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Spelling Difficulties and Disabilities

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1 Spelling Difficulties and Disabilities
Kathleen Spencer Writing Development H-804 March 10, 2007

2 Overview of Today Why is spelling important?
Three big issues to consider before thinking the issue is a learning disability Language issues Instructional history Specific learning disability (dyslexia) Models of spelling (and writing) Research on the spelling/writing quality relationship Instructional issues and strategies

3 Why does spelling matter?
These kids are really smart, right?

4 Why does spelling matter?
Good spellers are generally considered to be better writers, smarter, more hirable, etc., than poor spellers (e.g., Kriener et al., 2002; Schramm & Dortch, 1991). Spelling difficulties can interfere with the composition process (Berninger, 1999; Graham & Harris, 2000) Poor spelling has been linked to overall essay quality (Graham, et al.; 1997; Graham, Harris & Fink Chorzempa, 2002) Spelling difficulties can persist into adulthood, even when related word reading difficulties appear to have resolved (Bos & Vaughn, 2006; Sawyer & Joyce, 2006) Study #1: College students rating peer essays – same essays, some with spelling errors. Essays with a greater number of spelling errors were rated as being of lower quality. More frighteningly, these college students rated the supposedly poor spellers as being less intelligent than the supposedly good spellers. Same essays. Student #2: Just 2 errors in a resume affected the likelihood that someone very qualified would be called in for an interview. So get someone to edit your resumes!

5 Is there a “disability”?
“The term ‘specific learning disability’ means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. Such term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. Such term does not include a learning problem that is primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage” (IDEA, 2004).

6 Diagnosis of SLD: Discrepancy approach vs. RTI
Discrepancy approach – statistically significant discrepancy between expected performance and actual performance Response to Intervention (RTI) – student does not improve a reasonable amount after an appropriate intervention RTI is an acceptable diagnostic approach as of 2004

7 First issue to consider
Language issues Orthographic depth of target language. In English, two-way mapping issues, spelling based on root words, homonyms, etc. Accents and Dialects (e.g., regional, AAVE, various dialects based on different Spanish-speaking immigrants, etc.) ELL students. Clear phonological and vocabulary issues. Also, literate in a previous language?

8 Second issue Instructional history
School characteristics (ratios, teacher skills, indexes of poverty, school resources, etc.) Instructional approaches (programs, philosophies, etc.) Consistency of attendance (both daily and switching between schools) “Instructional casualties” (Vellutino, 2004) Response to Intervention (RTI) approach

9 Third issue – what if it is an SLD?
Specific Learning Disability (SLD) How do we refer to a student with a disability that affects their spelling? Dyslexic? Reading Disabled (RD)? Dysgraphic? Literacy-based learning disability (LBLD)? Potential interactions between language, previous schooling, and potential LBLD. Hard to tease them apart.

10 Treiman chapter (1997) Children with dyslexia have even more trouble with spelling than reading words Their errors are generally similar to those made by much younger children (catching up is tough) BUT: Phonologically-based errors are somewhat more severe among kids with LBLD than with spelling-age matched children Students with LBLD may rely more on orthographic and morphological information Phonetic vs. non-phonetic errors “Gekuntly” vs. “how” (instead of “who”) “phonetic” vs. “non-phonetic” errors: First, error involving omission of phoneme representation (letter), substitution of one logical letter for another, or inclusion of a letter that makes sense but is still incorrect conventionally (Boston accent and extra “r’s” at the end of words: Santer) Non-phonetic: errors that involve some inversion, omission of a major phoneme representation, a chunk of the word is missing. As Treiman points out, there are differences in how people distinguish between the two types of errors. Plus, some errors deemed “non-phonetic” look a lot like errors made by young children. Using strict standards, the great majority of errors made by students with RD are considered “phonetic” by Treiman. The others are there, though.

11 Theories of spelling development
Just as there are different models of reading development; different and changing models of spelling/writing development Different assumptions about the source of errors, latent or explicit, in each theory Different diagnoses and intervention options stressed depending on which theory of development is dominant

12 Stage models of spelling development
Piagetian and Vygotskian theory. Stages of development; instructional goals tailored to stage (Frith, 1980; Ganske, 2000; Ehri, 1997; Bear et al., 2003) Spelling difficulties due to slower development, but follow the same general trajectory (e.g., Treiman, 1997). Student may miss something from one stage, but move on in other areas. Therefore, possible uneven spelling/writing performance Instruction – focus on knowledge appropriate to the student’s stage of development, then move to next logical task. First bullet: Qualitatively different stages of development in many areas, including spelling. Spelling will look different at each stage based on what they child can understand and how well they can express that understanding. Instruction based on knowing what stage the child is at and then scaffolding their transition into a more sophisticated stage. At each stage, learner constructs rules to organize the regularities they observe in their language’s orthography. Second bullet: Impediment could be a constitutionally-based deficit such as a phonological processing deficit or an experiential impediment, such as poor instruction or no instruction. Instruction: Words Their Way (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2008) Many activities Focus on mapping sounds to symbols (or symbols to sounds) Word sorts – noticing patterns Word families can be used as basis of spelling by analogy approach READING WORDS DOES NOT MEAN SPELLING WORDS

