How Children Learn to Write (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

But we know of no research that spells out how much handwriting instruction children need—especially not research conducted in recent years, when children have begun writing sooner and have written more than at any time in memory. Most primary grade teachers we know still give children some amount of formal handwriting instruction. Many are finding more and more informal and situational ways to help children with their handwriting.

As a related issue, those working with high-risk children often report having children enter first grade without knowing how to form any letters of the alphabet. Obviously, the benefits of invented spelling will not accrue to these children until they learn to make some letters and begin to associate some sounds with them. Direct instruction in forming letters seems well advised for these children.

When it comes to spelling, the situation is more confused. Some sources16 have argued that children can learn to spell by writing and revising what they write, without ever memorizing lists of correct spellings. They put forward only anecdotal support for this position, but it has been widely accepted—perhaps too widely.

In an era of declining resources, many school districts have not needed much encouragement to stop purchasing spelling instructional materials, leaving teachers to teach spelling however they see fit. The abrupt change from having spelling instruction completely covered by published materials to having it left completely up to the teacher has surely resulted in a significant decrease in formal spelling instruction in many classrooms. Is this good thing or not?

As far as we know, there is no systematic research that offers convincing evidence one way or the other. Anecdotal and informal research sometimes suggests that children's knowledge of correct spellings has declined in proportion to the decline in the amount of systematic spelling instruction they receive. But are children making more errors because they are writing more and being more adventurous in the words they attempt to write? Or do they really know less about correct spelling? Could they learn more correct spellings without jeopardizing their enthusiasm for writing?

We believe that many children could benefit from systematic spelling and word study-much scaled down from what used to be the norm. We further believe that this study should be tied where possible to the words they are using and the topics they are studying and that it should reinforce common spelling patterns. Moreover, children should write, write, write and read, read, read.


12. Linda Clarke, "Invented Versus Traditional Spelling in First Graders' Writings," Research in the Teaching of English, 22 (Fall 1987): 281-309.

13. Clarke.

14. See Clarke, "Invented Versus Traditional Spelling in First Graders' Writings"; Linnea Ehri, "Does Learning to Spell Help Beginners Learn to Read Words?" Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 1 (Fall 1987): 47-65; Darrell Morris, Laura Nelson, and Janet Perney, "Exploring the Concept of 'Spelling Instructional Level' Through Analysis of Error Types," Elementary School Journal, 87 (1986): 181-200.

15. Charles Temple, "Understanding and Teaching Handwriting and Spelling," in Charles Temple and Jean Gillet, Language Arts: Learning Processes and Teaching Practices, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1989).

16. See, for example, Wendy Bean and Christine Bouffler, Spell by Writing (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1987).

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