How to Transition Young Students from Invented Spelling to Literacy

Invented spelling is the stage of development in which children guess at the spelling of words. Typically these spellings are completely phonetic. For example, the child may write “throo” instead of “through” or “thot” instead of “thought.”

Transitioning from phonetic spelling to conventional spelling is a normal stage of development. However, some children have more difficulty with this stage than others. When a child suffers from dyslexia, for example, he may transpose letters within words and confuse similar letters with one another. Also, inner city children who have inadequate educational support from teachers and parents may have difficulty with the transitional phase resulting in permanent damage to their writing ability.

Encouraging children to write is the best way to assist them in their transition to using conventional spelling. A series of writing exercises which supports the use of correct spelling will help the child make considerable progress. Traditionally, children have been discouraged from writing until they know how to spell correctly. However, this is a lot like discouraging a child from speaking until they can pronounce every word perfectly, or from walking until they can walk like an adult. Practicing writing is just as important in learning to spell as practicing walking is in learning how to run.

Many teachers and parents often overlook the importance of reading in learning how to write and spell. Many children learn how to read and write independently, without outside instruction. There must be a system by which these children learned to read. However, it often isn’t clear what that system was. The intervention of parents in independent reading acquisition was found by researchers to be intuitive, spontaneous and unplanned. Other studies showed that children could learn to spell without instruction. It was surmised that children were learning to spell by reading, and that any instruction children received in spelling only assisted in that process.

Understanding this natural learning process can help us to know how to help children who are having difficulty learning how to spell. Constant exposure to reading materials may help these children to assimilate the correct spelling of words and reduce the need for correction in the classroom.