13 Dual-route theory Assumes two routes to storing and retrieving spelling information – phonological and visual/orthographic (e.g., Coltheart, 1978; Foorman, 1994) Phonological: e.g., phonological encoding, sound sequencing, auditory memory (Sawyer & Joyce, 2006). Visual/orthographic: direct access to lexical unit stored in visual memory (Leong, Tan, Cheng, & Hau, 2005). General move from phonological route to orthographic route, but students with dyslexia tend to rely more on orthographic route than peers Relevant terms: “Dyseidetic” or “surface” dyslexia Dual route theorists tend to argue that spelling development is qualitatively different for students with RD/LD than for typically-developing students. Kamhi & Hinton (2000) Controversy: some evidence for dual routes. People with reading disorders are more likely to use memory when reading, specifically if they have difficulty with phonological processing (cite). See Kamhi & Hinton (2000). Theory: Spelling difficulty can result from a phonological processing weakness OR from difficulty with the orthographic route OR both. Surface dyslexia is a controversial concept. In my experience, I have seen a few children who really do fit that profile, however. Either a great amount of repetition is required, or accommodation may be the way to go if someone has resistant surface dyslexia. Instruction: emphasis on both phonological work and memorization of visual patterns. Accommodation for route that is not functioning properly. For example, editing help or word prediction software for surface dyslexia.

14 Purely Phonological approach
Phonological Processing foundation of disabilities affecting spelling Phonological Encoding (enter data) Phonological Memory (store data) Phonological Retrieval (retrieve data) Difficulties at each level may manifest as different types of difficulties/disabilities Learns slowly or does not seem to learn concepts Learns then forgets or holes in knowledge Slow production or looks like one of the first two Also possible that what is called the orthographic route is more sophisticated phonological processing. So, instead of associating sounds with letters, then letter clusters or syllables, we begin to associate them with even larger chunks, words or root words. These root words can then be modified, transformed into different parts of speech, whatever, but we have that sound/symbol

15 Connectionist/neurological theories
Spelling involves a complex interaction between phonological, orthographic, and semantic systems (Holmes & Caruthers, 1998; Seidenberg & McClelland, 1989.) Trying to retrieve word, speller activates network Problem in an area or weak connections could result in poor word reading/spelling, and vis versa Spelling attempts may not reflect a clear, stage progression if student has LBLD/dyslexia. “Spelling by analogy” (Goswami, 1988; Sawyer & Joyce, 2006). Also, exercises that connect vocabulary, concepts, and written representations. First bullet: In other words, the brain is 3-D. Other theories not antithetical to this approach, but are more two-dimensional. Think of if we had a big ball of yarn and spend the next half hour tossing it about. Some people may get it more often, so, thicker mass. More of a connection. Now imagine we could have gravity defying suits and some of us were on the ceiling, still wasting our lovely time with these suits catching a ball of yarn at intervals. You end up with a much more complex network, though some connections will still be stronger than others. Students with RD may have more difficulty forming certain kinds of connections which could affect their spelling. They may need more exposure and direct instruction. Focus on spelling in addition to word reading. Again, though the processes are related, practice in one does not necessarily translate to skill in the other, especially for kids with RD, and especially if you like this connectionist approach. If network is shaky, need extra time to build it up. Spelling by analogy (Goswami, 1988). Makes sense with other models, but goes hand in hand with this approach. Use network related to one word to help with another word. May also strengthen associations with both words, and probably with the letter sequences in question in general. Still can cause some trouble for kids with LD. Retrieval difficulty.

16 Constructivist approach
Assumptions: reading and writing are meaning-making activities that are closely related to speech Children actively construct knowledge and will pick up spelling during meaningful writing experiences Whole language approach is one example Little evidence that this approach is better than direct instruction (Graham, 2000) and it is a disaster for students with LBLD/dyslexia BUT, it is important not to maroon kids with LBLD in phonics-land. Meaningful interaction with text is important

17 Other factors that may affect spelling
Executive function issues (e.g., ADHD) Verbal Memory, short and long term Visual-spatial difficulties Motor difficulties …usually, these issues affect areas in addition to literacy, though they may be underidentified

18 Some types of spelling errors
Unconventional but legal (modelling, cote/coat) “Mishearing” sounds (Gekundly) Pronunciation influence (pahty, jrive) Omission of phoneme/morpheme (bush teeth) Homonym (there, their) Retrieval of related but incorrect word (how for who) Misordering of letters to form undecodable word (dgo for dog) Other?

