Published on: 08 Mar 2018

My love affair with words

By Abigail Steel, Education Consultant and Author, Blackberry Education

Recently I’ve been reflecting on my own attitudes towards spelling. I think spelling is a fascinating topic and although I believe that the ability to spell correctly is important, I try to be open-minded that there are also valid arguments to suggest that we sometimes over emphasise its importance in modern society.

Consider this: I am not the best person to tell you about spelling.

Yes, I know A LOT about spelling.

  • I know all about the history and origins of English spelling.
  • I know how the process of spelling works - from the bare bones to a rich and full vocabulary.
  • I can teach spelling to anyone at any time. I can take you from illiterate to linguist in just a few months.
  • I can tell you about all the sounds, the graphemes and the spelling patterns in the English language.
  • I am a total word nerd. Words make me romanticise. Words are passion and my career. I love them.
  • I am a naturally good speller. It’s easy for me.

…And that’s why I’m not the best person to tell you about spelling.

I often meet the people who are the most relevant to tell you about spelling when I train in schools. They are the teachers and teaching assistants who start to relax and share their experiences of not finding spelling easy. As they loosen up the whispers become more confident and they realise that it’s OK to admit that you are not a good speller, it isn’t easy for you, you’ve struggled through your whole education failing at spelling and even despising it. Those people are often the best at teaching
spelling to children because they genuinely understand how difficult it is. When children feel rubbish about themselves over poor spelling those people are able to empathise authentically.

Although what never fails to surprise me and instantly warms my heart is the moment in training when I say to teachers and teaching assistants: You must give your children the message loud and clear that they do not struggle with spelling because of their own inabilities. It is not a within child fault. They struggle with spelling because it is an incredibly complex and large bank of knowledge to learn.

After I say this I pause for just an extra second while I watch that message sink in and everybody’s shoulders drop with relief when it suddenly dawns on them that the message doesn’t just apply to the children in the classroom.

Follow Abigail on Twitter @Abigail_Steel