Does proper spelling really matter?

How important is spelling in today's classrooms?
How important is spelling in today's classrooms?
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Until about 15 years ago, spelling was a consistently significant component of the second-grade curriculum [source: Toppo]. Spelling books were standard issue, spelling lists were extensive, and winning a spelling bee meant serious bragging rights.

Today, spelling bees are kind of like "Jeopardy": exhibitions of novel talents that make us marvel and applaud. In an age when young people read and write in digital shorthand almost by instinct, spelling skills can seem a little obsolete.

And yet, spelling lists still find their way home in second-graders' backpacks, and teachers still red-line "becaws" and "of coarse" in written work. Recently, though, some people have started to wonder why.

In an age when speed and concision rule, is it worth our time to learn proper spelling? Should you give it the same weight as the reading and math homework your child brings home?

In education circles, the answer is a resounding yes, but perhaps for different reasons than you think...

In Early Learning

Learning to spell is closely connected to learning to read and write.
Learning to spell is closely connected to learning to read and write.
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If you grew up when "ur" was just a typo, you probably cringe when you realize the e-mail you just sent has a misspelled word in the subject line. Correct spelling makes us look smart. In second grade, though, it has an even more important job.

Second-graders are learning to read on a whole new level. This year stresses fluency, speed and a dramatic broadening of vocabulary. It's no longer about sounding-out; it's about knowing -- and learning to spell plays a significant role in this process [source: Jaynes].

To consistently spell correctly, even when the words are not entirely familiar, requires an understanding of how letters relate to one another. When children are learning to spell, they're learning about letter patterns, letter combinations and the connections between letters and sounds.

And when children are learning to read, they're learning about letter patterns, letter combinations, and the connections between letters and sounds.

Spelling ties in with writing skills, too, and not just in the obvious ways. Yes, it makes your writing seem more reliable and intelligent, but it's also a critical part of learning to effectively convey ideas: a "coarse map" and a "course map" are two very different things.

Spelling, then, in second grade is not just about how one presents him- or herself in written communications. More importantly, it's part of the process of learning to read fluently, write clearly and communicate effectively.

Of course, your child won't be in second grade forever, so there are other considerations in play, too ...

In the Bigger Picture

One day, your child will be applying for jobs. He or she will submit resumes. He or she will wait with bated breath to be called for interviews.

The odds of those calls coming in decrease dramatically when HR gets to the part about "Job Experiance" [source: Toppo].

As adults, our spelling affects the perception of our intelligence and credibility. Fair or not, many people in the professional world are going to toss that resume aside without even finding out what your child's "job experiance" entails. To people looking to hire someone smart and detail-oriented, to people reading and grading college essays, to people deciding whether or not to take a serious blog post seriously, spelling counts.

One need only consider the popularity -- no, the indispensability of spell check for proof that spelling still matters. So why put in the effort if the computer can do it for you? Mostly because a computer sees nothing wrong with "ensuring her for 500,000 bucks" and "eating everything accept the apple."

No matter how brilliant, those who skipped second-grade spelling and depend entirely on software to get it right might end up passed over when their prospective employers see they graduated "summa cum loud," especially if the next person down graduated "summa cum laude."

A big spelling-bee win under "Honors" could make up for that, though -- more reason to give equal weight to those second-grade spelling lists.

For more information on spelling, second-grade curriculum and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

Author's Note

As a writer, the question of whether proper spelling really matters is moot. I see a major spelling error in formal writing and my hairs stand on-end. I think unkind thoughts about its author. I shake my head at the state of the world. But not everyone views correct spelling, or grammar, for that matter, as critical, proven by the fact that people really do ask whether spelling should be as important in grade-school curriculums as it has been in the past. This article undoubtedly reads, then, as unbalanced. But here's the thing: I looked and looked for credible, intelligent commentary on the rectitude of spelling's obsolescence, and I found none. Of course, people who write credible, intelligent commentary are, by definition, writers and would most likely fall into the moot camp, so that's what's out there. But know I tried.

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Sources

  • Jaynes, Carolyn. "Does spelling matter?" Leap Frog. (June 18, 2012) http://www.leapfrog.com/en/leapfrog_parents/education_questions/Does_Spelling_Matter.html
  • Second-Grade Learning Games and Activities. Great Schools. (June 18, 2012) http://www.greatschools.org/students/activities/300-second-grade-learning-games-and-activities.gs
  • Toppo, Greg. "Good spelling still matters in world of texting, spell check." USA Today. May 31, 2012. (June 18, 2012) http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-05-30/good-spelling-matters/55288784/1