What Causes Spelling Problems

What Causes Problems with Spelling

Many children and even adults have problems with spelling. Spell check can often only get you so far. Sometimes spell check cannot even tell what word it is you are trying to spell. You may have even written a word that is a word, but not the word you intended to write.

Poor spelling abilities can lead to a lack of confidence and poor performance at school. Spelling and reading are interconnected, so one step in improving reading skills is to improve your spelling skills. These skills impact not only school success but also life success. In fact, by the time you are entering the workforce, a spelling error on your resume could be the difference between landing an interview or not.

People who have poor spelling abilities or spelling difficulties sometimes avoid using words that are out of their spelling abilities for fear of making spelling mistakes. They can also be reluctant to share their work or participate in activities like writing on a whiteboard in front of a group or typing comments in a virtual learning environment.

What Causes Poor Spelling and Spelling Problems?

When a student just has difficulty with spelling, in other words, they can read well but not spell, I typically say they have a spelling disability. That just means they have difficulty with spelling. Sometimes this is due to the type of spelling instruction they have had. Sometimes it is because their teacher allowed creative spelling. Sometimes it is because children are struggling readers and don’t have spelling competence.

Dyslexic children and those with learning disabilities often have problems with spelling, too. Ultimately, we like to look at the root cause of spelling mistakes. The root cause of spelling problems is typically due to one or more areas of processing that isn’t working as well as it could, should, and can.

There are two primary systems that impact your ability to spell words. These are the visual and auditory systems. If these systems are not working as well as they should be, you are likely to have spelling problems. The good news is, the visual and auditory systems can improve and spelling difficulties can become a thing of the past.

Visual Processing Affects Spelling Ability

Visual processing is the system in your brain that makes sense of what you see. Spelling is the process of placing the correct letters with the sounds they represent to form words. This is encoding, converting a speech sound into a symbol or group of symbols, and ultimately spelling words. This process combines both visual and auditory processing.

Visual Memory

Visual memory is the ability to remember you have seen a picture or a word before. In spelling, this is your ability to remember how to spell a word. Those that have poor visual memory typically have spelling problems. Teaching spelling to those with poor visual memory should include teaching the English spelling system predictable. This means the best way of teaching spelling is with language-based spelling instruction that teaches the spelling patterns along with a few irregular words and some challenging words. Learning the 8 spelling patterns makes it easier for students to remember spelling words.

Visual Discrimination

Visual discrimination is your ability to discern similarities and differences visually. For example, seeing the differences between pan and pin, pat and pat, or bid and did. Poor discrimination skills often impact spelling skills, especially for those with learning disabilities, dyslexia, or poor reading skills. Again, no matter your age, these skills can improve.

Auditory Processing Affects Spelling Difficulties

Auditory processing is the system in your brain that is able to make sense of the sounds that you hear. If you hear a word that you haven’t seen multiple times and need to spell it, you will typically rely on spelling it by sounding it out. The process of sounding a word out relies on several areas of auditory processing. If you’ve seen a word multiple times and need to spell it, you will more often make a picture in your mind of what the word looks like and then you are able to spell it.

9 Areas of Auditory Processing

Auditory Discrimination

Auditory discrimination impacts spelling words through your ability to tell the differences between individual sounds and words that are slightly different.

Example words

  • mob and mop
  • very and berry
  • scream and stream
  • mesh and mush

If you aren’t able to hear the difference between individual sounds, you may spell a word that has a completely different meaning than you intended.

My daughter had this problem when she was growing up. She had trouble discriminating the differences between individual sounds in a word. She often came home in tears week after week on spelling test day after getting low marks. She may have inherited her spelling difficulties from her father. I recall her father bringing his handwritten papers to me in college and asking me to type them up. His spelling was so bad I often had to guess at the word he wanted.

Auditory Visual Integration

Auditory visual integration is the ability to accurately relate an auditory sound with a visual symbol. This is a beginning reading skill in the areas of phonemic awareness and phonics. This is crucial for younger students as they associate different sounds to their specific letter combinations.

