Spelling Help after a Davis Program

Child writing

A parent of a second-grader writes:

My son had a big gain in reading after completing his Davis program week, but he is still struggling with writing and spelling. I remember reading that “inventive spelling” is terrible for kids like him because the spelling that he invented is what gets imprinted in his brain and is very hard to rewrite.

I am wondering if it would be best for him to stop writing for a long while (a year). In the meantime he would use a speech to text program to put his ideas down on paper. That way he will only be seeing correct spelling. That would begin to imprint on his brain without such a struggle. He would continue spelling through claying words and other specific activities.

My answer:

I think it is true that spelling errors often occur because the child has retained a mental image of the wrong spelling, and that it can be hard to get rid of those images. A speech-to-text app or software might help with the process of initially getting thoughts written down, but keep these systems also often make frequent errors, substituting unrelated words in the text whenever the software fails to recognize what the child is trying to say. That could be very difficult for a dyslexic child, who would not have the ability to spot the errors; this could actually lead to greater frustration or make the problem worse.

Additionally, even though the child may see words correctly spelled in print, he will not master the ability to write those words on his own unless he actually has experience writing the words correctly. The parent is right that when the child makes a mistake, he is reinforcing his memory of the wrong way to spell the word, but the solution is not to give up trying. Rather, I think it’s best to create a learning environment that will tend to minimize mistakes and help practice and reinforce writing the words correctly.

Because English spelling is inconsistent, a child will have to study individual words, at least until he has enough experience that he can begin to better recognize common spelling patterns. The Davis tools that will help include using a dictionary, Spell-Reading, and Davis Symbol Mastery.

If the child has a list of words to learn for school each week, it will probably be too time-consuming to clay all of the words, but he could select one or two to model each week. Then he could spell-read the others and follow the symbol mastery steps of closing his eyes and saying the letters of each word forward and backward.

I’d also suggest that words be studied in a way that brings attention to specific spelling patterns or word roots — for example, he could spend time focusing on the “ight” pattern in light, right, sight, etc. It will help to use the dictionary to focus on word meaning and derivation, as that information often provides clues to correct spelling as well.

For homophones that have different spellings depending on meaning, the clay modeling may be the best solution. For example, the best way to learn the difference between “site” and “sight” might be through modeling the meaning.

A previous version of this article was originally published on May 30, 2012. The article was updated and republished on January 10. 2020.