For the Whole of Their Life.

Students Spelling Their Way to Success: Mastering Spelling in Years 2-6

Posted 14th August 2020
By Kristy Fahey

Many Australian students find learning to spell difficult and, in some ways, learning to spell is more difficult than learning other skills such as reading and writing. One proven way to help students learn to spell is through Direct Instruction. Direct Instruction is the use of straightforward, explicit, teaching techniques, usually to teach a specific skill. For example, the order of the planets is something best learned directly, while teaching what materials are magnetic is better learned, and much more engagingly, through experimentation or inquiry learning.

When we bake a cake, we follow a step by step process to ensure our cake is successful. Deviating from the recipe or omitting key ingredients can produce an underwhelming result. Whenever our students are learning a new skill, we use direct instruction to explain and model concepts. This helps students develop the background knowledge they will need to participate in independent application of those skills (Nichols, 2020).

Current research asserts that if we want to bring about the largest improvements in spelling abilities, teachers need to explicitly teach spelling using a proven program. This term, students in Years 2-6 are participating in a new spelling program, Spelling Mastery, which is a program currently being adopted by many schools across NSW. Spelling is an important skill for students to develop, as it impacts a student’s ability to communicate effectively, improves reading vocabulary, and extends a student’s writing skills. It could be argued that spelling is not important when we all have spell-checkers on our computers. The Spell Checker poem below serves as a cautionary lesson for all those who place too much trust in spell checkers.

The Spell Checker

I have a spelling checker
It came with my PC
It highlights for my review
Mistakes I cannot sea.
I ran this poem thru it
I'm sure your pleased to no
Its letter perfect in its weighs
My checker told me sew.
Source unknown

Spelling Mastery builds dependable spelling skills for students through a highly structured direct instruction method. Placement tests are used to determine the appropriate level for individual students and in just 15-20 minutes a day, students are explicitly taught spelling strategies during lessons at school. Spelling Mastery advocates that there is no necessity for students to learn spelling words as part of their home learning program, as the traditional memorisation technique does not teach students how to spell, nor provide the rules and strategies to spell words correctly.

It has been estimated that a person who knows how to spell 750 carefully selected morphographs (smallest fragment of a word) would be able to spell between 12,000-15,000 words.

See how many words you can spell in the activity below.


Here are 17 words. There may be even more!

Covered, coverable, recover, recovered, recoverable, discover, discovered, discoverable, uncover, uncovered, uncoverable, repute, reputed, reputable, dispute, disputed, disputable.

(Scott, 2020)

Spelling Mastery can help teach students the strategies they need to become successful, life-long spellers. We are excited to continue the implementation of our Literacy vision of a consistent and evidence-informed approach to teaching literacy across K-6, as we strongly believe that students who are competent spellers succeed in other areas of literacy and learning, and are building skills they will need for their future learning.

Alyce van der Velde
Head of Middle School

The Life

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