The Printed Press

Kids Can't Spell

By Heather MacBeath

Calgary based teacher Roberta Heembrock addresses the importance of correct spelling in her new book Why Kids Can’t Spell: A Practical Guide to the Missing Component in Language Proficiency.

 “The importance of spelling, standard spelling, is based on our need to communicate with each other. It is important because we are social beings; we need to communicate with each other. We’ve tried throughout history to write things down and a standard spelling give us a way of writing that can be passed on from generation to generation,” said Heembrock.

The effectiveness of written communication directly relates to how well one can express oneself on paper. Likewise, standardized written language provides stability and effectiveness when conveying meaning; written language is a symbol of our beliefs, thoughts and ideas; improper spelling can result in an incorrect or misleading message. Correct spelling is therefore critical to communication.

Research has shown that the understanding of the spelling process has been greatly oversimplified. It is more than memorizing a list of words and reproducing them on paper; spelling is a developmental and complex problem solving process where spoken language becomes written language.

“What I discovered is there is a lot of research out there, but not a lot of activities and things you can do to encourage and develop each of the stages. That is where my book is different; I give lots of activities and games and ways of promoting the development,” said Heembrock.

Why Kids Can’t Spell: A Practical Guide to the Missing Component in Language Proficiency focuses on all stages of the developmental process from preschool to upper elementary. It is in a scope and sequence format where each chapter builds on the previous one and includes discussion on spelling and an examination and analysis of children's writing samples. The chapters are followed by generative, inquiry-based, project-based ideas and activities; the activities in the book are easy to prepare and understand, and use readily available materials.

Why Kids Can’t Spell includes both appendix and glossary sections that are important and useful. Included are J. Richard Gentry's Model of Spelling Development, a comprehensive glossary of terms and definitions with examples, and a complete listing of references.

Heembrock, who has been a teacher for over twenty years after receiving both her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education with a concentration in Special Education from Acadia University, based her research on the six stages of spelling developed by Shane Templeton and several other researchers, as well as J. Richard Gentry’s Model of Spelling Development.

 “The purpose of this book is to encourage and foster good spelling practices in the home, while reflecting today's teaching methods,” said Heembrock. “We need to understand the spelling process and give young writers the opportunity to work with words in their writing.”

Why Kids Can’t Spell is written for parents and educators who have an interest in and a concern for the teaching of correct spelling. Spelling is the one area parents are always asking Heembrock about during parent-teacher interviews.

“I think it is one of the biggest concern parents have in the subjects in school. I want parents to be educated along with same the philosophies the teachers have,” said Heembrock.

Why Kids Can’t Spell: A Practical Guide to the Missing Component in Language Proficiency, which began more than ten years ago, is a tool for parents and educators of elementary school aged children to help them better understand, and thus help their children better understand the power and importance of spelling.

“Teachers and parents alike will appreciate this very useful and comprehensive book. It places spelling firmly in the context of language-learning, a gives a wealth of ideas to help build the patterns that form the basis of spelling knowledge.” Jo Phenix, Author of The Spelling Teacher’s Handbook and Spelling for Parents.

As the mother of two teenaged daughters, Heembrock also acknowledges one of the challenges facing learners today – text messaging. Although text messaging was a thing of the future when Heembrock started her book, the emerging use of spell check on the computer presented some of the same issues.

 “The concern people had then was spell check, because it couldn’t pick up the differences between ‘there’, ‘they’re’ and ‘their’. Now people are questioning what impact text messaging is going to have on society. It will be interesting to see. It goes along with proper spelling – it depends on the audience. Kids that are text messaging seem to understand that language, where parents would not necessarily be able to read it or understand it,” said Heembrock.

However, Heembrock also believes proper spelling is dependant onwho the audience is. “If you are writing to the Prime Minister of Canada, you would want it to be perfect because of the audience you are sending it to. If you are making up a grocery list to go to the store, it doesn’t need to have perfect spelling; it needs to have spelling that you can read.”

Heembrock describes Why Kids Can’t Spell: A Practical Guide to the Missing Component in Language Proficiency as a spelling resource reference book written for parents and educators who have an interest in and a concern for the teaching of correct spelling.

“All parents and teachers can mix teaching spelling, reading, and writing with enjoyment and fun! Roberta Heembrock’s comprehensive guide for teaching preschool through upper elementary children is practical, doable at school or at home, and fun. No more struggles helping your child. You’ll find this book chock full of great ideas for smart, enjoyable, teaching—paving the way for your child’s literacy success,” said J. Richard Gentry, recognized leader in education for groundbreaking work in spelling and Author of Breakthrough in Beginning Reading and Writing.

Why Kids Can’t Spell: A Practical Guide to the Missing Component in Language Proficiency is available at Chapters/Indigos, chapters.ca and amazon.ca, amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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