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The teaching of spelling online

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to the children should be kept the same. Other impor-
tant factors are the preparation for the test and the
mental condition of the pupils, especially fatigue.

Checking results. In all testing the checking of re-
sults is an important matter. The need for the saving
of time in school testing demands that the teacher get
as much assistance as possible from the children. Any
plan for doing this which gives accurate results may be
used. As a rule the marks should be verified by the
teacher. In ordinary school testing it is impracticable
to give weight to errors according to their difficulty.
Therefore it is best to use words of approximately equal
difficulty so that this is rendered unnecessary. In more
formal testing, specific rules for checking results, defin-
ing clearly the status of doubtful errors, are necessary.
Also, care should be taken to verify all marking and
to weigh errors according to the difficulty of the word.

Recording results. The recording of results is a
matter that should receive more attention. To be com-


plete the statement of results should show the number
of pupils participating in the test, the number of words,
the total number of spellings, the total number of words
correctly spelled, or of errors, and the appropriate per-
centages. Tables should show also the distribution of
facts, with an average or median as a measure of cen-
tral tendency and a figure showing the variability.
Tabular presentations should bring out the relations be-
tween the important factors compared. Groupings
also make the analysis of results more complete, such
as the averages of the one-fourth best and of the one-
fourth poorest spellers. These relationships can be
presented very clearly and vividly by the use of graphs.
It is well also to accompany the tables and graphs with
a brief descriptive statement. Finally, the results of
the investigation should be given in general and detailed
verbal statements.

Drawing conclusions. The drawing of conclusions is
the final step of the investigation. Conclusions should
be distinguished from inferences and pedagogical sug-
gestions. The first is a simple statement of facts based
upon the results of the experiment. Inferences and
suggestions are implications of the real facts based in
part upon the results of the experiments and in part
upon the investigator's general knowledge and experi-
ence. As a rule only limited conclusions can be drawn
from any one experiment. They should be specific and


1. Problems involved in the measurement and comr
parison of the achievements of large groups of children
have occasioned the development of standard tests and



S: Two conspicuous and widely used instruments are
the Buckingham scale of 50 words and the Ayres scale
of 1000 words.

3. The practical values of these scales are: (a)
They provide common test words of known degrees of
difficulty; (6) they make possible a more accurate com-
parison of different groups of children ; (c) they pro-
vide " standard " scores.

4. From the point of view of the classroom teacher
the limitation of the scales is that (a) the measurements
lack precision, because they do not measure the specific
results of spelling instruction; (b) they do not measure
growth in spelling efficiency; (c) they are expressed in
terms of static efficiency rather than of growth in effi-

5. Confusion and actual misuse of " standard " tests
arise from a misunderstanding of terms and of statisti-
cal results.

6. In the use of scales the following points should re-
ceive the special attention of the teacher: the selection
of a practical problem for investigation; the selection
of pupils and material ; the choice of a method of inves-
tigation; the development of a plan of procedure; the
control of variable factors ; checking and recording re-
sults; and drawing conclusions.

[ 180 ]

Factoes Affecting Spelling Efficiency

OF equal importance to the problems involved in the
teaching of spelling are the problems which con-
cern primarily the organization and administration of
the spelling work. One of these has been discussed in
the preceding chapter, the measurement of spelling effi-
ciency. Other problems have to do with the determina-
tion of the general policies of the school in regard to the
organization of classes, the preparation of the course
of study, the selection of a general method of teaching,
the determination of the amount of time that should be
given to spelling, and the apportionment of this time
among the grades. The success of this work will de-
pend in part upon the accurate evaluation of the fac-
tors affecting spelling efficiency. These factors include
spelling material, methods, amount of time, grade, age,
sex, nationality, and general efficiency.


The importance of spelling material as a factor in
determining spelling efficiency was treated at length in
the first chapter of this book. Suffice it to repeat here
our general proposition that practical efficiency in
spelling rests primarily upon the ability to spell the
words that are being used at the time and the words
that will be added to the writing vocabulary in the near

Spelling reform. In a previous connection, also, it
was brought out that three fourths of the difficulties
that we meet in spelling are due to the peculiar char-



acteristic of the English language, the unphonetic spell-
ing of words. This fact has suggested to some students
of the problem the need for a radical spelling reform.
But this is the hope of the dreamer rather than the ex-
pectation of the practical educator. English spelling
reform has been going on for hundreds of years, and at
several periods in the near past it has been somewhat
accelerated by organized efforts in this direction; but
the changes that have been effected have failed to free
the English language from its traditional shackles.
The chances are that this will not be accomplished for
many years to come, and too much should not be ex-
pected from the movement in the way of immediate
relief. Yet spelling reform is gradually coming about,
and the teacher, as one of the largest beneficiaries,
should do all in her power to further the movement.

