Learning Disabilities

Curry School of Education

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Spelling Problems

Spelling requires that students say or write letters in sequences that form words. Children travel through various stages of inventive spelling in which different strategies are used. These spelling strategies move from simpler phonetic spelling to semiphonetic spelling and continue to become more difficult.

Children begin formal spelling instruction in the first grade or at the very start of second grade. Spelling ability allows the child to read written words correctly. Lack of spelling ability makes it difficult to read written words. Spelling is also essential when students have to produce written work in class.

Do children with learning disabilities exhibit developmental delays in spelling? Research shows that students with learning disabilities progress at a delayed rate compared to their non-handicapped peers. Recent research (Moats, 1983; Schwartz, 1983) indicates students with learning disabilities develop spelling skills according to the same basic patterns as their non-handicapped peers. They follow the normal stages of spelling development, but at a much slower rate. The spelling errors made by students with learning disabilities do not seem to differ from those errors made by younger, non-handicapped children.

Multiple skills are needed to achieve successful spelling. Students with learning disabilities may have difficulty with one skill, but not with another. For example, a child may be able to spell a word aloud, but unable to write the word correctly. A different child may be able to spell the word correctly during a spelling lesson, but unable to spell the word correctly when writing it in his journal entry. The difficulties the children are having could be due to letter form, letter omission, motor capability, or transference. It is extremely important to identify the problem and find teaching strategies to facilitate the child's learning.

We've written descriptions of some procedures for helping students acquire spelling skills. Here are some techniques for improving spelling performance.

For additional information, consider these sources:

Bender, W. N. (1992).  Learning disabilities: Characteristics,
identification, and teaching strategies. Needham Heights, MA:
Allyn and Bacon.

Mercer, C. D., & Mercer, A. R. (1993). Teaching students with
learning problems. New York: Macmillan.

Worthy, M. J., & Invernizzi, M. (1990). Spelling errors of normal
and disabled students on achievement levels one through four:
Instructional implication. Annals of Dyslexia, (40), 138-151.

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