Monthly Archives: June 2017

Early Literacy, Invented Spelling and Confidence – what’s the connection?

Over the weekend I was sent an article about a recent study that suggests a direct correlation between invented spelling and literacy.  You can read more about the study here.

invented spellingTo back it up a step or two, invented spelling is the process by which kids will ‘invent’ spellings for words based on what they know about letters and phonetics.  Over time and with more exposure to phonetic rules, practice, and scaffolded spelling instruction, these invented spellings will become closer and closer to the conventional spelling.

The study suggests that kids who are allowed and encouraged to ‘invent’ spelling will more easily and more successfully develop an ability to retrieve these words for future reading and writing.

“Children who used invented spelling developed stronger reading skills over time, regardless of their existing vocabulary, alphabetic knowledge, or word reading skills.”

The rationale for this (which makes COMPLETE sense to me, based on my experiences with Berrik and what I have learned about neuroplasticity) is as follows:

“When inventing a spelling, the child is engaged in mental reflection and practice with words, not just memorizing. This strategy strengthens neuronal pathways so as the reader/writer becomes more sophisticated with invented spelling, she or he is developing a repertoire of more and more correctly spelled words at the same time. These words are stored in the word form area of the brain where the child can retrieve them automatically as sight words for reading and eventually as correctly spelled words for writing.”

school photoAlso interesting to note is an 18 month study published in 2010 by the Harvard School of Education comparing child development to Gesell’s “Developmental Schedules” from 1925, 1949, 1964, and 1979, which suggests that kids today are not meeting cognitive milestones any earlier than they were in the 1920s.  Yet in kindergarten the expectations have grown considerably from play-based, to high expectations with regard to reading, writing and math.  We are pushing many kids to do things for which they are not developmentally ready.   There are numerous studies that suggest that pushing kids to do too much too soon might actually cause more harm than good over the longer term, from academic, social and emotional development perspectives.  Here is a review of several of those studies.

So, you might ask….  why did I jump from a discussion of invented spelling and literacy to studies about pushing kids academically before they are ready?  Because for us (and I suspect many, many others) they are directly related.  Berrik was not ready for school when I put him in school.  This was my error.  I made the wrong call.  Hindsight is 20/20. Whatever.  Live and learn.  I put Berrik in a second year of kindergarten.  That was a better call as opposed to pushing him on to Grade 1 when he wasn’t ready.  But really, it was pretty much too late by then.  I didn’t know it at the time.  Hindsight -so hopelessly unhelpful, except when we can share our experiences in hopes that others will learn from them…and because I have learned from it and am doing everything I can to reverse the damage I caused through well-intentioned, but still incorrect decision making.

Here’s why I think entering school before a kid is ready is problematic.  Regardless of age, Berrik was not ready developmentally.  This resulted in an extreme lack of confidence. As he got older he became more and more aware of how others perceived him.  He began to think he was stupid.  He was treated differently by the adults, and therefore the kids treated him differently too.  What does this have to do with invented spelling? school photo1 Let me tell you.  If you feel as though everything you do is wrong, it’s pretty tough to have enough confidence to take a risk and attempt to write a word.  If you have weekly spelling tests that you are not developmentally ready for and understand that you are only getting 3/10 which means you are a failure and you must be stupid because your classmates are getting 9/10, even though you actually know how to spell the words, but you just don’t have enough time to write them down, then you are not going to take risks on ‘inventing’ spelling.  This time last year, my sweet boy was beaten down.  He had zero confidence.  He wouldn’t even attempt to write.  We didn’t even try to make him write for several months.  But let me tell you, his confidence has been growing and growing.  He invents spelling and we don’t correct it as long as he has all the phonetic sounds.  We do sightwords and we learn the rules of phonetics and he has the confidence to attempt to apply those rules when he’s writing.  Over time his invented spelling has become closer and closer to conventional spelling most of the time.  His reading has improved tremendously as a result.  His speech has exploded – words he used to pronounce incorrectly have resolved because he knows the spelling of them, so he knows its a ‘th’ sound not an ‘f’ sound (for example).

I recently overheard someone talking about people who ‘hold their kids back’ for kindergarten (with reference to kids with fall birthdays) and he thought it was possibly to give those kids an advantage in future school sports.  I was a bit floored by that rationale.  I think it’s much more likely that those parents know their own children and felt they just weren’t ready for the academic rigors of kindergarten in these times. Perhaps there are parents who would be thinking about their child’s future advantage in school sports, but I’m guessing the majority are making these decisions from a developmental perspective and wanting to give their children more time to play and develop before they begin their structured academic career.

My point is that age is just a number.  Kids develop at different paces.  I know kids who are 13 months younger than my daughters in the same class, or kids the same age a full grade ahead.  They are doing fine.  Some are excelling.  I also have a friend who decided her son with a fall birthday wasn’t ready for kindergarten when he was 4 years and 10 months, so she let him have one more year at home.  He is in grade 4 and just published his first book.  Seriously.  She knew her kid.  She made a good call.  Let your kids’ development guide your decision making.  It can make such a difference.

Homeschooling has allowed us to back up the train, as it were, and allow Berrik’s literacy to develop naturally.  Sound Connections continues to give us the tools to do this and it’s working.  His confidence is high and that is translating to all school subjects.  He’s willing to take risks and that is exactly what a strong learner does.  But oh, if I could turn back the clock and remake some decisions – I surely would.  We have had much heartbreak and struggles, and I often wonder if those experiences will impact Berrik for life.  This parenting gig is a tough one.  Trust your gut people.  And if it doesn’t work out the way you expect it to, then do what you need to do to get the train back on the track.  None of it is easy, but it’s all worth it.