The New Student's Reference Work/Spelling

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Spell′ing.  The art of orthography as taught in the elementary school.  It formerly was closely associated with reading, but has come to be treated in connection with written composition.  This is due to the fact that people do not ordinarily spell, except when they are giving written expression to their thoughts.  The ideal selection of words would be from those most commonly used in composition, rather than from reading, which represents, for the child, a much larger vocabulary.  The subject, as a separate school-study, usually begins in the second school-year and extends through the elementary school.

Spelling represents the attempt to associate the actual order of letters which go with a meaning and its spoken symbol.  In perfect spelling the child has a fixed association of three elements:  The meaning of the word, the pronunciation of the word and the spelling of the word.  The presence of any of these factors ought immediately to recall the other two.  All should be presented together so as to be recalled together.

(1) There are four general ways of getting the meaning of a word:  (a) By experience, through action, observation, conversation etc., (b) by the context of surrounding language, (c) by the teacher telling the child and (d) by the use of the dictionary.

(2) The pronunciation may be obtained by three typical methods:  (a) By example, whether it be by the chance example of one’s fellows or by the model of pronunciation deliberately given by the teacher, (b) by phonetic translation from the printed word, where either the letters (d-ḗ-r-ā-n-g-ɇ-m-ĕ-n-t) syllables (de-range-ment) or phonograms (de—r-ange—m-ent)are changed into sound and combined, and (c) by the use of the dictionary, where the sound of a letter in a familiar word at the bottom of the page is transferred to the word under investigation through the similarity of diacritical marks in both.  (3) The correct order of letters is usually found in one of four general ways:  (a) By having the child copy the word from a book or from the teacher’s spelling, (b) by using the dictionary, which is very difficult for the child who does not know the spelling and, therefore, has to guess at its beginning until he finds the word, (c) by looking attentively at the word (visualization) and then memorizing it and (d), when the word is very regular and pronunciation will suggest the order of letters, by translating his pronunciation into letters.

In actual teaching there are many ways of presenting the pelling of the word, with its pronunciation and meaning.  The teacher will usually (1) revive the meaning carefully, (2) have the child look attentively at the written word (visual impression), (3) have him copy it carefully (motor impression), (4) pronounce it carefully for the child to hear (auditory impression); and (5) then have the child speak it (motor impression).

The spelling must be practiced so as to fix the order of letters in his memory.  This may be done (1) by the spelling of single words in written lists, (2) by spelling the single word aloud, pronouncing the same before and after (dog, d-o-g, dog), (3) by spelling the word in a sentence.  This spelling of words in sentences may be (a) in copying, (b) by taking down dictation and (c) by writing the words in any composition where the child is trying to express his own thoughts. The last-named method is the best test of ability to spell.

With the usual elementary-school child, below the seventh or eighth grades, it is now preferable to teach homonyms (to, too) separately and without reference to each other.  Word-analysis and word-study as aids to spelling are passing from the course of study.  They are good ways of helping the child to guess at the spelling of a word from its linguistic derivation when there is no dictionary available, but good spelling in the elementary school now demands a precise, direct and authoritative spelling made habitual by practice.