Writing and phonics

(396 Posts)
Notcontent Sun 23-Feb-14 21:37:51

Background is that I am a bit annoyed at dd's teacher who seemed to suggest that dd's spelling is not great because she needs to improve her knowledge of phonics.

Dd is 7 and her reading is great, as acknowledged by her teacher, but her writing is not as good as her reading. Before Christmas at meeting teacher said that her spelling is letting her down and gave me a sheet with the phonics sounds to practice with dd. But the fact is that there are so many exceptions to English spelling that a lot of it is just memory work. I think that needs to be acknowledged. We have been doing lots of writing at home and I think her spelling is pretty good actually.

I do agree that phonics helps with reading, and helps a bit with spelling, but that's not the whole story, is it?

Rosieliveson Sun 23-Feb-14 21:54:46

I think my question to the teacher would be whether the spelling was, as the marking criteria states, 'phonetically plausible'. I'd also ask what type if words are causing the difficultly. High frequency (common) or the bulk of the text. The teacher should be clear on this.

If it's the bulk of the words your dd is writing then going over the sounds may help the words become more decodable. Eg botl is a phonetically plausible spelling of bottle. Other example would be nirs (nurse), flawa (flower), dragn (dragon) etc.

If it's that the spelling of simple, high frequency words, aren't correct. I'd ask for these (they come in lists) to practice with.

Hope that makes sense grin

Notcontent Sun 23-Feb-14 22:03:31

Thanks Rosie. She has no problems with high frequency words at all.

columngollum Sun 23-Feb-14 22:16:06

Unfortunately with English spelling you simply have to remember how words are spelled and that's all there is to it.

Phonics has sod all to do with it. It's a wish of some people that phonics should inform and explain everything. But in reality it doesn't. Far from it, in fact. It's a sad fact that some people can remember the correct letters which form a particular word and others can't. Those who can't should practise spelling and looking for daily reminders of how words are spelled.

Notcontent Sun 23-Feb-14 22:29:07

This may sound really old fashioned but we have been doing some dictation at home and that seems to work really well.
I agree with you Column. My spelling is pretty good - I work in a profession where good writing skills are essential. But I certainly didn't learn to spell using phonics.

columngollum Sun 23-Feb-14 22:35:04

Someone would need to explain to me how one can spell using phonics. One either knows how many ms and cs there are in accommodation or one does not. It isn't possible to hear the number.

Huitre Sun 23-Feb-14 22:42:28

It is possible to know that if there were only one M in accommodation it would be likely to be pronounced differently, for instance.

fizzly Sun 23-Feb-14 23:19:32

accommodate is a very accommodating word. Served me quite well! (I agree with most of the above by the way!).

LittleMissGreen Sun 23-Feb-14 23:24:21

DSs school teach them to spell using phonics. I can't say I know exactly how it works, as I haven't attended the lessons, but the difference in spelling ability between DS1 (who was not taught phonics) and DS2 who has been is marked. They are both above average readers but DS2's spelling is much better. When he comes home at the weekend with a list of words that we need to practice that are split into 'easy words - all phonically obvious for want of a better term', 'words with a tricky part' and 'challenge words e.g. words with silent letters' he already knows them all, presumably from his school work. I get an 'easy' as he writes them down.
DS1 started to be taught phonics systematically when he was in KS2, and his spelling went from a couple of years behind his chronological age, to now (in yr7) where it is over a year ahead.
I guess they come to recognise when different letters should be used to make the sounds, e.g. DS3 is in reception but he already knows that if he wants an 'ee' sound on the end of words with more than one syllable then it is probably a 'y' that he wants. He knows that the 'o' sound after a 'w' comes from an 'a' etc. I'm sure there are words that don't follow both those patterns, but if he wants to tackle words that he has probably never even seen written down, within his writing, it's a better place to start than a complete guess or waiting to learn how to spell the word for a spelling test.

