Why spelling?: The benefits of incorporating spelling into beginning reading instruction
by Rebecca Treiman
Reprinted with permission.
Reading and spelling are often treated as separate subjects, with reading considered to be more important than spelling at the early elementary school level. Today, in many United States first- and second-grade classrooms, reading is taught at one time of day and with one set of materials. Spelling, if formally covered at all, is taught at a different time of day and with different materials than those used for reading. Is this an optimal approach? No, say the many children for whom spelling means dreary memorization of lists of words and boring workbook exercises. No, say those advocates of skill-based approaches who propose that spelling instruction be better integrated with reading and vocabulary study (Templeton, 1991). No, say advocates of whole-language instruction, who recommend that the language arts be integrated by bringing reading and writing together and who further recommend that children not be pushed to spell correctly during the early grades (Bergeron, 1990). In this chapter, I review the research basis for these claims. I ask whether there are benefits to be gained by emphasizing writing and spelling at the early elementary school level. I also ask whether writing should be integrated with reading in instruction and, if so, how. The research to be reviewed suggests that writing has an important role to play in the early grades and that it should be coordinated with reading. However, contrary to the claims of whole-language advocates, skill in spelling does not always arise naturally and automatically as a result of reading. Spelling needs to be taught, but in a manner that is more sensitive to the natural course of spelling development than are many traditional methods.
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Rebecca Treiman is a Professor of Psychology at Wayne State University. She received an undergraduate degree in linguistics from Yale University and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on spoken language, written language, and the relationship between them.