In 2013, over 20 thousand Year 3 children failed to achieve above the national minimum standard for spelling1. That’s more than 1 in 10 children or 13.4% of Year 3 students across the country.
What’s even scarier is that the national minimum standards are not hard. According to the standard, Year 3 students are expected correctly spell frequently used words such as was, like, but and you.
And, things get even worse as students get older. By Year 9, 19.7% of students failed to achieve above the minimum benchmarks.
Spelling is a core aspect of literacy, and no one wants to allow a child in their care to remain illiterate.
Yet, whether you are a teacher or a parent, it is a sad reality that at least one of your children will need help learning to spell.
Why Can’t Kids Spell?
First of all – many kids can spell, and some can spell quite well. However, as the results above show – too many kids can’t spell properly.
There are 2 reasons for this.
- Many kids aren’t taught how to spell. Some teachers don’t teach spelling at all, while others set spelling for homework, but do little else. Spelling is an essential skill, and it needs to be explicitly taught.
- Those teachers who do try to teach spelling often adopt commercial programs and approaches that use the latest fads and jargon, but which have not been proven to have a significant impact on students’ subsequent spelling achievement.
What Can You Do About This?
If you want to bring about the largest improvements in kids’ spelling abilities that you possibly can, you need to explicitly teach spelling using a proven program.
According to John Hattie’s review of over 800,000 research studies, Direct Instruction does this well and achieves better results than alternative approaches.
Direct Instruction involves:
- A carefully sequenced curriculum of knowledge and skills
- The explicit teaching of that curriculum
- Flexible ability grouping, with children placed where they are at, within this curriculum sequence
- Mastery learning, where children progress to the next level only when they have mastered the level they are at (just like in martial arts and swimming classes)
There are specific Direct Instruction programs for different aspects of literacy and numeracy. One such program that is available in Australia is Spelling Mastery.
Spelling Mastery is distributed in Australia through the Australian Council of Educational Research (ACER).
The Spelling Mastery program has 6 levels (suitable for primary classes, and remedial secondary students).
The first step is to place each student in the level that they are at. To do this, you simply give them a series of short placement tests, with 10 words in each. When they get 5 or more words wrong, that you put them in that level.
You then follow a scripted lesson for just 15-20 minutes per day.
ACER also offers 1-day professional development programs.
- See Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, NAPLAN National Report for 2013 [↩]