I’m often asked about the value of on-line and computer based programs for students that are having difficulty with reading and spelling. Although there is definitely a place for some of these programs, I believe that at this stage of technological development, you can’t replace human interaction and feedback.
Every mistake a student makes is an excellent opportunity for learning, as long as we help the student make the correction in an effective way. For example, if the student has written ‘misstack’ for ‘mistake’, you can begin by having him/her read the word as it has been written (i.e., /m/-/i/-/s/-/t/-/a/-/k/). Then you can have the student tell you the sounds that can be heard in ‘mistake’ (i.e., /m/-/i/-/s/-/t/-/ay/-/k/).
The next step is to discuss how the ‘a’ can be changed from /a/ to /ay/. You might begin by asking the student to write down the common ways of spelling /ay/ (i.e., ai, ay, a-e) and discussing any rules which would help in the decision making process (i.e., it can’t be ‘ay’ because that is only used at the end of words). You might also discuss that the base word in ‘mistake’ is ‘take’. The student could try writing ‘take’ using the two different graphemes (taik, take). At this point most student will chose the correct spelling.
Now you need to discuss the rule for using double letters (i.e., double the next letter to keep the vowel short when the next syllable begins with a vowel and there is only one consonant after the vowel). Ask the student to locate the end of the first syllable (i.e., miss). Does the next syllable begin with a vowel? No – so therefore, we can’t use double ‘s’.
Once the student has worked out the correct spelling for mistake, take the opportunity to practise the word so it becomes embedded in the student’s long-term memory. This might include doing a 30 second challenge, writing the word on four different surfaces, making the word using scrabble tiles, etc.
The important message underlying this whole process should be ‘it is okay to make mistakes’ because it is from failure that we have growth.