An interesting whitepaper by Richard Gentry and Steve Graham on spelling and handwriting has come out in the fall of 2010 under the aegis of Saperstein Associates, a research firm based in Columbus, Ohio, US . Read it here.
Although, I am a proponent of good handwriting, I have some misgivings about the arguments given on the need to develop good handwriting. I will come to that later -in passing, since this article is about spellings – but first about Spellings.
The whitepaper argues that wordlists derived from frequency of occurrence of words is central to mastering useful words. This is against the notion of learning words through reading passages and books. They writers have a point when they propound that internalizing 4000 commonly used words is all one needs to get a reasonable facility in writing. The trick obviously is to put together that list of words for relevant to your requirement. This is not to say that you put a full stop when you cross the 4000 marks. The more words you get into your vocabulary, the more granular your arguments are going to be in a writing composition. Given the wordlists appropriate for each grade-level, the writers urge that specific spelling dictionary and thesaurus must be made available. But they caution that sessions dedicated solely to spellings is required. It is not as if the students will start getting their spellings correct by some magic wand or will get it because spellings are embedded in readings and writings. The effort has to be conscious and deliberate.If technology helps in this everyday mediation, bring in technology as well. Spelling instructions are woven round pattern identification. We make a learner aware of the pattern that can be recognized from the sound, organization and meaning of words.The more intimately a learner knows a word -for example, the word’s sounds and syllable, etymology, etc – the more likely is the chance that she will spell the word correctly. Spelling is got right through relevant wordlists and conscious everyday mediation.
Now, for the handwriting portion of the whitepaper with which I am not in agreement with. Here are some points given in favor of good handwriting which I feel are actually self-fulfilling prophecies.
Increasingly, standardized tests include a written essay that is holistically scored by trained graders. There is evidence that the quality of handwriting significantly skews the evaluation of these essays.
It is easy argue against this proposition: Just take away the written essay from the evaluation and ask the learners to submit a word processed composition instead. You will have a level playing field to evaluate the content of the composition. The evaluation will not get skewed towards the better handwriting.
In a society in which texting and word processing are commonplace, handwritten communication is perceived as distinctive and special.
Are we sure about this? When asked about their choice between texting and writing, I have often heard students vociferously declare: Writing is so yesterday. Texting is cool.