Teaching properly sanctioned simplifications. The
schools cannot go in advance of public opinion in the
matter, but where general sanction is given to new forms
of spelling there is no reason why these should not be
accepted and taught. At least twelve such simplifica-
tions out of a total of 300 recommended by the Simpli-
fied Spelling Board in 1906 have been generally advo-
cated and adopted by leading American scholars, higher
educational institutions, and newspapers. These are:
program, catalog, decalog, prolog, pedagog, tho, altho,
thoro, thoroly, thorofare, thru, and thruout. These
forms are recognized by Webster's New International
Dictionary, and they have been adopted by the National
Education Association. At the July, 1916, meeting of
the National Education Association, it was voted to
adopt another simplification recommended by the Board
— the use of the t in the place of ed when ed is sounded
like t, and where the change does not affect the pronun-



ciation ; i. e., fiwt for fixed, blest for blessed, hist for


It has been assumed in the preceding pages that
method is an important factor in producing efficiency in
spelling — that spelling is a subject that can be taught,
and that there are right and wrong methods of teach-
ing it.

Contrary conclusions of Rice and Comtnan. This
view, which is generally accepted by teachers, has not
been allowed to pass unchallenged by experimenters.
The first important American investigator reached the
sweeping conclusion that there is no direct relation be-
tween methods and results. Following Dr. Rice ^' ^
Cornman ^ claimed that the time devoted to the specific
spelling drill bears no discoverable relation to the re-
sult. These two conclusions are not borne out by suc-
ceeding investigations, in which the problem was ap-
proached by a more direct method and conditions were
more carefully controlled. Practically every investiga-
tion, in which specific methods of teaching have been
compared under exactly defined and controlled condi-
tions, has given evidence of the superiority of certain

Drill vs. incidental methods. The particular contro-
versy in the field of general methods is about the rela-
tive value of drill and incidental methods of teaching.
Cornman's investigation led him to favor the incidental

1 Rice, J. M., " The Futility of the Spelling Grind." Scientific
Management and Education, pages 65-99.

2 Tidyman, W. F., " A Critical Study of Rice's Investigation of
Spelling Efficiency." Pedagogical Seminary, Vol. II, 191S, pages

3 Cornman, O. P., Spelling in the Elementary School, 1902.



method. Wallin * completely disapproved this, saying,
" Teaching spelling exclusively by a well-organized drill
gives more satisfactory results than teaching it ex-
clusively by the incidental method," The confusion
concerning the relative value of the drill and incidental
methods was caused in part by the failure to limit the
investigation to a specific drill method and to a specific
incidental method, and in part by the failure to secure
adequate control over the other varying factors. The
investigators show that satisfactory results can be ob-
tained by either method under certain conditions.
Neither has shown the superior value of the drill or the
incidental method under precisely the same conditions.
In short, the investigations leave us about where we
started as far as a knowledge of the relative value of
the two methods is concerned.

This confusion is not so apparent in general theory
and practice. Few advocate or attempt the teaching of
spelling apart from formal drill upon isolated words.
This practice is supported in part by the indirect evi-
dence of Winch,' Turner,® and others, where some form
of drill work demonstrated its superiority to a less di-
rect method.


Negative value of time. The time element is an-
other one of those factors about which Rice '' and Corn-
man * made striking statements. As a result of their
investigations it is claimed that there is no relation be-

* Wallin, J. E. W., Spellinif Efficiency «» Jtelation to Agt,
Orade, and Sex, and the Question of Transfer, 1911.
8 Winch, W. H., op. cit.
« Turner, E. A., op. eit.

7 Rice, J. M., op. cit.

8 Cornman, O. P., op. eit.

[ 134 ]


tween spelling efficiency and the amount of time de-
voted to spelling. A similar conclusion was reached in
a recent survey of the Oakland, California, schools.*
It shows that for entire grades and for separate classes
there was no definite relation between minutes per week
and the class or grade standing.

Time not the most important factor. Just what
meaning is to be inferred from these facts is a ques-
tion. It seems to me that the least likely explanation
is that spelling is a subject not susceptible to methods
of teaching. This is clearly disproved by repeated
comparative studies of methods. Rather, these results
show that the amount of time spent is not the most im-
portant factor in the situation. Of far greater impor-
tance is the way in which the time is spent.

Whatever the meaning of these facts, the practical
consequences are important. They stimulate a crit-
ical examination of time allotments and methods of

Need for economy. The results of the Oakland sur-
vey suggest that there is still room for improvement in
these particulars. With the ever increasing demands
for more emphasis upon the social or content subjects,
it should be a constant consideration on the part of
school officials to reduce the time necessarily devoted
to spelling to a minimum. This is possible only by
increasing the effectiveness of our work in other partic-
ulars, principally in the selection of words and methods
of teaching. Our aim should be not to get the best
possible results in spelUng, but to get the best possible
results with the least expenditure of time and effort.

