Spelling & Phonics Problems

Archived Q&A and Reviews


5th grader can't spell - her tutor says it's not dyslexia

Dec 2015

Our 5th grade daughter has very poor spelling, recently scoring in the first percentile in a standardized test. She is smart, loves school, and reads with enthusiasm and accuracy. Along with poor spelling, she has poor handwriting and writes slowly. She sometimes confuses “b” and “d,” and mirrored words like “was” and “saw.” Her teachers have her using dictation software, which is OK for now but not a long-term solution.

Finally, she has ADHD, inattentive type. Before the ADHD diagnosis, our kid nearly flunked first grade. We had her assessed for all the usual things by BUSD and Kaiser, and the only diagnosable issue was ADHD. Once on meds, she rapidly caught up with her classmates in most areas, but we still have the spelling and writing issues.

Our kid has been going to a writing tutor for several years who has helped her develop a love of expressing herself in writing and some pride in doing so. The tutor says she doesn’t think the problem is dyslexia as it’s formally defined, in that our daughter’s difficulties lack certain key features of dyslexia such as inability to rhyme. Another possibility is dysgraphia, though some common features of that, such as poor fine-motor control, also don’t apply.

We are gearing up for another round of assessments. Meanwhile, we are wondering if anybody else out there has run into a similar learning disability, and what was done to manage it. Thanks! Kate

Whatever your kid has, mine does too. He has inattentive ADHD and started off first grade with ''far below basic'' in all subjects. We just had his second grade parent teacher conference and after starting a fairly small dose of meds late last year he's at grade level in reading and math. Writing and written expression (spelling, punctuation, etc) are still nowhere near grade level and I'll be surprised if they ever are. This is in part because his dad, uncle, and grandfather all have significant difficulty with writing too. Not to say it's not worth trying to help -- our son gets two half-hour sessions a week with an OT as part of his IEP and he's improving tremendously. Still, I expect writing (including spelling, punctuation, etc) will always be a challenge for him. I figure dictation software and spell checkers will help him a lot in life, along with the fact that the world requires less and less pen-to-paper writing these days. Of course it's worth trying to figure out what's going on and provide as much support as you're able, but maybe the tech solutions are also part of a reasonable long-term plan.

Mom to a horidl spelr

Hi - I came across this website for dyslexia when my son's teacher suspected it since he wasn't spelling well or reading in 2nd grade. He ended up not having dyslexia, but I was surprised to find out there are many symptoms for dyslexia http://www.brightsolutions.us/?jmid=83821&j=308130567 I I hope this website is helpful to you. anon

Our daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia in fifth grade. She is a good reader (except out loud) but has of problems with spelling. We had her tested at UC Berkeley psychology department. I would recommend you read the book Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz. Your daughter's spelling issues sound to me like they could stem from dyslexia. Tutoring really helped my daughter alot. Our tutor completed the Linda Mood Bell phonemes program with my daughter which was very helpful. Good luck.

It seems to me like there is very little consensus among professionals in terms of the definition of ''dyslexia''. I recommend that you do some reading about it (if you haven't already), and see if the descriptions you read sound like your child. Overcoming Dyslexia by Shaywitz seems to be the bible. You might also want to google ''stealth dyslexia''. Eide and Eide are the experts on that. I think it sounds great that the teacher is offering assistive technology. You'll definitely want that going forward into middle school and high school, so I recommend trying to get it written in to your 504 plan or IEP. Also, try to include an accommodation so that your daughter isn't penalized for poor spelling or messy writing. We had our kids evaluated by Dr. Fong at Kaiser. She's a developmental optometrist, and can look at your child's visual processing. Kaiser doesn't offer therapy for visual processing issues, but having some documentation from Dr. Fong may help support your case for services. Good luck! Mom of Dyslexics

Before you completely rule out Dyslexia, read ''Overcoming Dyslexia'' by Sally Shaywitz and see if anything in this book sounds like your daughter's experience. My kid is dyslexic. It runs in the family. His teachers kept making other excuses ''he's left handed'' etc. That book gave me so much insight, empathy, and tools and really changed our lives. BUSD (and probably other districts as well) are not great at recognizing it. My kid's teachers did not know the signs at all, and it seems that Dyslexia is not something that is covered in college or teacher training programs. Yet it affects as many as 1 in 6 people! Dyslexic people are often very smart. Dyslexic kids can learn to read fluently, and your daughter may have succeeded in this (and good for her!). If your daughter has another diagnosis such as ADD, that will be the go-to, even if she has dyslexia too. If she is not failing in school, you are going to have to work hard to get her the help she needs with spelling. So I also highly recommend attending the free monthly DREDF seminar on navigating IEP process: http://dredf.org/events.shtml

Husband's poor grammar and spelling

June 2015

My husband is a college graduate and an executive at a big company. He is an all around sexy genius and wonderful father. His writing skills, however, are pretty bad. He grew up in another country and is bilingual, which may be a contributing factor. He also had some problems with dyslexia as a young person. His spoken English is almost perfect. He does not speak with an accent.

The problem is that writing is a big part of his job. He has been able to compensate for his writing and move up in his organization by being outstanding in every other regard. And using spellcheck pretty religiously. He is self conscious and feels it is holding him back. It often takes him twice as long as it should to complete writing tasks because he must thoroughly and painfully review his work. Still, even when he gives it extra attention, his writing products are far from polished.

He is ready to focus on improving his skills. I want to help him! Where to begin? What's the best approach? A program, a tutor, a coach... books?

