Spelling Difficulty Explained

David_Morgan_headshotSpelling Difficulty Explained by David Morgan

Today I’m hosting David Morgan Managing Director of Oxford Learning Solutions and creator of www.easyreadsystem.com. I hope you enjoy and learn from his article, Spelling Difficulty Explained.

The Problem Learning “Reading, Writing and Arithmetic” are critical rites of passage for schoolchildren. People are judged on their spelling, throughout their lives. Yet for one in four children in the English-speaking world, who reach the age of eleven, are unable to spell. The reason for this almost always lies in their natural learning style. There is usually no reason for them not to become good, consistent spellers.

The Background
To understand why learning style matters when learning literacy, you have to understand a bit about the brain’s functions when reading or spelling.

There are two main ways to process text, visually and auditorally. Conventional readers, four out of five children, will naturally use an auditory path. These children learn to break a word apart into letter patterns matched to sound patterns through their auditory cortex. They then process the sounds as if they were the spoken word – in a sense, hearing them (hence the auditory nature of this method).

The alternative method is to process text purely using visual memory. The word cow, for example, would be processed in much the same way as a picture of a cow. This explains why highly visual dyslexic children sometimes flip whole words like ‘was’ to ‘saw’. You can flip the picture of a cow and it will still be a cow, but unfortunately, the same technique doesn’t work in the English language!

Bright children who seem to cope with reading but spell badly are almost always visual readers. Spelling is a more taxing neurological process than reading, so these children have an extraordinary memory which enables them to read, but spelling lags behind.

You can spot bright visual learners through a few common clues in their reading. Words they do not know they will skip or guess from the first letter, the length of the word or the context. For this reason they will tend to make more mistakes when reading short words than long ones. Sometimes you will see them read out a totally different word to the one on the page.

In terms of spelling patterns, there are two types of mistakes that are common. The first consists of little omissions and errors that an auditory reader would never make, like fist for first, soke for smoke, snuge for snuggle.

The second type of mistake is giving a basic phonic rendering of the word, like fus, smoc or snuggul.

Often these visual learners will do quite well in a weekly spelling test, because they can hold a virtually photographic memory of a list of ten words overnight. Yet a week later, the same words appear misspelled in free writing.

The Solution
The only solution to fix this kind of poor spelling is to re-engineer their approach to reading. Instead of allowing the visual processing method to continue, the learner must switch over to the auditory processing method.

We have found that the best way to do this is to harness that strong visual learning style to pull the reader into engaging with the sounds instead of merely the letters in a word. This can be done by using entertaining graphical clues which link imagery to all the different sounds in the words. For instance, we have the Duck Covered in Muck as the image for the /d/ sound. This brings the visual learners back into their comfort zone and allows them to build the visual-auditory that they need if they are going to read in an auditory way.

We present text with these images above the word to guide the reader in how to decode each word. We call it Guided Phonetic Reading. For instance the word ‘was’ has the whale, octopus and Zuto above the letters, whereas the more regular word ‘gas’ has the goat, ant and snake. We also set games for the learner that are designed to make decoding a clearly more effective solution than trying to sight read. For instance we might read out a word and ask them to choose which of three similar words on the page it is.

logobanner David Morgan is Managing Director of Oxford Learning Solutions and creator of the Easyread System, an online course which teaches children how to read. Easyread specializes in cases of children with dyslexia, highly visual learning styles and auditory processing deficits. For more information, please visit easyreadsystem or find him on Facebook for the latest literacy news at www.facebook.com/dyslexia

All The Best


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4 Responses to Spelling Difficulty Explained

  1. Carol,
    Thank you for David Morgan’s post on explaining spelling difficulty in our children. I am thankful for those like David who take the time to inform and encourage our parents and teachers. Reading is so fundamental; I am sure his work is an invaluable tool.

    Thank you, Carol, for your good website and great literary tips and resources. Keep up the good work.

    Susie K. Adams

  2. Susie,
    I’m glad you found this article informative and helpful.

    Thanks for stopping by….Carol

  3. We had fantastic results with this program and the great support of this company. Listening to/reading David Morgan is always such a pleasurable learning experience. This program is nearly as amazing as its creator. The invested, individualized support they provide with a money back guarantee is unlike any other. Thanks for sharing this!

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