3 Parent Misconceptions About Best-Guess Spelling
When my students’ families are dealing with push-back, break-downs or drama during during writing time or during any homework activity that involves writing, I always talk about all that best-guess spelling can do to ease their situation. However, I also always get questions from parents who are skeptical about “letting their child off the hook” when it comes to dictionary spelling.
I am always happy when parents are asking questions to ensure the best for their child. I wish every parent in the world advocated for their child and found out more in order to support what their child needs.
Your questions about best-guess spelling are valid and important. To make sure you can best support your child’s learning, I have answers that are based on research and on 20 years of real-life classroom teaching.
Let’s jump into the most commonly asked questions about best-guess spelling…
WILL BEST-GUESS SPELLING DO MY CHILD A DISSERVICE?
Let me reassure you — allowing and focusing on best-guess spelling will NOT turn your child into a lazy speller.
In fact, I’d argue that in my experience working with children, I’ve seen it actually make a child a stronger speller than they otherwise would be. Focusing on listening to the sounds in words and building self-reliance skills for spelling has a way of doing that. 😉
Children will naturally start moving away from best-guess spelling and into dictionary spelling as they have more and more visual exposure to words, which will come as they learn to read and begin reading more and more.
Also, as your child continues learning phonics patterns and sounds, they will naturally start spelling with increasingly competent best-guess spelling.
Let me say it again, just in case you are still on the fence: Children will naturally begin writing words with dictionary spelling once they have seen those words regularly in their reading and are fully comfortable with the phonics patterns they are learning.
WILL MY KID BEST-GUESS SPELL FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIFE??
Actually, yes – yes they will! But, guess what? You still best-guess spell, too.
How so, you ask? Let me explain…
Over time, every person builds a bank of more and more and more words that they have seen and have a visual memory for. The difference between your 6-year-old, a teenager, and you is that you each have a different amount of words in your visual memory bank that you can pull from.
Thus, your child needs to best-guess spell almost every word they write, the teen will only need to rely on best-guess spelling a few words and you may only have one word – or even no words – that you are unsure of how to spell and can’t pull up in your visual memory.
What’s it’s like to be in your child’s shoes
For those unknown words, you and the teenager will most likely ask a colleague, friend or spouse how to spell the word or look it up on the internet or in your spell-checker. That is wonderful once you are to the point of needing to do so for one or a few words.
But can you imagine if you were sitting at your desk drafting an email for work and had to ask your co-worker how to spell every other word you wrote? Or had to stop and check every other word in spell-checker?
Would you be excited about writing??? I think not!
Would you add details and exciting words to your email or would you write the bare minimum and dumb down your word choice so you didn’t have to ask as often?? A bit of a no-brainer, am-I-right?
So don’t expect your child to do so either. Embrace where they are in the learning trajectory and let them thrive in that space as they continue to grow!
Once your child is in 4th or 5th grade, or even 2nd or 3rd grade, you can start encouraging them to think about if they have seen the dictionary spelling of a word before and to think about what looks right when spelling a word.
Before that age, best-guess spelling is what is most developmentally appropriate for preschoolers through 2nd graders, as they don’t have the exposure to written words that older children and adults have and, thus, have nothing to pull from.
BEST-GUESS SPELLING ISN’T A STAGNATE STATE
As your child learns more about sounds and has more exposure to written words, their best-guess spelling will improve. Along the same lines, your expectations of their best-guess spelling and what you hold them accountable for can and should change as well.
A child who has just mastered the 26 letters of the alphabet and nothing else will spell the word teacher as ter or tejr since that is the extent of their sound knowledge. This is wonderful! They are learning everything they currently know about sounds.
A child who has learned about and had exposure to ch and knows what sound ch makes will likely spell teacher as something like techr or teechr. Since that makes sense given what they know about sounds, that’s great! If they don’t include the ch, you could kindly prompt them to think about the sounds in the word a smidge more and hold them accountable for that sound.
WHAT IF MY CHILD INSISTS ON ME TELLING THEM DICTIONARY SPELLING?
If your child will not let dictionary spelling go, just keep saying over and over: “Wow! You listened to all the sounds in the word.” Or “Wow! Great best-guess spelling.” Or “I’m so proud of your best guess spelling. Keep writing. Keep listening to the sounds you hear.”
If they straight-out ask you, “But is it the right spelling?” or “But is it the dictionary spelling?”, then say “It’s great/awesome/wonderful best-guess spelling and I’m proud of it”. If they ask 7 times in a row, say that same answer 7 times in a row. After a few rounds of this, my students begin to ask this direct question less and less.
The key in the answer above is the positive descriptive word. If you reply with “It’s best-guess spelling” that does not give them confidence that their attempt at spelling is okay or valued. If you say “It’s great best-guess spelling” it pushes them toward realizing that best-guess spelling is something you value and support and that is good to do.
Other excellent replies include, “in our house we love best guess spelling” or “Wow! you are really listening to the sounds you hear.” Or “That is awesome best guess spelling.” Or “I am proud of your best guess spelling – keep writing!”
Over a couple of weeks, or even a day, depending on your child and your own follow-thru, they will start to trust that you really mean what you say and that their best academic risk-taking, including in spelling, is valued.
When they trust that you value their ability to use what they know about sounds and letters more than you value exact dictionary spelling of every word they write, they will relax and stop hounding you for help with every word.
Best-guess spelling is well-worth investing in and has the power to dramatically improve your child’s self-esteem, academic willingness-to-try, and the atmosphere during homework time. Give it a try and let me know what you think!