Most people will say, self-deprecatingly, that they are poor spellers. We are more sensitive to our failures than our successes, but, of course, we don't really think it matters. Even teachers can get stuck in the phonetic stage, writing, "She should of done better ..." in reports, and not really caring enough to learn better! Good teaching, however, should promote curiosity and care: Why is it spelled like that? What else is spelled like that?
John Jackman's new Nelson Spelling scheme for the primary years aims to establish self-confidence (not couldn't-care-lessness) based on knowledge and, as a consequence, create writers who are confident and fluent. He embraces the national curriculum model of the "self-supporting speller" and, likewise, he takes on board contemporary research about how spelling is learned.
The approach is systematic and organised, yet recognises the value of happenstantial opportunities for teaching and learning. It recognises the place both of visual and auditory memory in learning spellings, and of understanding. The latter is based on learning about rhyme and syllable patterns, morphology (the meaningful bits that complex words are composed of, like stems, prefixes and suffixes, eg mean, mean-ing, mean-ing-ful), etymology and rules. While not all the everyday irregular words are dealt with in the main scheme, the Teacher's Book identifies them for special attention.
The approach is adaptable to whole class, group and individual work, and provides for differentiation with extension activities. Each step lends itself to assessment through child-friendly test materials, and copiable individual assessment pro formas are provided. There is even a good model letter for encouraging appropriate help from parents. The materials include three workbooks for young infants, five pupil's books for older children and three copymaster books.
While the general format of word lists, fill-in worksheets, word searches and so on is familiar enough, the rationale of the materials and their progression is sound, with each step contributing to a developing sense of how spellings are patterned.
Just occasionally some weird things happen, for example, "weight" is presented as an instance of the -gh- pattern, so the task is to fill in wei..t (which looks very peculiar), when it would seem more natural to approach the word as an instance of the -ight-eight rhyme pattern.
The national curriculum encourages the use of published spelling schemes. Some such schemes strike me as conceptually fairly shoddy, but this one is both attractive and well thought-out.