From my Grade School Teacher

I received this little paragraph from a former grade school teacher of mine. She’s still hitting the pace in her ninth decade and has run mental circles around her juniors for years.  I sat in her classroom in the days before spell checkers, when we drilled a new list of spelling words every week. And now she tells me the truth.  So much effort wasted.  Unless of course, you really do need a “strange brain” to function with flexible spelling or to at least know the standard before you  understand the variants.

Can you raed this?

“I cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it whotuit a pboerlm. This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!”

This does help to explain why Mother Tongue Speakers, already fluent in another language, have to spend some time reading in the Nkonya language before it comes easily to them.  Though it is phonetically spelled and they understand every word their brain needs time to convert  “sounding out” to instant sight recognition.

It’s also why we have the perennial debate between “phonics” and “sight word” approaches to teaching reading in our Canadian schools.  Truth is you need both.  Students need to know how to attack an unfamiliar word and sound it out following the rules of phonics (as far as English spelling will allow) but they also need banked “sight words” that they gulp word by word, and eventually phrase by phrase if they are to read with fluent ease.


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