What does neuroscience tell us about spelling instruction? An excellent resource for understanding brain-friendly teaching in this area is “The Best of Corwin: Educational Neuroscience,” edited by David Sousa. (Corwin has been at the forefront of educational research for many years; click on the link to access webinars, free resources, and more.)
In her chapter on The Literate Brain, Pamela Nevills reiterates what we already know. Memorizing a set of words each week is NOT the way to develop capable spellers. Instead, she suggests a sequence of skills by grade level. These are also paired with reading instruction on the same skills.
- Kindergarten- letter-sound associations
- First grade- vowel sounds with decodable words, along with exceptions
- Second grade- complex vowel and consonant patterns
- Third grade- multisyllabic words, the wonderful schwa (unaccented syllables), and common prefixes and suffixes
- Fourth grade- Latin-based prefixes, suffixes, and roots
- Fifth through eighth grade- Greek roots and content vocabulary.
Nevills asserts that only about 4% of English words cannot be spelled using predictable spelling patterns and those are best learned through repetition and memory. My experience confirms that estimate. For struggling readers and writers, this is great news! Students who learn spelling and syllable rules early and systematically actually change the structure of their neural pathways.
What are the implications for classroom and special education teachers? Learn these rules and patterns for yourself and your kiddos. There are many available resources online. Encourage your PLC or grade level team to incorporate these skills into reading instruction. Reading instruction, especially decoding words, does not end at third grade! A bonus for teachers in Educational Neuroscience: Each section provides student demystification of our brain processes for that topic, including a scripted discussion starter.
I’ll share more about this terrific resource in later posts.