Spelling is one 'tool' in literacy kit

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 12/08/2014

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Manawatu schools are taking steps to check and challenge students' ABCs amid concerns Kiwi kids are struggling to spell.

New research shows nearly one in four school-aged students are "catastrophic spellers".

The year-long research project by literacy adviser Jessica Craig tested 310 students aged 13 and 14 at six lower North Island schools - with 79 considered "catastrophic spellers" after they spelt fewer than five words correctly in a 40-word test.

Word skills like spelling were not done well enough in New Zealand because of a focus on reading for general meaning rather than on words in isolation, Craig said.

Feilding High School hosted a literacy-focused forum yesterday for year 7, 8, 9 and 10 students, which had reading and writing-rich activities, including word scrambles and spelling bees.

There was also a writing workshop with New Zealand teenage fiction writer Fleur Beale.

"A lot of students are coming in to school with decidedly underdeveloped spelling, grammar and punctuation skills," one of the organisers, teacher Marnie Thompson, said.

"You even see it in top students."

Manawatu Principals' Association spokesman Wayne Codyre said teaching the intricacies of the English language was difficult.

"Most schools actively teach the high frequency words, then as the children move up the school, they teach word patterns and spelling ‘rules' and many schools also include a phonics programme.

"If learning is being supported at home, that is a big bonus . . . but there's still a need for schools to teach the basic fundamentals."

But spelling was "merely a tool", Codyre said. "There is no use learning a list of words in isolation if they're not going to be used in their writing. That's like learning a list of random telephone numbers just in case you want to ring those people up some day," he said.

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- Manawatu Standard

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