Mashabell Mon 24-Feb-14 07:54:52

the difference in spelling ability between DS1 and DS2 is marked.
Children vary enormously in their ability to learn to spell English, irrespective of how they are taught, depending mainly on whether they have a good visual memory or not.

Beyond a very elementary level, phonics is totally useless for learning to spell English.

The trickiest part of English spelling are the 335 heterographs like there/their and hear/here. Phonics is completely useless for learning to spell those.

The second biggest challenge is consonant doubling (copy poppy, very merry, shoddy body). Doubling is used predictably for keeping a stressed short vowel short when short words are made longer
by adding -ed, -en, -er, -ing, -y or –ish
(e.g. fat - fatted, fatten, fatter, fattish... batting, batty)
to distinguish them from ones with a long vowel
(bate - bated, bating).

In longer root words, consonant doubling is completely unpredictable:
423 words use them systematically (e.g. mellow, yellow),
554 don't use them (e.g. melon, melody) and
195 words have needlessly doubled consonants (e.g. satellite, accommodation) after unstressed vowels.

The numerically third biggest problem are the 352 words with an ee sound (speech speack shriek...).

I analysed the spellings of the 7,000 most used English words and found that 80 of the 91 main English spelling patterns have exceptions -
i.e. 4,219 of the 7,000 most HF words contain one or more phonically unpredictably used letters which simply have to be learned one by one (mANy, frIend, heAd, blUE, shOE, flEW).

Masha Bell

maizieD Mon 24-Feb-14 09:15:22

Beyond a very elementary level, phonics is totally useless for learning to spell English.

It is so ironic that you write your nonsense immediately after a post detailing how the poster's dc2 has learned to spell better with good phonics teaching than did her dc1 without it!

I agree that spelling is
1. more complex to learn than is reading, and 2.requires some word specific learning.

Phonics (should)teaches spelling alongside reading so that as a child learns the correspondences it not only reads them in words but also uses them for spelling at the same time. This helps to develop kinaesthetic memory of word spellings too.

Phonics will teach a child 'legal' spellings of sounds. Children attempting to memorise spellings as letter sequences have a tendency to write letters in the wrong order, particularly as words get longer with more letters to remember. So, for example, 'light' may be written as 'lihgt'(quite common, this) because the child knows the letters of the word but can't remember their order.

Phonics does not impose a heavy (and well nigh impossible) cognitive load by requiring that a child memorises all the letters and their order in every single word. In most cases the word specific learning consists of remembering the way one 'sound' in the word is represented if there is a choice of ways of spelling that sound.

Phonics teaches children to pay close attention to the internal structure of words so they are more likely to recognise 'wrong' spellings as their reading experience grows (who hasn't written a word they're not quite sure of and then checked to see if it 'looks' right?)

columngollum Mon 24-Feb-14 09:20:39

But the poster doesn't know if it's phonics that is informing her able speller or if he's simply good at remembering how to spell words. It would help if the poster included some complicated words that people usually get wrong, like accommodation, bicycle, necessary, some homonyms and stuff like that. A, oh, my DC spells wonderfully using phonics posting doesn't really mean that much.

Mashabell Mon 24-Feb-14 09:40:16

My children went to the same primary school and had the same teachers back in the 1970s.
One learned to spell without ever having to work at it.
The other kept making lots of mistakes, despite working really hard at it, and remains a shaky speller to this day.

Mashabell Mon 24-Feb-14 09:54:43

I know that what i'm about to do, namely paste in some words, will annoy the phonics evangelists again, because they hate factual evidence which contract their theories.

