I read this article in the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection and found it thought-provoking. Well, thought-provoking for those of us who continually examine how to do things in the most natural way as prescribed by Charlotte Mason. It is good to know that even those trained under Mason continued to ask questions and seek guidance on how to do things. Spelling can be a difficult subject for some parents and teachers who wish to do their best for the child yet dictation just doesn’t seem to work. I do find that it really is the underlying principle that is most important and if we understand that we can usually find solutions that either weren’t available or thought of 100 years ago. And, like the resolution at the end of the article, we pray “some genius may arise to invent a method of curing incurably bad spellers!”
First I would like to share with you Mason’s own words on spelling from Home Education (Volume 1 p. 241) for the underlying prinicple. After that I have shared the article from L’Umile Pianta, May 1914, p. 73-75. L’Umile Pianta was the alumni magazine for graduates of The House of Education, Mason’s teacher training college. What do you see as the underlying principle? Did you see anything surprising in the article? Please share your observations and thoughts in the comments.
THE RATIONALE OF SPELLING
But the fact is, the gift of spelling depends upon the power the eye possesses to ‘take’ (in a photographic sense) a detailed picture of a word; and this is a power and habit which must be cultivated in children from the first. When they have read ‘cat,’ they must be encouraged to see the word with their eyes shut, and the same habit will enable them to image ‘Thermopylae.’ This picturing of words upon the retina appears to be to be the only royal road to spelling; an error once made and corrected leads to fearful doubt for the rest of one’s life, as to which was the wrong way and which is the right. Most of us are haunted by some doubt as to whether ‘balance,’ for instance, should have one ‘l’ or two; and the doubt is born of a correction. Once the eye sees a misspelt word, that image remains; and if there is also the image of the word rightly spelt, we are perplexed as to which is which. Now we see why there could not be a more ingenious way of making bad spellers than ‘dictation’ as it is commonly taught. Every misspelt word is in image in the child’s brain not to be obliterated by the right spelling. It becomes, therefore, the teacher’s business to prevent false spelling, and, if an error has been made, to hide it away, as it were, so that the impression may not become fixed.
SPELLING OTHER THAN BY DICTATION
I have been asked to write a paper on “The Teaching of Spelling otherwise than by Dictation,” taking for granted that dictation is the first and best means of proving spelling.
That it is one of the most important subjects we have to deal with only dawns on one after varied experience with weak spellers and seeing the great drawback it is to them when neglected.
The quick speller learns to spell by reading.
Transcription also helps him, and committing a short sentence to memory and writing it.
We find it necessary in Class 1B to take spelling and dictation on alternate days through the week. Short, quick lessons of twenty minutes.
This paper is only a short one to introduce a discussion on the subject, as I am anxious to gain rather than give information.
Is it always advisable to take a paragraph from a book and learn all the words in it? Is there not the danger of spending time over words which need no learning, which are spelt just as they are pronounced, and yet one wants the pupil to see them in print?
It has been suggested that a pupil does not learn a word by spelling it aloud, that he must write it really to learn it perfectly.
A suggestion for a lesson for older pupils.
Take them into an imaginary shop, and each one gives the name of something he sees there, or for an imaginary walk or journey, and each gives the name of a thing seen on the way. They get very keen.
SKETCH OF SPELLING LESSON FOR CLASS 1B
Time 20 minutes.
The words to be learnt should be carefully selected. As many as possible should be model words, to build up others on.
The chief aim: To present the words again and again, until thoroughly mastered. The weak pupils should do most of the work aloud, the quicker ones following, and writing when necessary.
1. Look carefully at a word in print.
2. Write it in the air from memory.
3. Look at it written on blackboard.
4. Write it from memory on paper (in pencil), and see it again on blackboard, marking an “R” if right, and “W” if wrong.
Not more than five or six words being given at a lesson, and as many of these as possible should be types, e.i., teach BAKE. The next day in dictation the word CAKE or MAKE, etc. may occur. You point out that they are spelt the same as the word he learnt (which word?).
When all the words for the lesson have been gone through in
this way, the paper should be turned over and upside down, and the words
written from memory in ink. These should be corrected clearly in red ink by the
teacher, and the pupil told to keep his paper and go through his “red ink”
words at home, or with someone outside the schoolroom. These words, or others
like them, should be given in a dictation on the following day, when the more
prevalent mistakes should be noted by the teacher, and given again at the next
On a day towards the end of the week the fifteen (or so) words learnt should be dictated to the pupils, who enter them in neat, little pocket books, which, when corrected, they may have in their own possession (a great joy) to look through in any spare time. (I find they have a lot in bed in the morning.) M. MacSheehy.
The question arose, “Should a child be allowed to use a dictionary in composition?” It was decided that for a mentally lazy child it might be advisable, but there would be the danger of an average quick child depending on the dictionary rather than on her memory.
Many present had found that much of the bad spelling was the result of carelessness; for instance, a child might write an almost perfect dictation in class today, and tomorrow write a letter to a friend full of mistakes. Should we not try to impress upon our scholars that they owe it to those to whom they write to spell correctly?
“Is it advisable to give actual spelling lessons?” asked someone. “Decidedly,” was the unanimous feeling of the company present. One told how she invariable gave a few minutes at each dictation or grammar lesson, as opportunity arose, as, for instance, on the spelling of synonymous words. The children would use the various words in sentences which they wrote in their note-books, and at the close of the lesson their own names were written on the board and each member of the class gained a star for perfect spelling during the lesson. This proved a great incentive to correct spelling.
Another said that to ensure correct visualization of words, she occasionally allowed her pupils to spell them aloud with their eyes shut.
We must each follow the method which we find most effective, remembering that it is merely a means to an end, and not an end in itself.
Resolution: “That the meeting prays some genius may arise to invent a method of curing incurably bad spellers!”