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5 reasons to teach spelling, handwriting in the new year

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Here’s a great resolution: Keep spelling and handwriting in the curriculum and use research-based tools to teach these skills explicitly and efficiently without wasting valuable instructional time.

Students will be better students if they are equipped with spelling and handwriting skills, which are critical for reading and writing success and act as stepping stones to higher test scores. While the Common Core State Standards focus on higher-level learning, they do not make the case for every foundational skill, leaving schools with the option of choosing whether to teach essential skills, such as handwriting and spelling.

Here are five evidence-based reasons for teaching spelling and handwriting explicitly and for carving out about 15 minutes a day during the reading and language arts block for each of these foundational skills:

  1. Neuroscience and brain scanning reveal that retrieving spelling patterns in a special word-form area of the left hemisphere activates reading and writing circuitry. That is to say, associating sounds with spelling patterns that access meaningful language activates reading systems. Spelling knowledge is essential for flawless operation of both reading and writing brain-processing systems.
  2. Spelling instruction helps beginners break the complex code of English. When conventional spelling is taught in balance with developmental spelling and writing for meaning, students are on track for proficient reading and writing by the end of first grade. In the beginning phases, the processing of spelling, reading and writing are nearly one and the same in terms of activating reading circuitry in the brain.
  3. Handwriting instruction has been found to contribute to success with beginning readers. Brain scan studies show that early manuscript lessons help activate and coordinate reading circuitry.
  4. Spelling expertise and handwriting ability lead to automaticity and fluency in both writing and reading. Expertise in both of these areas gives students confidence, helps them respond more quickly, and makes it easier to perform well on high-stakes tests.
  5. Spelling and handwriting comingle splendidly with technology for literacy. Digital resources, such as online games and apps, enhance opportunities for literacy development in the 21st century, but steer clear of the notion that technology replaces the need for these literacy-boosting skills, which work deep in the brain.

If you overlooked them in the past, consider bringing spelling and handwriting back into every classroom for a rebirth of literacy success.

J. Richard Gentry began his career in the classroom. He is the author of Zaner-Bloser’s Spelling Connections for Grades K–8 . Listen to his podcast series on best practices in spelling instruction. He also is a nationally-recognized author of numerous articles and books for teachers and parents including Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write — From Baby to Age 7. His latest book, Fostering Writing in the K through Grade 8 Classroom, will be released by Shell Education early in 2014. He also blogs for Psychology Today.