How to Transition Young Students from Invented Spelling to Literacy

Actually, invented spelling is literacy! Spelling evolves through stages; reading, writing, practice, experience, and visual recall all play a role in spelling skill. Research is still baffled by why some of us have a stronger visual recall than others.

Emergent writers might start dabbling in spelling when they are asked to label their pictures. A child might draw a cat and have already previous memorized the word cat, they might look around for environmental print to copy, or they might invent spelling. The invention is an amazing display of what the speller has in place and where they need to go next. If a child writes KT for cat, you see that they have some understanding of how words work, sounds of some letters, and knows to write left to right.

A teaching moment might be,”put a vowel in your word, all words have vowels.” When students risk invented spelling in favor of richer vocabulary, you see writers attempt words like tabby kitten, rather than cat. Word choice really benefits when writers feel confident to take risks and edit for conventions after.

If a speller is 6 years old for example, clearly they have not developed time to have a visual memory of how a word is spelled, they haven’t read or written the word numerous times and developed their own hypothesis, and they don’t yet have the maturity or knowledge of prefix, word family, or Latin to provide them with spelling strategies to pull from.

They are in the middle of a curriculum filled with phonemic awareness immersion and an environment that is student driven. It makes perfect sense they pull from the least effective strategy when you get older, and that is sounding words out. Do you know the letter e makes more than 20 different sounds in the English language? Our orthographic system does not run parallel to most phonemic heavy language.

Spelling is a learning process like everything and if we fail to acknowledge invented spelling as an important step and spelling strategy, then we have detoured our learners natural process and have failed to allow them to pull from their previous knowledge to construct new meaning for themselves.