Saturday, February 24, 2018

Chatting about spelling on the treadmill

I took "How to teach English spelling" with me to the gym today and walked slowly enough on the treadmill so I could read the first chapter. Also chatted with the people on either side of me and asked them how they learned to read and spell--phonics or "look and say" (whole word) method. The man on my left (maybe 80s) grew up in North Dakota and said he'd learned phonics and cursive. The woman on my right was maybe 15 years younger than me, and had learned whole word, but admitted to being a poor reader all through school (private schools, plus finished college) until learning a method (which I'd never heard of) when she began teaching learning disabled kids. She observed that was a "burn out" career, and after 16 years moved to guidance counseling.

My parents moved to Forreston, IL when I was in first grade, so I had phonics and my older siblings learned whole word in Mt. Morris, IL. Phonics was going out, so I suppose Mt. Morris was more progressive. So that shift was already taking place in the 1940s and it's still debated today. Reading through a history of reading instruction shows the debate going back to the 1700s.

(Talking and walking definitely increases the heart rate, no argument there.)

Fulford, the author, says about 50% of English words are spelled the way they sound--are phonemic. The other 50% are weird, but there are rules we can learn. Since I don't know most of the rules, I've memorized them over the years or at least knew when it didn't look right and looked them up.

He has his opinions-- "English has too many silent letters" like debt, island and pneumonia and too many "old Germanic spellings" like cough, through and laugh that should have been abandoned many years ago. Texting is probably taking care of that.

Lori says she learned phonics and SRA, so I had to look that up.  A box of cards with reading selections arranged by color and difficulty.  She swear by it.   Sue says,  “I learned phonics. It was reinforced with specific lessons on the “trick” words. I remember the spelling lessons where we wrote each word a few times. The words were reinforced by using them in the proper context in sentences. I love phonics.”

The author, in the first chapter, further notes, "Small children will print the words, but older students should write them in cursive. While the youngest children enjoy writing, the older students are not so enthusiastic. The main reason for this is that many of them cannot write. That is, they cannot write cursive. The print each letter slowly and individually in an ugly mixture of lower and uppercase letters. Cursive, sometimes called longhand or roundhand, was introduced during the 17th century to make it possible to write much faster than printing."

(John J. Fulford, How to teach English spelling, Astoria Press, 2017. ISBN 978-0-9963799-2-2)

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