I Still Suck at Spelling (And I've Made It This Far)

When I was a child, I learned phonics. This would have been great if I grew up speaking Spanish. But seeing as how we live in a place that speaks English (a bastardized version of it), phonics have failed me miserably. Joel once pointed this out to me when he was upset that bomb, tomb and comb all have the same ending but sound completely different from one another.

I also grew up reading often. I read chapter books at a young age. I had high fluency and vocabulary scores. I was the poster child of the Perfect Language Geek. My list of sight word recognition surpassed my grade level. 

And yet . . . 

I can't spell very well. The following is a list of words I mess up all the time:
  • restaurant: the 'au' always screws it up for me
  • bureaucracy: any word that is that cumbersome in spelling isn't worth keeping around
  • conscience: looks nothing like it sounds
  • definitely: there's got to be an a in there somewhere
  • tomorrow: or any word that has double letters
  • dialogue: or is it dialog? Why don't we just have a conversation instead?

What makes matters worse is that I still screw up homonyms and homophones. It's not the frequent ones that bother me (its, it's).  Here are the ones that still get me, despite the fact that I clearly know the difference: 
  • thru, threw
  • principle, principal
  • break, brake
  • disc, disk
  • site, sight

The good news? I can write. I am confident in my ability to write. I'm currently revising a novel that I'm really proud of. True, I may screw up on spelling certain words. Yep, I might end a few sentences with prepositions. However, I've learned that the inability to master one sub-skill doesn't mean someone is doomed to failure in a particular concept, skill or subject. 

In my case, it means I need to take more time to edit and I need to let other people catch mistakes (I wish I had done this with Pencil Me In and Sages and Lunatics.I need to recognize it as a weakness and admit that I need help. I need to spend additional time reading my work aloud for verb-subject agreement. I need to take the time to double-check my homophone mistakes.

It has me thinking about teaching. How often do we teach kids to find and admit that there are things that are simply hard for them, no matter how much they practice? How often do we teach them to find people who can help support them in weaker areas so that they can thrive with the larger skill that they've mastered? How often are they learning additional skills in editing and given additional time to master those areas where they are struggling? More importantly, how many kids have been turned off of writing because of grammar gestapos and formatting fanatics who stripped away the joy of writing when they grew impatient and angry that a kid "still didn't get it" after weeks of practice? 

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John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler.
He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard
and the co-founder of Write About .

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