Teaching spelling promotes general literacy

In “Using Encoding Instruction to Improve the Reading and SpellingPerformances of Elementary Students At Risk for Literacy Difficulties: A Best-Evidence Synthesis,” professsors Beverly Weiser and Patricia Mathes of Southern Methodist University reviewed of studies of the effects of spelling instruction on literacy performance and found that systematic instruction in helping students to convert speech into print promotes not just spelling but also reading competence. What is more, the benefits appear to persist over time.

Using Encoding Instruction to Improve the Reading and SpellingPerformances of Elementary Students At Risk for Literacy Difficulties: A Best-Evidence Synthesis

Although connectionist models provide a framework explaining how the decoding and encoding abilities work reciprocally to enhance reading and spelling ability, encoding instruction in today’s schools is not a priority. Although a limited amount of high-quality experimental or control studies to date (N = 11) give empirical support to using direct, explicit encoding instruction to increase the reading and spelling abilities of those students at risk for literacy failure, the benefits of integrating this instruction into current reading curriculums warrant further consideration. Students receiving encoding instruction and guided practice that included using (a) manipulatives (e.g., letter tiles, plastic letters) to learn phoneme–grapheme relationships and words and (b) writing phoneme–grapheme relationships and words made from these correspondences significantly outperformed contrast groups not receiving encoding instruction. Robust Cohen’s d effect sizes, favoring the treatment groups, were found in areas of phonemic awareness, spelling, decoding, fluency, comprehension, and writing. Educational implications of these findings suggest that there is support for using encoding instruction to increase the literacy performances of at-risk primary grade students and that encoding instruction can be successful in improving the reading and spelling performances of older students with learning disabilities. Importantly, there is also evidence to support the transfer effects of early encoding instruction on later reading, writing, and spelling performances.

Weiser, B., & Mathes P. (2011). Using encoding instruction to improve the reading and spellingperformances of elementary students at risk for literacy difficulties: A best-evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 81, 170-200. doi: 10.3102/0034654310396719

Link to the abstract.

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