Measures of economy. No doubt much time is still

» Department of Public Instruction, Oakland, California, Spell-
ing Effleiency in the Oakland Schools, 1915.



wasted through the use of poorly chosen word lists and
inferior methods of teaching. Fifteen to twenty min-
utes per day should be the maximum amount of time
allotted to spelling. It is possible to get satisfactory
results on even less time. It is a disputed question
whether the formal study of spelling may not be omitted
from the two lower grades. And, when the work in the
preceding grades is well organized and effectively
taught, the time necessarily devoted to spelling in the
two upper grades may be considerably reduced. Ex-
perience seems to indicate that it should not be elimi-
nated entirely. One of the few conclusions of the re-
cent Cleveland investigation was : " The incidental
teaching of spelling in j unior high schools seems not to
function as well as the definite assignment in the reg-
ular elementary schools." Further, it is possible that
we may find upon more extended investigation that more
time and effort should be concentrated in the lower in-
termediate grades, where the growth in spelling efficiency
is most rapid.


Wide distribution and overlapping of children's abil-
ities. It would seem that the purpose of grading is to
get children of approximately equal spelling ability to-
gether. Repeated investigation shows that, whatever
the intent and purposes, this is far from realized in ac-
tual school administration. We find children in the
third grade spelling as well as children in the eighth,
and children of the fifth grade matching the spelling
efficiency of children in every other grade in school.
This wide distribution and overlapping of children's
abilities shows the marked limitations of our present
system of grading. In general, children of the lower



grades show greater variability than those of the upper,
due partly to the large loss through elimination in the
upper grades.

Progression from grade to grade. Grading has
more significance when whole grades are compared.
Then it becomes clear that there is a progression in abil-
ity from grade to grade. The early investigations, in
which separate tests of miscellaneous words were used,
did not bring out this fact. When uniform or stand-
ard tests were used, as in the studies of Kratz,^" Buck-
ingham,^^ Hornbaker,^^ and myself,^' the fact becomes

Greatest improvement in the lower grades. Now the
more debatable and important question is how this im-
provement is distributed through the course. Definite
knowledge of this fact would throw some light upon the
variation in emphasis which should be given to spelling
in the various grades. The results that are available
show that the improvement is considerably greater in
the lower grades. The improvement in the third and
fourth grades is over twice as great as that in the fifth,
sixth, and seventh. To get a more definite notion of
this fact it would be necessary to devise tests better
fitted to the work than the uniform test. The present
conclusions seem to favor stressing spelling in the lower
intermediate grades.

10 Kratz, H. E., " A Study in Spelling." Studies and Observa-
tions in the Schoolroom, pages 127-140.

11 Buckingham, B. R., op. cit.

12 Hornbaker, W. R., " A Spelling Test for the Whole School."
Educational Bi-monthly, Vol. V III, 1914, pages 351-353.

13 Tidyman, W. F., " The Relation of Age, Grade, Sex, and
General EflSciency to Spelling Efficiency." Experimental Studies
of Spelling, Thesis, New York University, 1915. Unpublished.




Age. Age in relation to spelling efficiency presents
about the same facts and problems as grade. That is,
there is wide variability in individual achievements and
large overlapping in the several age groups. Thus the
Oakland survey shows the distribution of 13-year-old
children through all the grades, and this is taken as
" striking evidence that chronological age means almost
nothing in school organization."

It is true of age, also, that each age group when
taken as a whole shows an increase in efficiency over the
preceding group. The increase from 9 to 12 is about
twice that from 12 to 15.

Girls better spellers than hoys. A comparison of the
sexes gives conclusive evidence that girls are more effi-
cient spellers than boys. This appears in every grade
and increases gradually with age. Only about one
third of the boys do as well as one half of the girls. It
appears that boys' ability spreads over a wider range
than girls', but the evidence is not conclusive in this
matter. The differences in sex will throw some light
upon the general problem of individual differences.
Girls can do more work than boys, and this should be
demanded of them. Girls could complete the course in
spelling in from one sixth to one eighth less time than
the boys.

Significance of individual and group differences.
The wide range of ability in the same grade presents
peculiar problems for the teacher in dealing with indi-
vidual and group differences. It will mean that a given
lesson has practically no difficulty for some pupils,
moderate difficulty for others, and extreme difficulty for
still others. The solution of this problem will be fur-


thered by adequate administrative provisions, such as
special classes for bright and for backward children,
irregular promotions, and the use of assistant teachers.
In doing her part, the teacher should first become aware
of the extent of individual differences and locate the in-
dividuals at the extremes. Then, by varying the as-
signments and keeping individual review lists she
should try to fit the tasks to the abilities of the chil-


