TESOL 2012 Highlights: Day 1, Part 1

Session 1  

Prablems Whit Spelling: Understanding and Improving Adults’ Spelling Development, presented by Kris Vanderhoof

My day began with some insights on spelling skills thanks to Kristi Vanderhoof of California State University in Fresno. Kristi has been carefully observing the spelling difficulties of her adult ELLs. She has made some comparisons to the spelling difficulties of adult native-English-speaking adults (since she also works with that population), and she has learned that the two groups do not mirror each other throughout the literacy learning experience.

For example, even as ELLs progress in their language studies, orthographic errors persist. In contrast, such errors decrease among the native speakers as they advance to higher levels of literacy. With orthographic errors, the non-native speakers hear the sounds correctly, but they lack knowledge of how phonemes are represented in the L2. These kinds of errors contrast with phonological errors, in which learners replace phonemes in the L2 with more familiar ones from the L1.

To increase phonemic awareness, Kristi recommends we include songs, poems, and other forms of rhyme in our lessons. She also suggests playing games with minimal pairs, like Bingo. Participants were given a few helpful links, including one with ideas for teaching mnemonic devices.

One of Kristi’s particularly creative suggestions was to make use of word families, but with nonsensical words to be sure students are relying on their knowledge of phonemes rather than their memory of familiar vocabulary. Here are my own examples based on Kristi’s concept: hamber, poss, dink, wamber, vink, and foss. If you asked any learner to take a quick look at the words and then recall the spellings, it might be possible but with difficulty. The task becomes much easier when the learner studies the made-up words in word families: hamber, wamber/ poss, foss/ dink, vink. I believe that one activity could involve presenting a short list of nonsensical words for students to group into word families. Then you can give a spelling quiz to check students’ mastery of representing the phonemes studied.

The participants generally agreed that there is a lack of materials on spelling specifically for ELLs. Most of what we find is designed for young native speakers of English. However, one participant recommended the work of Judy Gilbert. Indeed, ESL/ EFL textbooks designed to develop listening and pronunciation skills could to a degree provide relevant practice for ELLS with spelling difficulties.

Thank you, Kristi, for a very good start to the convention!


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