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Helping your Learner with Spelling

Often students with dyslexia or other learning problems seem to get to a point where their spelling progress slows or plateaus. If this sounds like your student, don't become overly worried and don't personalize your student's failure.

Even college graduates with dyslexia have a difficult time with spelling, and many always will. In spite of other academic achievements some students hit a brick wall when it comes to spelling. Many of our tutors and students are familiar with this brick wall. If this describes you, don't wring your hands in frustration. There are coping strategies.

First, make sure your student has a good grasp of phonics skills. Teach phonics with words that are relevant to your student. For instance you might teach long vowel sounds to a rancher using words like hay, rake, seed, etc.

Second, teach your student to break the word down into single syllables or chunks. Chunking a word can make it much easier to remember. A good example of this is phone numbers, which we remember in 2 chunks; the prefix and the four-digit extension.

Third, concentrate your energies on what is possible, rather than what might not be possible. Many students may not become adept at spelling, but they can develop compensating behaviors. For example, you and your student can develop a personal dictionary. This can be done a number of ways. We have a great handbook called Quick-Word here in the office. Your student is welcome to have one of these helpful books, which allows the student to record their most frequently used words alphabetically for easy reference. If the number of words needed is small enough, a 3 X 5 card can be used to record the words for easy reference. Some students laminate their card and carry it around in their pocket or wallet. This technique can be especially helpful for words used when filling out work applications or for words needed frequently in the work place.

Another tool that can be useful is a pocket speller or the spell checker on a word processor. Spell checkers are not only an excellent tool for correcting spelling, but actually teach and reinforce proper spelling. Students who haven't made much progress with word drills often do well on a computer. Pocket spellers can be purchased for a reasonable fee at Radio Shack and other electronics stores. We are currently working on a grant to purchase several models of spell checkers for trial use by the students. We will keep you posted on future progress.

It might be wise to switch emphasis if your student is faltering and becoming overly discouraged. Minimize spelling exercises and concentrate on areas where it is possible for your student to develop strengths. Focus on reading comprehension, vocabulary, and especially reading for pleasure and meaning. You can also allow your students to write their ideas, thoughts, and feelings, with you available to serve as a spelling editor.

Your student may never become a skilled speller, but you have achieved a measure of success when your student can begin to read to their children, enjoy a novel, or complete an application correctly, with or without a "cheat" card. Good luck, spellers and "non-spelrz!"
--taken from 3rd Qtr. 1996 Words



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