The sound of spelling

25th February 2000 at 00:00
Early Spelling - Between convention and creativityBy Gunther Kress Routledge pound;16.99.

Literacy and art resources examined.

This book is a demanding read that requires our full attention. It presents a very different model of the developmental stages of spelling and successfully challenges many of our preconceptions.

The introduction invites the reader to consider spelling as more than writing words correctly. Gunther Kress contends that spelling is the recording of meaning. He argues that spelling starts as "writing", which is meaning, with attention given to spelling or the look of writing at a later stage. He also differentiates between accurate spelling and correct spelling, a point that needs serious consideration by teachers.

The first chapter gives an overview of spelling development, which the author believes is too narrow for today's rapidly changing economic climate. It is also crucial to recognise how technological and cultural changes influence spelling. Using examples, he outlines the "thing called language" and its relationship to spelling.

Kress then focuses on spelling as making meaning, and what it is children try to spell. A plea is made for givig up the concept of "errors or mistakes" in early writing. Correct spelling can come later. This suggests that teachers of young children may need to review policies that require five-year-olds to learn lists of words by rote.

In his discussion of "the look of spelling", Kress argues that, in order to spell correctly, it helps to have a knowledge of the look of the language. In this way spelling can become a visual separation of the significant visual units from one another. "The sound of spelling" often leads the writer to produce a spelling in which the transcription is right but the spelling wrong.

Success in spelling is a strange phenomenon and theories about how to teach it abound. This book, however, is a welcome addition. Undoubtedly, some of the arguments will be challenged, for example, by those involved with the Word Level aspect of the National Literacy Strategy. Nevertheless, this should not deter in-service trainers from making this book essential reading for all who are concerned with helping children to focus on the message, first as "accurate" spellers and subsequently as "correct" spellers.

Charles Cripps is a lecturer and language consultant.


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