Below is a small sample (36 words) of the 4,219 common words which contain one or more unpredictable letters. Even for learning to read phonics is of limited use with them (foot - boot, good - mood, pull - dull, wolf - golf). For spelling, phonics is of even less help with them:


Galena Mon 24-Feb-14 09:57:24

Since the teacher has said that a knowledge of phonics would help the OP's DD, the likelihood is that the attempts are not phonically plausible - like the y3 child I had in my class who wrote 'penis' instead of 'pencil'. There are no spelling rules or exceptions which could make it a possible spelling for pencil. A knowledge of phonics may have led to 'pensel' or even 'pensil' both of which, while wrong, get the meaning across.

I agree with the PP who said that, rather than having to remember every letter of every word, phonics allows you to remember which 'family' the words fit into. DD's thought processes while trying to spell, for example 'wheel' go:
I need a 'w' sound first... that's likely to be w or wh. I know it's a 'wh'
Now I need an 'ee' sound... 'e_e', 'ee', 'ea', 'y' or 'ey' or even just an 'e on its own'. It's an 'ee' word.
Now I need l
so I get 'wheel'.

Since she learns the words in families, it's easier to remember because she knows she learned it along with other wh words and other ee words.

Galena Mon 24-Feb-14 10:01:29

Mashabell, I'm confused... why are book, brook, cook, look, shook, etc unpredictable? They have the short 'oo' sound, and the k spelling of the 'k' sound. Which bit of them is unpredictable?

columngollum Mon 24-Feb-14 10:02:16

You don't need phonics to recognise similarly spelled words.

Galena Mon 24-Feb-14 10:05:25

Having looked again at your list, they all have an 'u' sound - mainly 'oo' or 'u' with a few 'ould' words.

So 3 families to learn. 1 week on the 'oo' spelling of 'u', 1 week on u and one on ould. in 3 weeks you have them all under your belt. Rather than being told that look is a hard word you just have to learn, oh, and book is a hard word you just have to learn too, etc

columngollum Mon 24-Feb-14 10:10:26

Obviously you don't approach a child and say this is really hard!!

Look, Cook took a book with a spook on a hook.

Dr Seuss style. No phonics involved.

columngollum Mon 24-Feb-14 10:12:09

Which came first the poet or phonics?

(Don't try to answer that question!)

Galena Mon 24-Feb-14 10:14:32

I have no idea what you envision phonics as being...? If rhyming words have the same spelling, that is phonics, whether or not you want to call it that.

columngollum Mon 24-Feb-14 10:27:28

No they don't:

Don't bite Sprite the tight mite or Mr Lyte!

Notcontent Mon 24-Feb-14 10:29:30

Well, I am glad to see my original post has generated some discussion!
Galena - I think without meaning to, you have hit the nail on the head so to speak - phonics can help to write a plausible version of the spelling of a word (which my dd can do, by the way) but phonics cannot help someone spell completely accurately.

My dd's main problem is that she tries to use lots of "big" words in her writing that she has never written before - so she obviously does not know how to spell them. My view is that children should do as much writing every day as possible.

Galena Mon 24-Feb-14 11:00:44

columngollum, did you read what I wrote? 'if rhyming words have the same spelling...'. I didn't say all rhyming words are spelled the same.

Phonics is simply the fact that different groups of letters make particular sounds.

maizieD Mon 24-Feb-14 11:02:02

phonics can help to write a plausible version of the spelling of a word (which my dd can do, by the way) but phonics cannot help someone spell completely accurately.

Nobody can spell new words completely accurately until they have found out just how they should be spelled. Or is there some magic system somewhere that enables children to instantly get the 'right' spelling of a word that they have never spelled before (and possibly have never read) by...um?...magic?

As I detailed in my earlier post, phonics gives children better tools to use when learning to spell than does relying on the memorising of thousands of individual words.

Once again I post a link to the longtudinal spelling data for a very large number of children taught with a good phonics programme:


Download the first link 'Sounds~Write research report 2009'. Read it...

I'd also note that secondary teachers are likely to say that a far higher percentage of their pupils (60%+) are appalling spellers than are poor readers. That is the legacy of the defeatist and muddled approaches exemplifed by some posters on this thread.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now