Dyslexia and spelling difficulties – part 2 | Dyslexia UK

Dyslexia and spelling difficulties – part 2

March 20, 2023 Keir Williams Comments Off

Dyslexia can affect people in different ways. Some people with dyslexia have difficulty with their spelling. The second part of this blog post will investigate different approaches used to spelling difficulties.

  1. The phonic approach

Phonics are at the heart of reading and spelling and as such are an intrinsic intervention strategy for developing literacy skills. A phonological approach involves matching combinations of letters with particular sounds. Whilst there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, the English language is actually made up of 44 speech sounds, called phonemes. These are the smallest units of sound in a word.

However some speech sounds in English sound the same. For example, the ‘ue’ sound in ‘Blue’ sounds the same as the ‘oo’ sound in ‘Boo’. Both words have the same end sound (phoneme) but it is written in a different way. These different written letter formations to represent the sound are called graphemes. In total there are approximately 150 different graphemes used to represent the 44 phonemes sounds in English. All English words can be spelt by using the 150 graphemes.

Phonics International have created the phonic alphabetic code chart to aid literacy development. It can be downloaded from: https://kentdyslexia.co.uk/resources-1 and a useful video on how to use this literacy development tool can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/bA-3eUr0pjY

Each line of the chart shows the different ways that a sound can be written. On the left are the most common on forms, the least common on the right.

To use this chart effectively – print off the chart and put it into your child’s bedroom wall. Each night go over sections of the chart, repeatedly. Take it in turns with your child to say each sound out-loud as you read the poster.

  • The memory approach

There are many memory techniques, and even more words to remember how to spell. Remembering them is a task that can make a young person rich and famous: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/29/what-do-scripps-national-spelling-bee-winners-get.html#:~:text=Whoever%20wins%20this%20year’s%20competition,winners%2C%20each%20will%20receive%20%2440%2C000. However, the approach we are going to use is a simple technique that is to focus only on 5 letters – the vowels.

The 5 vowels in the English language are: ‘A’, E’, ‘I’, ‘O’, ‘U’. Vowels tend to dominate the sounds in words, but can easily get their sounds mixed up with each other. Vowels can act alone to make a sound, for example: ‘Sat’, ‘Set’, ‘Sit’, ‘Sot’ (that last one means ‘fool’ in French). Or they can work in pairs to make a single, blended together sound, as in: ‘toast’, ‘feel’ ‘read’. As they can sound similar, when we misspell words, it is often because we have muddled the vowels.

This might be due to muddling two vowels in the wrong order, such as incorrectly spelling: ‘weird’ as ‘weird’, or by inserting the incorrect vowel into a word, as in: ‘seperate’ which should be spelt as ‘separate’.

By focusing on the vowels and consciously remembering the pattern they make in words that we misspell will soon engrain the correct spelling pattern into our long term memory.

There are other words with few vowels that have unusual spellings that do not fit into the usual spelling patterns and defy the usual rules. These include words such as ‘feud’, ‘quiet’, ‘yacht’. These words need to be learnt and memorised with explicit teaching.

  • The morphemic approach

The morphemic approach teaches students how to work out the meanings behind the words and therefore is a crucial component not just in spelling but also in reading comprehension. Using this approach older children are taught the rules about adding a prefix of a suffix to a root or base word. For example, why ‘trade’ becomes ‘trading’ (dropped the ‘e’ at the end) but ‘wash’ becomes ‘washing’ without losing a letter, and ‘spot’ adds a letter to become ‘spotting.’

Through this approach children are taught rules such as the: ‘final e rule’, ‘doubling rule (for short and long words)’, ‘Y to I rule’ and ‘plural variation’. By understanding these morphemic rules children can correctly work out how the word will be spelt correctly if its tense if changed.

It is worth remembering that the above three approaches each focuses upon a different skill set. Whilst these skills tend to be developed in this order, they should not be taught in isolation. Instead they need to be incorporated alongside each other in a graduated approach when teaching a child how to spell. Only when a person has learnt to combine these three skills sets will they become an effective speller.

In addition, despite being taught how to spell, when under the pressure of writing independently, such as an assignment, students will frequently revert back to spelling phonetically. This is because the student is focused upon the content rather than the spelling when they are completing the task, or it might be because the actual type of writing task is new, and therefore will need to be redrafted. Solutions to this problem include:

  • Encourage planning and creating a first draft
  • Encourage the student to read back what they have written three times. The first time focusing upon capitalisation and punctuation; the second on sentence construction and the final time on spelling. 

Final spelling tips

  • Don’t be put off by word length. Spelling a really long word can be just as easy as spelling a short word.
  • Keep the emotions out of it. Don’t get annoyed when you make a mistake. Keep trying and don’t give up.

To read the first part of this article on spelling difficulties, click here: https://www.dyslexiauk.co.uk/dyslexia-and-spelling-difficulties-part-1/

Contact us to discuss an spelling difficulties with a dyslexia assessor, go to: https://www.dyslexiauk.co.uk/#request-form