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Improving Children's Spelling
by Brendan Culligan

I have read many books on Spelling and the Teaching of Spellings. I like this one. In particular, I like it's 'to the point' and classroom-based approach. Other books often give me a "best practice based on theory" feel, while "Improving Children's Spelling" gave me a definitive "what works in the classroom" feel.

My positive reaction to Improving Children's Spelling has nothing to do with the fact that Brendan is a colleague, and nothing to do with the fact that I have witnessed Brendan evolking a tremendous response at various workshops and conferences :-), and just to prove this, here is a short book review by the world-reknowned authority on teaching spelling and best selling author - Charles Cripps.

And if you still need more convincing, check out this excerpt of the book - courtesy of Teacher's Pets. Just click the button to the right to register your approval.

Here is the introduction and part of the first chapter, by request of Teacher's Pets readership!

Would you enjoy more excerpts from the book on Teacher's Pets ??

Simply click the button below to convince me of the demand!

Order the book (Cost £12-00) at any bookshop by quoting the ISBN:

0 9531664 0 6

Book Review

(First Published - INTOuch Magazine - www.into.ie)

Charles Cripps, an acknowledged international expert on the teaching of spelling reviews Brendan Culligan's book -
Improving Children's Spelling, A guide for teachers and parents.

Teachers are frequently asking my advice regarding knowledgeable, and at the same time practical books on the teaching of spelling. This is not a very easy question to answer and my reply is to start from the work of Margaret Peters and work through the bibliographies related to the particular aspect of spelling which interests them. However, I do believe that Brendan Culligan has produced a book which I can recommend without hesitation.

A book of this nature is long overdue for it is written with such clarity that the entire spelling process unfolds before your eyes. It is informative and draws upon 'real' classroom experience and should be read by teachers of all subjects. This book grew out of the author's 1992 research, which showed that over 50% of ten year old children from a cross section of 17 Dublin schools were experiencing spelling difficulties. As a result he has provided us with a detailed view regarding the nature of spelling and at the same time shown, that given systematic and carefully planned strategies, the level of children's spelling can be improved. By drawing on a wide range of literature and personal experience

Chapter One outlines very succinctly the possible causes of spelling failure. He includes a very clear and useful debate on the auditory versus visual argument before coming down firmly that the nature of English makes 'spelling a visual process rather than sound based'. This chapter also contains an analysis of how the ten year old children in the survey wrote the word scar. Whilst only 47% of the children were accurate, the fascinating feature was that the remaining 53% offered 98 alternatives! Chapter Two focuses on the developmental stages of spelling. An understanding of where a child is functioning is crucial if teachers are to make an accurate assessment of a child's 'spelling knowledge'. The author then leads the reader through the debate on whether children should learn from lists, and if so what words should children learn. Whilst the inherent dangers of 'spelling lists' are recognised he is able to justify the selection of words (Corewords), their use and arrangement in the dictation passages which he uses in such a positive way (Chapter Five). These word lists are included in the appendices of this book.

Success in spelling is a strange phenomenon and theories about how to teach it abound. However, teachers will welcome Chapter Four which discusses methods and techniques for teaching spelling. It is here that the author presents us with a wealth of ideas. They are all very sensible and the importance of the psychologically sound 'look-cover-write-check' routine is advocated, thus highlighting the importance of writing from memory. Chapter Six is devoted to how handwriting assists spelling. This is an extremely interesting chapter and the author very cleverly puts forward the arguments from the literature before advocating the value of teaching cursive writing on school entry in order to influence spelling ability. He also wisely points to the importance of a whole school policy regarding handwriting.

Chapter Seven presents a realistic approach towards assessment. The important message from this section is that the quality of the spelling is far more important than the quantity of errors. The notion that the teacher should look for the positive element of a child's spelling must be commended as this approach is more likely to bring about both competent and confident spellers. Although I believe the following argument is hidden between the lines I would have also welcomed a firmer statement that "the assessment of spelling should be geared to the purpose of the writing". A number of case studies follow and the concluding chapter is devoted to some excellent ideas for effective practice. These include both commercial and teacher-made games. There is also a description of available computer software. A further helpful addition, with the exception of Chapter Eight (case studies), is that each chapter concludes with comprehensive guidelines for teachers and parents.

Appendices A and B provide teachers with carefully constructed dictation sentences for testing the 'Corewords'. Appendix C gives a brief but informative account of the survey and the conclusions drawn by the author, namely: - children from disadvantaged areas did not fare as well as those from advantaged areas; - girls were more accurate spellers than boys, regardless of class, area or type of school; - the fact that only 10% of the children used cursive writing made it difficult to fully endorse the link between handwriting and spelling performance. On the other hand, those who did use cursive writing tended to be more accurate; - the high percentage of children (51.6%) who were 'stuck' in the phonetic stage because they were continually relying solely on sound as their strategy for spelling.

Finally, Brendan Culligan must be applauded for the contribution this book has made on the teaching of spelling. He is obviously concerned about the teaching of this skill and has been looking and now found a safe and most economical method of teaching it. If he can be given the opportunity and facilities, perhaps through in-service training, to pass on to colleagues his ideas then they too will gain the confidence to formulate reliable classroom strategies in a form that will most simply and clearly induce in children autonomy in learning to spell correctly.

Brendan Culligan, 1997, 131pp Paperback £12.00

Reviewed by Charles Cripps, formerly of Cambridge Institute of Education, he lectures nationally and internationally on the teaching of spelling. His publications include, The Stile Spelling Programme, A Hand for Spelling, Joining the ABC, Catchwords, Ideas for Teaching Spelling, and An Eye for Spelling (PC Software). With the 'return to basics' drive in Great Britain, he has recently been coaxed out of retirement to assist schools devise their policy on how to improve standards in spelling.

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