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  • Writer's pictureErica Klein Grasp Reading

Spelling in the "Real World"

A common concern among parents (and, frankly, tutors) is that students don't apply what they have learned about spelling in the real world.

Perhaps all the feedback from the tutor has said "Wow! They are doing great! Applying the spelling rules! Reading smoothly!" and then you get a classroom assignment back that looks like this:

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What gives? Is the tutor lying? Is your kid just being lazy or "not applying themselves" at school? Maybe your child's writing is a little neater, but still full of spelling mistakes and you're beginning to wonder if you've invested in the right program.

I think Susan Barton explains that is going on here best: Susan Barton Facebook Live Video

I'll give my own summary here with some quick comparisons. First, let's talk environment. Ideally, your student has a quiet, distraction free environment during tutoring. If they are tutoring online, I recommend you help them to create this environment. Small noises, siblings running around, the TV in the background - these are not helpful to your student.

But have you ever sat in a class of 20-30 students? It is almost never quiet. Even if it is quiet, it is rarely still. Somebody gets up to use the bathroom. Somebody sharpens their pencil. The kid next to you is mumbling the words aloud as they write. A classroom is very rarely free from distraction.

In a Barton tutoring session, the student is writing sentences that we dictate so that they know how to spell each word. If they are working hard to remember a rule, they can ask the tutor to repeat the sentence again when the rest of it has fallen out of their brain. They have their spelling rules available to check, and the tutor to help guide them if they are confused.

The writing work of your child is likely not a product of a controlled dictation. They are likely composing their writing from their own thoughts and ideas. This is a multistep process that involves many different skills. First, executive functioning skills to stay on task, coming up with an idea about what they want to say, organizing their thoughts in a coherent manner and then getting them down on paper. The process of thought to paper involves not just spelling, but word order, punctuation, even letter formation. If students stop to think about the spelling rules they have learned and which might apply to any given word, their thoughts are often lost. Add to this that many students with dyslexia also have ADHD so they are already fighting a battle to stay on task, stay organized, and get their ideas out as fast as they can think them.

Two integral accommodations that a dyslexic child should have in school (and there should be more than 2!) should be: 1. Extra time to complete anything involving writing and reading. and 2. No lost marks for inaccurate spelling. A child with dyslexia often has oral capabilities far beyond what they are capable of writing. If they are worried about spelling equally to getting their ideas out on paper, they will limit their language and ideas to what they feel capable of writing within a time constraint (which is a gross mismatch from their actual ideas). They will work around their disadvantage to "get it done." I have had students explain this to me when we talk about school: "I just wouldn't use that word, I'd pick a different word that I can spell."

They point here, is patience. Rome wasn't built in a day. Spelling and writing will not improve over night - or even over months. Where some students may need 10-20 repetitions of a word to learn it, a dyslexic child may need 100s. And we aren't going to write "said" 100 times every hour that we spend together, but we will keep working on it, piece by piece, step by step. At the end of 10 Barton Levels, the student will be able to spell - may even be a better speller - if given the time - than many of their non-dyslexic peers, because they will have a much better understanding of the way the English language works.

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