Teaching to Mastery: The Key to Learning

One of the biggest mistakes I have made when teaching struggling readers and spellers is lack of sufficient repetition. The logic of English provides students with a systematic way to analyze English words and understand their spelling. Though it greatly reduces the amount of rote visual memorization, memorization is still required. Knowing the logic of English aids students in finding the parts of the word that must be memorized.

When learning a new rule, students need varying amounts of practice before they begin to apply the rule consistently. For example, a student may learn that English words do not end in V. Nevertheless, they may misspell hav in their writing. Why? Because learning to apply spelling rules consistently takes practice.

Writing is a complex activity. The best writers are not aware of spelling; it is automatic. This frees them to focus on the content of their writing. The goal with spelling practice is to develop spelling fluency, thereby freeing students to write. The transition from struggling with spelling, being able to spell with thought, and spelling automatically takes practice.

In addition to students' need to practice the rules and phonograms, some words require the writer to remember exactly which phonogram, amongst options, is used to represent the sound within a particular word.

Long vowels are one the most difficult aspects of English spelling. For example, the long A sound is spelled: a at the end of the syllable, ae, ai, ay, ea, ei, ey, and eigh.

When sounding out a word such as pay we know, based upon the rule "AY usually spells the sound long A at the end of the syllable," to use ay.

The word paint, however, poses more difficulty. We can rule out a at the end of the syllable and ay. We know that ea, ei, ey, and eigh represent a limited number of spellings of the long A sound as found in Appendix C of Uncovering the Logic of English. However, this leaves ai and ae. The reality is, the exact spelling must be memorized.

Though some people memorize quickly, deep memory that is lasting and automatic only occurs with repetition over time. Students must practice these words in a variety of contexts and ways. Auditory and kinesthetic learners benefit from practicing writing, hearing, and writing the "tricky" part in a different color, reciting the spelling, etc.

So often we become impatient when a student spells paint incorrectly as pante. This spelling is logical, yet incorrect.

The only solution to developing mastery is practice over time.