NZ teachers need to improve spelling instruction

19 February 2013

New Zealand teachers are not using their understanding of how to teach spelling into practice in the classroom, a University of Canterbury research project has found.

NZ teachers need to improve spelling instruction

New Zealand teachers are not using their understanding of how to teach spelling into practice in the classroom, a University of Canterbury research project has found.

UC senior education lecturer Dr Brigid McNeill said teachers spend limited classroom time building children's ability to use the tools to spell correctly.

"Teachers typically report using weekly spelling tests of pre-taught words which can encourage a visual memorisation strategy in spelling rather than concentrating on skills that will help them spell all words the right way.

"They need to teach children about prefixes and suffixes, to identify sounds within words, and about common spelling patterns in English. If they know how to spell a word such as define and they know the spelling of the suffix tion then they have a good shot at spelling definition correctly.

"My research showed that New Zealand teachers show reasonable knowledge about how they should be teaching spelling, but they don’t seem to put it into practice.’’

Dr McNeill looked at teachers’ reported spelling assessment and instruction practices. She surveyed 405 randomly selected primary school teachers across regions and socio-economic status.

The survey examined spelling assessment, spelling instruction, beliefs about spelling, preparing teachers to teach spelling and teachers’ perceived strengths and weaknesses of their spelling programme.

There was large variability in spelling assessment and instructional practices across teachers. Most respondents reported implementing some aspects of a developmental approach to spelling instruction through analysis of children’s spelling errors.

"There was a large disconnection between teachers’ beliefs about spelling and their frequency of use of specific instructional practices. The mismatch between beliefs and reported practice appeared to be due to lack of professional knowledge about English language structure and finding time to teach spelling within the curriculum.

"Teachers said they had difficulty finding time to teach spelling in a tightly packed school day with so much to cover. Many teachers also reported that their initial teacher education programmes did not provide them with adequate training in this area.

"Teachers need to build their awareness about language structure so they can provide explicit instruction in spelling. We also need to show how working on such skills not only has benefit for spelling but also vocabulary development and reading skills,’’ Dr McNeill said.

She said New Zealand children are struggling more with writing than reading, with 32 percent of them performing below national standards. Although spelling is only one component of writing development, accurate and fluent spellers have more cognitive resources to focus on higher-order aspects of writing.

For further informationplease contact:
Kip Brook
Media Consultant
Student Services and Communications
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 3325
Mobile: 027 5030 168
kip.brook@canterbury.ac.nz

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