That is what recent research by two Canadian professors has revealed. Gene Ouellette, an associate professor of psychology at Mount Allison University, and Monique Sénéchal, a psychology professor at Carleton University have discovered that invented spelling is more effective in becoming more literate.
Invented spelling (also known as inventive spelling), as explained in Ouellette and Sénéchal’s recent study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, refers to “children’s spontaneous or self-directed attempts to represent words in print.”
The idea is that a child takes the sound of the word as they are used to hearing it and trying to represent it on paper. This is in fact not a new idea, while conducting research for a personalised handwriting workbook I found out that Bright Horizon’s childcare setting around the UK have in place phonics and picture representation. Children of preschool age are expected to formulate what they believe to be the correct word from this technique.
The idea behind this is that it triggers a deeper cognitive response compared to memorising the alphabet and learning to spell different words.
Children are expected to lead the way with their reading and writing by creating their own words. An example would be a child writing “c” and then “ct” for cat with the vowel coming into play later.
The study followed 170 children from preschool age (kindergarten) to 1st grade and they claim that the children who followed this inventive spelling were literate faster.
By learning phonics you of course learn the shapes of the letters that match the sounds but isn’t this memorising? So in fact inventive spelling isn’t really that inventive at all. It’s phonics and allowing the child the freedom to create the words from the sounds they hear BUT with a basis of structured learning beforehand (surely there would be a level of letter formation and alphabet guidance. Another point to make on the effectiveness of inventive spelling in relation to the speed of literacy does it depend on dialect? For instance, if a child’s speech and listening involves a local dialect then surely they would recreate that spelling, correcting them would cause confusion. Oulette says that the teacher would need to “… gradually shape them into the correct spelling,”. Sounds like reverse engineering to me.
I think there is an argument for the inventive spelling in terms of stimulation and triggering deeper responses but equally I believe there is a place for traditional methods, a language has a standard which all children (and adults) are measured by. I personally will be helping my children out with what I think is best and will help them gain the basics but I am intrigued to see what they would come up with if I gave them total freedom over their spelling. Is it a risk worth taking? Possibly. I think I’ll have a go with my daughter when she has the basics.