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Action research in English spelling : an overview of English spelling related problems

Updated on August 15, 2011

Abstract:

This study specifically explores the spelling related problems on the students studying in both English and Bengali medium schools. It is a general observation that the students in our country have very little understanding of the phonic and spelling system in English. They mainly rely on memorization, and if they forget any spelling, they have no clue of reconstructing it. In this case of an unknown spelling, learners depend heavily on the teacher’s pronunciation, which at times misguide them. Moreover, our conventional education system in a way encourages them to opt for retention. All these factors direct the students towards memorization, and they continue doing the same at the secondary as well as tertiary level. However, the method of teaching spelling through proper knowledge of prefixes, suffixes and the phonic system is an established one, and widely practiced in ELT. It is my contention that introducing this method at an early stage might bring in significant changes in language learning. The recommendation is based on an action research conducted on a sample group.

Background

This study addresses a momentous but, somehow, neglected issue of EFL writing skills. In Bangladesh, the children studying in English medium schools. especially those studying in classes 2 and 3, usually find spelling problematic and. hence, frequently make mistakes in spelling vocabulary items or words.To draw an inference to the observation, an action research on spelling was conducted in a renowned English medium school named St. Margarete's School in Dhaka city.

St. Margarete's School is a 22 years old institution having classes from play group to O level. In class 3 there are 24 students. The hypothesis acted upon was if the students were taught the proper ways of learning spelling at the early level of education the result would lead o improved written outcomes of the students.The finding of the action research supported the hypothesis which enticed the researcher to carry out further research on spelling letter.

Resources and background Literature

There are innumerable articles dedicated to theories on the teaching of spelling in the internet. In the internet version of the journal "voices from the Middle, the March 2002 issue has an article "Effective spelling instruction in the middle grades" by Shane Templeton. Here the author claimed 4 things about spelling - the spelling system is logical, learning to spell is a process of continuous developments, students' spellings correlate with their word knowledge, and good spelling instruction supports both reading and vocabulary development. A teacher must understand students spelling level before good instruction can occur. For instance, a student who does not understand the spelling pattern of single syllabic words, should not be learning polysyllabic words. Once spelling levels are determined word categorization activities are effective techniques for guiding students to recognize spelling generalizations.

English spelling has traditionally been difficult for those who teach it, as well as those who must learn it (Johnston, 2000-2001). Lack of simple one-to-one letter /sound correspondences in words and apparent exceptions to spelling rules contribute to spelling errors. Due to the complexity of the task, it cannot be assumed that students will absorb good spelling practices without explicit instruction (Gentry, 2004).

Teaching styles and theories affect trends in instruction (Bruck, Termain, Caravolas, Genesee, and Cassar 1988). Teachers who emphasize skill acquisition through a variety of teaching strategies that are developmentally appropriate are more powerful and successful in teaching spelling (Morrow, Tracey, Woo, and Pressley, 1999).

While knowing rules may improve the writers ability to spell, thus taught in isolation is inadequate. Understanding base words and how they are manipulated (morphology) is essential (Johnston, 2000-2001). Bear and Templeton (1998) point out that children need sufficient information to discern the patterns used in spelling. They state, “word study becomes useful and instructive when it is based on the students’ levels of development and when appropriate words and patterns are explored through interesting and engaging activities” (Bear and Templeton, 1998, 222-243). They outline six stages through which children progress while learning words.
1.    Pre-phonemic Spelling- birth through middle of first grade
2.    Semi-phonemic/ early letter stage- kindergarten through middle of second grade
3.    Letter name- early first through early third grades
4.    Within-word pattern – first grade through middle of fourth grade
5.    Syllable juncture- third through eight grades
6.    Derivational constancy- fifth through twelfth grades.

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