Most people don’t realize that only 4% of American English words are truly irregular and have to be learned through whole-word methods such as memorizing. Building understanding through applying spelling rules takes away the need to rely on memorization to spell words.
Secondly, memory can be an area of trouble with students who have learning disabilities. This means relying on memory presents an even bigger disadvantage to the struggling speller. Select a program that clearly teaches spelling rules, provides a lot of practice applying the spelling rules, and presents the rules in a logical sequence. It can be very confusing and defeating for students to practice spelling rules on words that contain additional spelling rules that they have not yet learned.
Learning objectives should be presented in a logical order beginning with the most basic words, concepts, and rules. Each lesson should build off previously mastered material and progressively become more complex. It is necessary for lessons to provide review and use a controlled word list so students are not presented with rules that haven’t been taught.
Struggling spellers are not passive learners. They will not learn to become good spellers by working independently on activities in workbooks or worksheets. They need a high level of student to teacher interaction so they are actively engaged in learning. Often times the most engaging programs are explicit or direct instruction programs. These are scripted programs that are easy to facilitate even if you don’t have a background in education.
Now a days many products and programs are labeled multi-sensory. Multi-sensory means you are using more than one of your senses (auditory, tactile/kinesthetic, visual) to do something. This is good practice, but the brain will remember information better when learning is paired with three or more senses at the same time. When this occurs it is called, “simultaneously multi-sensory”.
Students benefit from lesson plans with a consistent sequence that includes verbal and nonverbal cuing and prompting. A model-lead-test approach is a proven method when it comes to working with struggling learners. The teacher will model new skills, guide the students through applying the skills, then test to see if the skill has been learned and can be used independently.
High quality spelling programs, spelling programs that are steeped in research on learning disabilities, include real words and nonsense words. Nonsense words are make-believe words that sound silly. This is important because the learner will not be able to spell nonsense words visually (does it look right?) or by memory. The instructor will know, without a doubt, if the learner understands the spelling rule/skill that has been taught.
In math, students need to master basic addition before learning to multiply. In spelling, students need to master foundational spelling rules before moving onto more complex rules. There are rules for one-syllable words, but there are also spelling rules for two-syllable words and three syllable words. Never assume students will master learning targets without direct instruction and never push a student through a program thinking they’ll get it eventually. Build a strong foundation of skills so that other learning can take hold.