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Beginning to SpellA Study of First-Grade Children$
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Rebecca Treiman

Print publication date: 1993

Print ISBN-13: 9780195062199

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195062199.001.0001

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Conclusions and Implications

Conclusions and Implications

11 (p.277) Conclusions and Implications
Beginning to Spell

Rebecca Treiman

Oxford University Press

Traditionally, spelling errors have been classified orthographically, by reference to the correct spelling of the word (see Spache, 1940). For example, the child who spells read as RED is said to have omitted the letter a. Orthographic classification schemes are based on the idea that children spell by recalling the letters in printed words that they have seen and memorized. Children may err by omitting a letter, reproducing the letters in the wrong order, substituting one letter for another, and so on. Orthographic classification schemes contrast with phonological classification schemes, in which errors are viewed by reference to the word’s sound. My results show that orthographic classification schemes are not sufficient to explain first graders’ spellings. Consider BAD for bed and SHA for she. From an orthographic viewpoint, the two errors should be about equally common. Both involve the substitution of a for e. However, the first graders were more likely to substitute a for e when e represented /ε/, as in bed, than when e represented /i/, as in she. This difference cannot be understood if one considers only the letters in the printed words. One must also consider the phonemes that the letters represent. The phoneme /æ/ is more similar to /ε/ than it is to /i/. This is one reason why children more often use a to spell /ε/ than to spell /i/. To make the same point in another way, consider the errors HR for her and HN for hen. From an orthographic perspective, both errors involve the omission of an e in the middle of a three-letter word. The two errors should be about equally common. In fact, the first graders were much more likely to omit the e of her than the e of hen. This difference does not make sense on purely orthographic grounds. It can be understood only if one considers the phonological forms of the two words. From the child’s point of view, the spoken form of her contains /h/ followed by a syllabic liquid. The spoken form of hen contains /h/ plus /ε/ plus /n/.

Keywords:   Alphabetic writing systems, Diacritical marks, Finnish, Logographic reading, Models of spelling, Orthographic knowledge, Phoneme bonds, Whole-language instruction

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