10-second review: A successful educator tells about the anxiety he experienced when taking spelling tests in which he rarely succeeded: fear, anxiety and humiliation.
Title: “A Letter.” Mark Levensky. Elementary English (No date), pp. 83-84. Elementary English preceded the NCTE’s present elementary school publication, Language Arts.
Summary/Quotes: “At the time my teachers tried to help me. They told me what I had to do in order to improve: ‘Print the words over and over again. Spell a word to yourself with your eyes closed and then open your eyes to check if you are right. Spell the words for your parents before bed. Go over them again and again right before the test.’ My teachers also said that unless I learned to spell I would never get into high school, or out of high school, or into college, or out of college. And the last thing that they always told me was that I couldn’t spell.”
“What I want to say to you teachers now is this. I couldn’t spell very well then, and I still can’t. I got into high school, and out of high school, and into college, and out of college. While my teachers at Perkins didn’t teach me to spell, they did manage to have an effect on me. For example, this morning, twenty-five years later, I woke up and remembered their spelling tests, and experienced the fear, anxiety and humiliation that I felt when I prepared for these tests, took them, and got them back.”
Comment: People who can’t spell are as terrified of the task as are people who are uncomfortable in making a formal speech.
I’m a good speller, unlike Mr. Levensky in the preceding letter to his former teachers. If I see a word, I can spell it. Challenged by a science teacher one evening at dinner, I glanced once at his word, “phenolphthalein” and wrote it correctly and never forgot it.
That’s one point I want to make: spelling is primarily a phonological skill, that is, you can sound out most parts of most words, but for words that are difficult to spell, spelling requires a visual skill. In my next several blogs, I am going to tell you how to teach spelling as a visual skill. I will reproduce my chapter on spelling, “the dreadful ordeal,” from my book Teaching English, How To…. Xlibris, 2004. I want to show you how to make spelling fun and rewarding with the help of Harry Shefter and his book, Six Minutes a Day to Perfect Spelling. RayS.