19 Some points about instruction
Emphasis on phonological awareness (oral language) and phoneme-grapheme mapping Word families and spelling by analogy (list of key words) Chunking strategies – syllables, affixes/root words, familiar/unfamiliar parts Focus on words the child uses or may be interested in. Over-emphasis on single word work can backfire Spelling is not word reading. Do not assume transfer for a struggling speller

20 Exercise: students with marked LBLD
What spelling strengths does each student have? Describe each students’ difficulties with spelling. What would you guess is the main source of this child’s spelling difficulty? You may consider: Different models of development Nature of spelling errors/attempts Your experience or information from readings How would you instruct each child? Would you use a particular method? What would you target first? What does your child know? (Look at others with remaining time) What difficulties is your child having? Can you categorize the errors? Why do you think this child is having difficulty? There is no right answer here. If you were working with this child, you would develop an initial hypothesis to guide instruction, then gather more information as you go. Looking at this one sample, what is your first guess? How would you instruct your child? Would you focus on a particular method? What skill or area of knowledge would you focus on first?

21 How does spelling affect writing?
Poor spelling or lack of automaticity distracts from other writing processes (Berninger, 1999) Correlational studies suggest a strong relationship (Graham t al., 1997; Spencer, 2008), BUT… Spelling intervention has an effect on sentence-level quality but not overall quality (Graham, Harris, & Chorzempa, 2002). How is sentence-level quality assessed here? Combination spelling and composition intervention had the biggest impact on essay quality vs. spelling alone and composition alone (Berninger, Vaughan et al., 2002) The spelling-only approach had no significant effect on writing quality

22 Factoring in Vocabulary
Correlational study looking at the relationship between general spelling ability and writing quality (Spencer, 2008) Considers possibility that there might be an interaction between students’ spelling ability and the words they either know in general or use in their essays Focus on somewhat older students (fourth through eighth graders). Less work on this age group in LBLD research. Essays were transcribed and corrected of all spelling errors prior to scoring. Assumption that spelling affects other writing processes.

23 Looking at a group of children with LBLD
A group of 67 Fourth through eight graders at a school for children with literacy difficulties. Note admissions criteria and PPVT-III scores. Very few fourth graders, somewhat more fifth graders, so really a middle school sample. Students in close to ideal circumstances: one hour of tutoring/day, separate writing class, very small classes, everyone at the school has a similar disability so faculty are able to target instruction to a particular popultion and be consistent between grades – work hard at consistency Students were asked to do a variety of tasks, among them to take the standardized assessments you see here and to write a persuasive essay. For now, look at the first three lines of the table. (Describe tasks, standardized scores, and standard devitation concept). As a group, the students are struggling with spelling, though not all of them. Note that these are not times tasks and that they had a lot of time for the essay. Love to develop a timed spelling test, though it may push many struggling spellers over the edge.

24 Standardized score on KTEA-II Spelling Subtest
Fourth through Eighth Grade Students with RD: Relationship of spelling scores to essay ratings Explain two axes and control variables. Essays were corrected for spelling errors and basic punctuation errors before they were scored. Tell them to ignore the three lines for now. If someone knows about and is interested in the interaction between spelling and performance on the Word ID task, you can talk with me afterwards. Main point here is to look at the trend. On average, poor spellers in this group write essays that receive lower quality ratings. Better spellers, at least according to the KTEA subtest, tend to write higher quality essays. Remember, the scorers were looking at essays with no spelling errors on them. Since these students’ performance on an independent spelling measure is a strong predictor of their essay quality rating, on average, it is likely that trouble with spelling affects their ability to compose. Standardized score on KTEA-II Spelling Subtest

25 Summary of findings Results indicate a relationship between spelling ability and essay quality for this group of students (controlling for other variables) This relationship is moderated by the complexity of the words students use in text. Overall vocabulary knowledge did not play a role. Words they know vs. words they use.

26 Why inconsistent findings?
Essay Quality Sentence Quality Spelling Is this the right model to use when considering the effects of spelling on writing quality and sentence quality (aka, writing fluency) for struggling spellers and/or writers?

27 Another option Writing Quality Spelling Writing Fluency
Sentence Complexity Vocabulary complexity Spelling

28 Discussion What are your experiences trying to help children with persistent spelling difficulties? What are your thoughts on the different interventions you have tried or witnessed?


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