Double checked by spelling

SPELLING BLUES

“Dear God, if you send me a lamp with geni like Aladins I will give you my new ches set.  I got it for crismas but I don’t know to play it. You will kno becos you are big.”   (Signed )
Dan, age six and quatr

This is a sample from a file titled ‘kids’ letters to God’.  I received it as an internet forward and enjoyed the cute lines. I am not sure if they were all really written by kids or if they were fakes, penned by an adult.  But I could tell, for sure, that they didn’t originate from India. Not because the kids had non-Indian names like Kyle, and Mark, and Sandra, but because letters from our kids would have carried no spelling mistakes!

Not that our kids are natural spelling bees. It is just that they know how vital it is to get the spellings right, and would therefore have ‘found out’ the right spellings from an adult before putting down the words in such an ‘important’ letter! Or, frustrated by the effort he /she would have abandoned penning the letter, altogether.

Ways to learn
The drill method of teaching-learning is the most used tool in our classrooms. As such, writing down the questions and answers in notebooks is considered as an important learning exercise.  From the earliest classes children are made to ‘copy’ the questions and the answers in their class work note book and later, rewrite them in the home work note book.

These of course are reproduced in the tests. In the entire process, spelling mistakes are not tolerated and the student is penalised for every mistake by deduction in marks. Children understand early that learning the spellings is as important as learning the answers.

Thankfully, this method of learning without any real understanding is increasingly being seen as unproductive.  So now, the better schools and the better teachers are attempting to give up the practice of providing ready answers to the class.

Instead, the children are expected to write the answers in their own words. The child is thus made to understand the question and come up with an  answer based on his understanding of the lesson. This also hones the language skills and trains the child in writing coherent sentences.

Getting spellings right
But on the ground, teachers, especially in the primary classes, struggle to implement this method.  As non-native speakers of English, it is not easy for the children to come up with an original sentence in English.

In addition, the child needs to get the spellings of all the new words used, right. With the result, the effort required to give the answer in ones’ own words becomes too much. It is demanding on the teacher too as she has to go through all the answers, underline the many, misspelt words, reframe the sentences and get them in order.

The teacher then is faced with two options. Either revert to the old method of writing out the answers on the blackboard, or overlook the spelling mistakes, the imperfect sentences and look only for the points. Teachers should make the second choice.

When toddlers begin to talk, they mispronounce the words, string together words at random and manage to convey what they want to.  We all enjoy this phase of ‘baby-talk’. We do not draw the child’s attention to the errors in tense and grammar and pronunciation. We know that such an attempt would only frustrate the child and stop him/her from expressing freely. We understand that to be able to express, is more relevant to the child of that age and that the fine tuning of language will happen with time.

A child in the primary classes is in a similar stage of development.  The difference is that it is not oral, but an entry into written language. But the same logic holds here too and the child should be encouraged to express freely and not get bogged down by spelling or grammar.  So it should become a norm that a primary school teacher shall use the red ink, only to draw stars or write an encouraging comment.    

Learning to spell right is, undoubtedly, an important aspect of language learning. But over emphasis on it in the early years restricts free flow of words and gags expression.

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