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Poor Speller or Learning Disability?

February 25, 2010
By Marge Eberts and Peggy Gisler

Question: Our fourth-grader is a poor speller. Her scores on achievement tests put her in the above-average range in other areas (reading, math). It has been suggested by her teacher that this could be caused by a learning disability. Is this possible? What words should she be able to spell at this level?

- No Speller

Answer: It is always possible that a learning disability is a reason for your daughter's spelling difficulties. What you need to look for are behaviors that have persisted over a period of time to see if your child actually has symptoms of a possible learning disability.

At this age, the Learning Disabilities Association of America (www.ldanatl.org) suggests looking for the confusion of basic words ("run," "eat," "want") and consistent reading and spelling errors, including letter reversals ("b"/"d,") inversions ("m"/"w"), transpositions ("felt"/"left") and substitutions ("house"/"home"), as well as trouble connecting letters and sounds as possible signs of learning disabilities.

Here is a list of the basic words that fourth-graders need to know how to spell correctly. It was created by Steven Graham, Karen R. Harris and Connie Loynachan (2008). It is reprinted by permission of Reading Rockets. Asterisks after words indicate that children have difficulty spelling these words.

across

against

answer*

awhile*

between

board

bottom

breakfast

broken

build

building

built

captain*

carried

caught*

charge*

chicken

circus

cities

clothes*

company

couldn't*

country

discover

doctor*

doesn't

dollar

during

eighth*

else

enjoy

enough

everybody*

example

except

excuse

field*

fifth

finish

following

good-bye*

group

happened*

harden

haven't*

heavy

held

hospital*

idea

instead*

known

laugh

middle

minute

mountain

ninth

ocean

office

parent

peanut

pencil

picnic

police

pretty*

prize

quite*

radio

raise

really*

reason

remember*

return

Saturday*

scare

second

since

slowly

stories

student

sudden

suit

sure*

swimming*

though

threw*

tired

together*

tomorrow*

toward

tried*

trouble

truly*

turtle

until*

village

visit

wear

we'll

whole*

whose

women

wouldn't*

writing*

written

wrote

yell

young

Question: My granddaughter is in first grade. She can easily read books like "Green Eggs and Ham." She also seems to have good phonics skills, as she can figure out words like "adventure." However, when she writes, she still reverses letters such as "b" and "d." And sometimes, she confuses them in her reading. Is there any way to help her stop reversing letters?

- Reversals

Answer: There are several ways to help reduce reversals. However, time usually does the job. There is no real need to be very concerned unless a child is doing this beyond third grade. Most beginning readers and writers reverse some letters.

One way to help your granddaughter would be to overteach one letter that she frequently reverses. For example, you could concentrate on "b" by having her trace the letter and then write it. This will help in writing the letter. Writing reversals usually go away when cursive is introduced.

To recognize the difference in reading frequently reversed letters, you can write the same word three times and then one that is different using the reversed letters. You could write: bay, bay, day, bay. Ask her first how the words are similar and then different. Do this with many word combinations.

Send questions and comments to Dear Teacher, c/o Mahoning Valley Parent, Box 395, Carmel, IN 46082-03295, or log on to www.dearteacher.com, or e-mail DearTeacher@DearTeacher.com.

 
 

 

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