Auditory Closure

Auditory closure in relation to spelling words is the ability to combine sounds that are presented orally to make words. For instance, when given the individual sounds: /c/, /a/, and /t/; auditory closure is the ability to bring those individual sounds together to make the word /cat/. It is also the ability to fill in the missing piece of a word. For example, if I were to say po _a to, you would be able to fill in the missing /t/ and say /potato/.

How Do You Fix Spelling Problems?

No matter what the underlying cause of spelling problems, be sure to use a spelling program that emphasizes basic language skills, phonics, vowel sounds, and separate speech sounds. Spelling skills can improve with a multi-sensory approach to teaching spelling that includes an emphasis on word structure and speech sounds rather than memorizing over 30 spelling rules.

Often older students feel that they will never become good spellers. However, even older students and adults that have struggled with spelling can improve their spelling skills. We have seen this happen time and time again. It is never too late to improve your spelling skills. Learning a few basic rules, which means learning the 8 spelling patterns, spelling can and does become easier. Learning the 8 spelling patterns is much easier than learning over 30 spelling rules.

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At-Home and Online Spelling Program with Phonics

Our online spelling program integrates auditory, visual, and tactile-kinesthetic processing skills. We have different levels for grades K-8. Your child will learn 10 new spelling words each week. We break up each week of words according to their spelling patterns. There are 8 primary spelling patterns in the English spelling system that your students will learn over the course of the program.

Teaching spelling with the 8 spelling patterns is easier than memorizing over 30 spelling rules. The methods we use to teach spelling incorporate both spoken and written words. Learning the spelling patterns of the English spelling system dramatically improves your ability to spell words. We do this by teaching the spelling patterns, practicing spelling words a sound at a time, and learning the letters that represent vowel sounds. For example, students with spelling difficulties, or learning disabilities, learn the first spelling pattern is the vowel-consonant pattern. These spelling words are words with short vowels: bat, pen, stop, picnic, and trust.

Spelling Instruction for Grade Levels K-8

Spelling words vary depending on your grade level (K-8th) in our spelling program. We do this to meet your child where they are with their spelling abilities. No matter the level, we teach the same 8 spelling patterns to make sure that all students build a solid foundation.

Our spelling instruction focuses on teaching the structure of the language, the 8 phonetic spelling patterns. Younger students start off learning to spell words that are 3 and 4 letters in length. Older students learn to spell words that are longer in length or multi-syllable that use the same spelling patterns. As student’s spelling ability improve, spelling lists become more difficult and helps students be able to spell unfamiliar words.

What Do Weekly Spelling Instruction Lessons Look Like?

In our spelling program, each week we teach children spelling by pairing the speech sounds with the written language. The first lesson each week includes a video lesson that your child follows along with their own printable worksheet. Students are able to hear and see exactly how we put speech sounds together with the letters that represent them in order to spell words.

When students watch the video lesson and work along with their own spelling worksheets, they work on improving their auditory, visual, and tactile-kinesthetic memory at the same time as improve their spelling skills. After the lesson, students practice the spelling pattern that was covered in the lesson with puzzle activities.

The second spelling lesson focuses on writing the correct spelling of your words in sentences. This helps improve basic language skills as well as word meaning. This lesson also has a spelling activity student where students learn word structure by finding the spelling patterns in each word in a sentence. This is one step of word study phonics.

The third spelling lesson tests students’ spelling skills. The process used in the spelling test has each student write words multiple times. This ensures that students have learned the basic spelling skill in each week’s lesson. The spelling week concludes with a printable spelling card game. The card game reinforces the correct spellings of words, improves vocabulary and word meaning, and provides additional practice for word recall.

Online Spelling Program

The spelling program is loaded with puzzles, worksheets, and card games to make spelling fun. By learning the spelling patterns, your kids will learn to spell not only the words in the program but thousands of words that all follow the same patterns. Your child will unlock the code to spelling!

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