Perils of learning to spell: Insights from eight Australian children and their teachers

Year: 2017

Author: Daffern, Tessa, Mackenzie, Noella

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Writing is more important than ever in the 21st century and spelling is a key skill for efficient writing. However, little is understood about the particular challenges some children experience when learning to spell, although explicit instruction is known to improve performance in spelling. Moreover, while research from Australia has shown that teachers' metalinguistic knowledge is not strong, the impact of this on student learning in spelling is even less understood.

The case study reported in this presentation forms part of a larger Australian mixed-methods study examining spelling acquisition, as represented by a stratified random sample of Australian students aged 8 to 12 years (n=1,198). The present case study draws on semi-structured interview data from a randomly selected sub-sample of those students who performed within the bottom third, as measured by the Components of Spelling Test (CoST). Qualitative content analysis exposed challenges in learning to spell, as experienced by eight of those under-performing students. Semi-structured interviews with the participating students identified that they lacked confidence in spelling, and were limited in strategies for spelling unknown words.

The findings highlight the need for increased understandings of ways to support students who find learning to spell challenging. The discussion will consider the issues for children struggling to learn to spell with teachers who struggle with how to explicitly teach children, when their own understandings of spelling and the metalanguage and pedagogy associated, are limited.