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Reading and Spelling with a
Whole Word Approach

"Is Spelling Important?"

by Addie Cusimano, educational therapist
and author of Auditory Memory in Context Instructional Workbook for the Development of Attention, Listening, Processing, and Recall of Sentences and Paragraphs - Fiction and Non-fiction
Used with Permission from the author.

Here is an [unsigned] article which is making the e-mail circuit. It tries to prove that all of us read with a whole word approach.

"Can you raed tihs?   

  i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid; aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.

  The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

 If you can raed tihs forwrad it."

Interestingly, one statement is translated as; "I always thought that spelling was important."

Is this study by Cambridge University proving that children learn to read because our minds read the word as a whole instead of letter by letter? Since the emphasis now in teaching reading appears to be leaning toward a whole language or whole word approach, has this finding by Cambridge University been interpreted and utilized appropriately?

It appears that someone is failing to tell us that this misspelled material can only be read by people who are already good readers, not by children who are just learning to read! The reason for that is because good readers have already learned these words, making it easier for their minds to use context and visual closure to read the misspelled passage. They are failing to tell you that if you were to give this to a first, second, or even most third graders to read, they would be totally frustrated! They simply cannot figure out these words by relying on the first and last letter of the word and rearrange the other letters in their minds because their experience with words is too minimal.

While a whole word knowledge is essential for reading, when we teach using a whole word approach only, we shortchange our students. No one can be a good reader or speller without a good command of phonics, syllabication and its application. No one can be a good reader without a good command of various comprehension skills. If you think about the way a good reader figures out the scrambled words above, it is obvious that while they can rely upon their good whole word knowledge, they are also relying on their knowledge of single letter and letter combination sounds to figure out these words. Thus, they are able to rearrange the letters in their minds.

Research has determined that 75% of the words in our English language can be spelled phonetically. For the remainder, we must rely on visual recall. However, we must have a good command of phonics, syllabication and the various ways to spell these sounds in order to be able to spell words easily. Unless a person has a photographic memory, it is impossible to picture all words in a whole word format fashion in order to read and spell them.

In order to meet the needs of all students, students need to develop a good sight vocabulary, but also a good understanding of phonics, syllabication, as well as various comprehension skills. All children, learning disabled (dyslexic) and those who are not, need to be taught to read using a combination approach.

Addie Cusimano is an educational therapist who has been active in the field of education for more than thirty-five years. She worked as a classroom teacher and reading specialist for New York State public schools and was director, diagnostician, clinician and teacher for a learning center in upstate New York for seventeen years. Her educational experience has involved concentrated work in remedial, developmental and enrichment areas for preschool through college level students.

Additional Note by Betsy B. Lee

Sight vocabulary includes the basic 220 Dolch sight words plus 95 Dolch nouns. Knowledge of this handful of sight words unlocks the door for reading from 50% to 75% of the text in children's books. Success builds on success. Dolch books and related materials are available from the Learning Abilities Books Catalog and many other resources.

Enjoy the challenge of reading My Knew Spelling Checker which is a ditty showing correct spelling but incorrect usage.

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