Reading more, yes. But he reads quite a lot and it doesn't seem to help. The Wife

Check out the offerings of Write It Well (www.writeitwell.com). They offer business writing/communication books, training, and coaching. The books are available on Amazon, and are set up as individual training programs/workbooks with lots of practical exercises. The owner/primary author is great -- an Oakland mom with a strong writing and training background. I like the book Professional Writing Skills for a general overview (includes some sections on grammar, email, and other business communications). There is also a Grammar specific book, an Email book, and a few others. Grammar Nerd

I assume he's using a grammar and spell-checker, and we are only talking about spelling and grammar errors that software cannot fix.

I don't know if this helps at all, but not so long ago people had secretaries, and secretaries not only typed, they cleaned up everyone's spelling and grammar for every single memo and letter. Companies also hired English majors as copy editors for their publications. Until your husband advances to the point where he can require that assistance of his administrative assistant, perhaps he can secretly forward some of his emails to you for copy editing. He can dictate to software and then clean it up, or maybe ask someone else to copy edit his important stuff. Be comforted that a shocking number of emails (and expensive signs) are being posted with spelling and grammar errors. I'm a dinosaur, so it bothers me.

Oh, and you could get him a style book that used to sit on every secretary's desk: The New York Times style book, or any of that sort of desktop grammar and style reference book. My ''Office Handbook'' is too old fashioned to recommend. Also there are some entertaining books on writing well. - hope this helps -

My husband has this problem too. He too is bilingual with perfect English but it isn't his first language. I just finished correcting a book chapter he wrote and I read all his papers and correct.

Can you do this too or is it smaller everyday stuff that he can't bring home? If that's the case, that is much harder. It can be hard to learn and let's face it boring too. Does he have an admin assistant who can do it at work?

I only do it once every month or two so it isn't too often. I think it could be tricky too for a relationship because it changes the dynamics a little. For us tho this is nice as my husband sometimes thinks he's pretty smart with his PhD and then I get to help him out, always very graciously of course and he is amazed that I see these word or grammar problems he was blind too. So for us it helps balance us back up sometimes, as silly as that sounds.

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that this seems to be a common problem if English is a second language. I see it with almost all of my husband's colleagues who are mainly European and all PhDs too so pretty bright but I read their stuff too if it is going to be submitted with his and they ALL have the same problems.

English is just tricky in written form. But because they all work together, they don't worry about it so much but if your husband works in an environment with mainly native English speakers, then it becomes a little more of an issue because I think they don't understand how easy it is to make mistakes and they can form an impression about that. anon

Spelling help for 4th grader

Sept 2005

I'm wondering about folk's thoughts about helping kids practice their spelling. I have a 4th grader who is very lazy about spelling. jen

We have our 4th grader (and did it in 2nd and 3rd grade) write his spelling words each night. On the morning of the test we ask him to spell words while we're getting ready for breakfast. When he started to write his words every day his spelling improved vastly. It's not bundles of fun, but it was part of homework and he did it (sometimes without a fuss). anon

As a literacy tutor, I see spelling as one of the many frequent problems. Children have spelling problems for different reasons and to really know what the problem is it is important to find out what they can do so you can figure out where to go next. Where is your child stuck? Do they invent spellings leaving out vowels? What patterns do they understand or do they see spelling as memorization one word at a time? Does their spelling match their speech? As is true with math, correct spelling involves seeing and understanding patterns, but as we know the English language has rules and exceptions to rules. Carol

Daughter, 9, spells phonetically

April 2003

My 9 year old daughter spells phonetically. For instance, culture, she spells callcher. Her teacher tells me that her misspelling impedes her learning. I wonder if anyone has an advice for teaching her to correct her spelling, or know a tutor who can teach how to spell, please recommend one. Thanks.

Check out the book ''Reading Reflex''. It is intended to teach kids to read, but it is just as good at teaching spelling. It systematically teaches kids every way a certain sound in English can be represented in writing. So she'll learn that the long a sound can be written ay, a, ae, ei, eigh, ea, and so on. The book doesn't call phonetic spellings wrong, just ''not the accepted way''. If a child isn't sure how to spell something they have them try all the ways they can think of to spell the word, and then pick the one that looks best. They teach endings like -ture, -tion and so on at the end of the book. From the Read America website


you can order a chart that has all the english phonemes and their various spellings to put on the wall. There is also a small version of the chart in the book.

Read the introduction very carefully. You don't necessarily have to go through all the lessons if you don't want to. Pull out the appropriate lesson, when you see a problem, or, when she spells a word with the non-accepted spelling, show her the part of the chart with all the different ways to spell the sounds she is having trouble with. Have her write the word a bunch of ways (make sure the accepted one makes it into her list!) and see if she can see the one that looks best to her eye. Help her out if she doesn't get it. Each time you read a book together look for a differents sound, for instance ''er''. You'll read ''Her first nurse works early'' for example, and point out all five ways that ''er'' is written in that sentence. This will help her to be more aware of spellings as she reads. Lots and lots of reading will help, too. susan

As a teacher, I would suggest that while phonetic spelling is ''phine'' for some words, whole language teaches accurate spelling. That's because correct spelling requires visual memory. Enhancing your daughter's visual memory skills and then providing whole language spelling (in other words, seeing the whole word) will be helpful. You can enhance your daughter's visual memory skills by asking questions such as ''what color is your bedspread?'' etc. Then by putting out colors or items, having her look at them and then you take them away. Ask her to name what was there and in what order. Start with a smaller group and then get bigger. Then start doing the same with words and the spelling of them. Start with smaller words first and move on to larger and larger words, and then sentences. This will help. Linda