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Great Reader Poor Speller

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My 4th-grade son just came home with his Terra Nova scores for reading. He scored in the 98th percentile nationally. The test says that he is above the 9th grade level for reading. He is a good reader but his spelling is horrible. He gets letters backwards, numbers backwards, transposes letters, writes "ch" instead of "tr" (example: chruk for the work truck). He even spells simple words incorrectly (example: gurl for girl). He hates to write, but he can talk about books and themes and can rationalize his opinions. Any clues about what might be happening with his poor spelling? Thank you.

A: It has been established that good reading correlates with good spelling as it appears that there are both meaningless without the other. However, this has not been the case for some. This is called the unexpected spelling problem that indicates that a child is able to recognise and read a word very well on one hand, and on the other, is unable to recall the correct sequence of letters when trying to write the every same word.

Research indicates that these good readers & poor spellers are in fact making phonetic spelling errors; which is a late stage of the spelling process (beyond the bounds of sound to letter rules). Their indecisiveness leads to spelling errors.

It has also been noted that advanced readers are actually skimming and not noticing the details. These are fast readers and due to that they may not be partial cues in reading which becomes habitual leading them to miss details in especially fast reading. Therefore, partial; cues in reading leads to inefficient generating of correct letter to letter sequence of words.

You son may be using minimal cues in reading that enables him to read at a much higher grade level, however, it has affected it spelling. Minimal cues used in recognising words leads to highly efficient reading but only limited information is available for the spelling process which eventually makes the individual a poor speller.

You may have to help him a lot in his spelling. The following are good links to start with:

  • Institute for Excellence in Writing

  • Free online spelling lessons (these teach most of the spelling rules)

Hope that helps. Good luck!


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