To be literate, people must be able to read and to write. There has been a large amount of research on the first aspect of literacy, reading. We now know a good deal about how adults read and about how children learn to read. We know much less about the second aspect of literacy, writing. One aspect of learning how to write is learning how to spell. How do children manage this, especially in a language like English that has so many irregular spellings? That is the topic of this book. In this book, I present a detailed study of the spellings produced by a group of American first-grade children. I ask what the children’s spellings reveal about their knowledge of language and about the development of spelling ability. In these days of computerized spelling checkers, is learning to spell correctly still necessary for being a good writer? I believe that it is. In her review of research on beginning reading, Marilyn Adams (1990, p. 3) states that “the ability to read words, quickly, accurately, and effortlessly, is critical to skillful reading comprehension—in the obvious ways and in a number of more subtle ones.” Similarly, the ability to spell words easily and accurately is an important pan of being a good writer. A person who must stop and puzzle over the spelling of each word, even if that person is aided by a computerized spelling checker, has little attention left to devote to other aspects of writing. Just as learning to read words is an important part of reading comprehension, so learning to spell words is an important part of writing. In the study reported in this book, I focus on a group of American first-grade children who were learning to read and write in English. These children, like an increasing number of children in America today, were encouraged to write on their own from the very beginning of the first-grade year. Their teacher did not stress correct spelling. Indeed, she did not tell the children how to spell a word even if they asked.
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