Monday, August 18, 2008

Making an 'Arguement' for Misspelling?

I ran across this article about instructors complaining about students' spelling errors in postsecondary settings. Let me just say this: I don't care whether or not students can or can't spell! Yes, I teach writing, yes I understand that the ability to spell correctly is important for writers, and yes I admit this!

Okay (I'm using the African derived spelling), here's why: I'm a phonetic person and can't spell to save my life, even though I was one of the only students in elementary school to win the spelling bee two years in a row. How is that? Not because I can spell, but because I can memorize. Should we be teaching memorization in a first-year writing class? If so, I'm not sure how you teach someone to memorize stuff, even the spelling words we have to memorize in school. Not worth my time to do.

Also, as I mentioned, I'm phonetic (like many native speakers of Ebonics and other languages/language varieties are). English is not necessarily a phonetic language, and there are many exceptions to the rule. So English teachers can't teach the rules without addressing its many exceptions. Do I want to spend a semester going through all these (spelling) rules and exceptions? No, because like many writing pedagogical specialists, there are more pressing things to cover in the 15 or so weeks instructors get with students.

So what happens if I don't know whether or not a word is misspelled? I'm afraid to admit, but I often rely on MS Word. I am NOT suggesting that this always works, and there have been quite a few studies that address problems with MS Word spell checks and grammar checkers, but it can catch some misspelled words. Now, I do teach students that they still have to proofread, since Word can't catch every grammatical and/or spelling mistake (think homophones), but there is some value in using the spell check. That's the best solution I have for teaching/not teaching spelling and while mundane and problematic, that's the best I can think of. Thoughts?

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