or spelling words blocks out everything else.
All this taken together suggests that actually it is the way the child decodes and encodes words that is the core problem. Sort out the coding difficulties and then spelling, writing and comprehension have a chance.
The Agility With Sound assessment will show what is actually happening for these children. Much of the content of the programme, particularly in the latter stages, was written for them.
Further reading issues are covered in Tricky Words.