Spell It Out (by David Crystal)


When and how to teach spelling is a constant topic of conversation for ELA teachers.  The Common Core considers spelling to be a “Foundational Skill” and sets benchmarks for each grade, but of course the age-old question of how to reach these benchmarks remains.

David Crystal’s book, Spell It Out (St. Martin’s Press, 2012), reminds us of why the subject of spelling is so fraught with difficulty.  He begins with the assumption that the spelling of English words was doomed from the outset when scribes attempted to match the numerous phonemes of Anglo-Saxon speech to the limited symbols of the Roman alphabet.  His book is an engaging history of how writers came to adapt this system to create the modern spellings we encounter today.  While he offers little concrete or practical advice on how best to teach spelling (although the book includes a brief set of suggestions in “A teaching appendix), he does provide a clear philosophy:

I believe, as army generals sometimes say, that the best way of defeating an enemy is to get to understand him . . . I am convinced that the reason people find English spelling difficult is because they have not understood ‘how it works’.  The explanations are linguistic in character, to do with word history, word structure, and the way sounds and letters interrelate.  I think this kind of perspective, which for the most part has been lacking in pedagogical practice, is essential.  Spelling is a linguistic problem, which can be alleviated only by using linguistic tools . . . (pp. 267-268)

Crystal’s book is a light, accessible introduction to the linguistic complexities that have resulted in our modern spellings.  It is also a good reminder of how important history and geography are to our modern language, offering glimpses of how teachers might integrate these topics with spelling.

I highly recommend this book as background reading for any teacher who would like to have an answer other than “Because that’s the rule,” to the ageless question of, “But, why?”

Link:  To learn more about David Crystal and his work in linguistics, follow his blog.



One Reaction to Arne Duncan’s Speech to the American Society of News Editors

Arne Duncan frequently stirs up strong feelings among educators.  He did it again with his speech to the American Society of News Editors.  The following is reposted from “Common Core:  Education Without Representation,” a blog written with a clear point of view, as you can see.

U.S. Secretary of Ed to News Editors: Spin It Like Duncan


Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, is angry.

How dare Americans demand freedom from nationalized testing, nationalized standards and data collection?

In yesterday’s speech to the American Society of News Editors, Duncan said:

“…This event has been an opportunity for federal leaders to talk about touchy subjects.  For example, you asked President Kennedy to talk about the Bay of Pigs.  So, thanks for having me here to talk about the Common Core State Standards.  Academic standards used to be just a subject for after-school department meetings and late-night state board sessions. But now, they’re a topic for dueling newspaper editorials. Why? That’s because a new set of standards… are under attack as a federal takeover of the schools…  And your role in sorting out truth from nonsense is really important.”

Indeed it is.

Duncan admits: “… the federal government has nothing to do with curriculum. In fact, we’re…

View original post 1,290 more words

Arne Duncan’s Remarks at the American Society of News Editors

Arne Duncan’s Remarks at the American Society of News Editors

As one of the foremost promoters of the Common Core Standards, Duncan certainly has a voice in the conversation about education in the United States.  In this speech he makes a clear and important distinction between standards and curriculum, stating:

      We need to be very clear about definitions here.

  • Standards—learning standards, academic standards—are the goals, typically set by states, for what students should know by a certain age.

  • Curriculum—on the other hand—is what teachers teach to help students meet those standards. Curriculum is generally chosen at the district or even the school level—and in many cases individual teachers actually decide on the curriculum and classroom content.