Nationality an important factor. The presence in
many of our schools of a large foreign element has in-
creased the complexities of teaching and raised new
problems. One problem is the efiPect of nationality
upon individual differences in achievement. The nega-
tive statement of the earlier investigators is untenable.
In a preliminary comparison of foreign children, chiefly
Italians, and American children, not including negroes,
in one school, the author found marked differences.
The Italians averaged 15 per cent below the Americans
in the third and fourth grades, 5 per cent below in the
fifth and sixth, and 6 per cent above in the grammar
grades. The higher percentage in the grammar grades
was due in a measure at least to the dropping out of a
large number of the poorer Italian pupils. However,
this does not explain the change in the intermediate
grades. It seems probable that by the time the inter-
mediate grades are reached the handicap due to igno-
rance of the English language is largely overcome and
that the native ability of the children is allowed to assert

Facts from the Oaklamd survey. Further evidence of
the effect of nationality upon the standing of pupils in



school is given in the Oakland survey.^* It appears
there that in every grade the foreigners fall below the
average for the grade. The amounts of these devia-
tions are: Grade III, 3.1 per cent; V, 2.3 per cent;
VIII, 2 per cent. This does not represent the actual
difference between Americans and foreigners, since both
are included in the general averages. On the average
the foreigners fell about 5 per cent below the Americans.
This would mean about 6 per cent in the third grade
and 4 per cent in the eighth. The foreign children
there represent selections from every part of Europe,
in about the same numbers. The effect of any one na-
tionality is not so clear and in many cases the lan-
guage is not a handicap. Yet the differences are large
enough to be conspicuous and to demand considera-

Not so much should be expected of foreign children
as of Americans. This is important in making out the
course of study as well as in teaching. In using stand-
ard scores, also, it will be necessary to take the matter
of nationality into consideration. For these purposes
it is important to obtain more accurate statements of
the differences caused by nationality.

Other social factors. Other social factors creating
individual differences are environment, the personality
of the teacher, the father's occupation, children's occu-
pational ambitions, and home language. The last three
were treated rather fully in the Oakland survey. Some
interesting facts were brought out, which, however, ad-
mit of different interpretations. Thus it was found
that children of professional men rank considerably
higher than children of laborers, and that in between

1* Department of Public Instruction, Oakland, CaUfornia, op.
cit., pages 49-S4.


these lie children of clerks, officials, business men, agri-
culturists, and artisans.

Children ambitious to be teachers, writers, and mu-
sicians seem to show a relatively high grade of spelling
efficiency. On the other hand, if the ambitions look
toward baseball, labor, or nursing, the chances are that
the spelling efficiency of the child will be low. However,
the differences are not so large as to be striking.

" The influence of the home language seems not to be
very evident, since the errors made by children of for-
eign homes are in the main identical with those made
by children whose home language is English, and are
made in approximately similar proportions."


Spelling efficiency has been regarded generally as a
highly specialized mental trait bearing little or no rela-
tion to general mental ability. Recent investigations
of the question show that this extreme view is untenable.
In 1915 the author ^® compared the standings of about
500 pupils in two schools. Grades III to VIII, in respect
to spelling efficiency and general efficiency based upon
an average of the marks received in all the school sub-
jects. The relationship was very close, as indicated by
a coefficient of correlation of .5. In the same year
Houser ^® reported a similar study and reached the
same conclusion. The coefficient was practically the
same, .5. Hollingworth ^^ found a coefficient of .419
when the spelling abilities of nine normal pupils, the

15 Tidyman, W. F., op. cit.

18 Houser, J. D., " Relation of Spelling Ability to General In-
telligence and to Meaning Vocabulary." Elementary School
Journal, Vol. XVI, 1915, pages 190-199.

If Hollingworth, Leta S., Tha Piychology of Special Disability
in Spelling, 1918, page 14.



Control Group, were related to " mental age." Bran-
denburg ^* found that the pupils ranking highest in gen-
eral scholarship make the fewest errors in spelling. He
says, " It is clear that we have a very substantial corre-
latior ."


1. Problems of organization and administration de-
pend for their solution, in part, upon the accurate eval-
uation and balancing of the factors affecting spelling

2. Efficiency in spelling depends primarily upon the
right choice of words.

3. The reform of English spelling is too slow to give
much hope for immediate relief in that direction.

4t. Method is an important factor in determining
spelling efficiency.

5. The apparently negative value of the time ele-
ment suggests the need for economies, foremost among
which is the careful selection of words and methods of

6. Grading is chiefly conspicuous for the wide dis-
tribution of ability within the grade, and the large
amount of overlapping among the grades.

7. The greatest improvement is made in the lower

8. Age presents facts similar to those of grade.

9. Girls are better spellers than boys. Only about
one third of the boys do as well as one half of the girls.

10. Nationality is an important determinant of
spelling efficiency. The specific cause of the inferi-

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Online LibraryWillard Fred TidymanThe teaching of spelling → online text (page 10 of 13)