In the 1960’s a team of researchers, Hanna, Hodges, Hanna and Rupert took 17,000 of the most frequently used words in text books and asked a computer to sort the words based upon their spelling. What was discovered was that the computer could spell almost all of the words if it took into consideration the letters and their sounds, the position of the sounds and letters within the word, at the beginning, middle or end of a syllable or word, and the language of origin of the word, Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Greek or French.
In my book, How to Teach Reading and Spelling, Bringing the Science of Reading into the Classroom, I use this research to help organize the lessons about
the letters and their sounds emphasizing the articulation gestures used to say the sounds
the spelling patterns for many vowels that are based upon where the vowel sound occurs, in the beginning, middle or end of a word or syllable
the origins of the letters, spelling patterns and prefixes, suffixes and root syllables, i.e., Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Greek or French.
Here an excerpt from the book that teaches about the spelling pattern, “au,aw” and how the spelling depends upon where the sound occurs in the word, an example of the third finding of the Hanna et al. group.
We have learned about single vowels, Vowel plus E digraphs, and R-controlled Vowels. In this lesson, we are going to learn about another vowel digraph, two letters that make one sound. We are also going to learn an important principle of English orthography, the Position Principle, which teaches us that where a sound occurs in a word influences the way it is written.
I will read these words for you. Please repeat them so I am sure that you heard them correctly.
• What letters represent the vowel sounds in these words? “au” and “aw”
• Are the vowel sounds the same or different in each word? The same
• Is the spelling of the vowel sound the same or different in each line? Different
• Where do the “au” vowel letters occur, at the beginning, middle or end of the words? The beginning or the middle
• Where do the vowel letters “aw” occur, at the beginning, middle or the end of the words? The end
• Can you see a pattern? When you hear the sound of /au/ at the beginning or middleof a word, it is spelled with “au”. When you hear the /au/ at the end of a word or
syllable, it’s spelled with “aw”.
One of the principles of spelling, the Position Principle, states that different letters spell a sound based upon where the sound sits in the word, and “au” and “aw” are examples of this principle because both spellings say the same sound, but the spelling of that sound changes depending on where the sound is in the word.
You can see many of the principles of Structured Literacy in this short dialogue; the spelling pattern is taught explicitly and directly, the words are chosen carefully to lead the student to see the spelling pattern clearly, the teacher does not tell the student the pattern, but rather asks questions to develop her students’ linguistic thinking.
The value of this book is that teachers can use these dialogues with any spelling and reading program they currently use. The book provides them with the understanding of why words are spelled the way they are and how to directly, explicitly teach these concepts.