Spelling Bee not to be taken seriously

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The Great Australian Spelling Bee does not translate to real world learning and should not be taken seriously by parents or teachers, according to a Charles Sturt University (CSU) spelling expert.

Mrs Tessa Daffern is a higher degree researcher at the Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education (RIPPLE). Whilst the show’s premiere episode proved to be light family entertainment, Mrs Daffern is encouraging parents and teachers not to compare their children and students to contestants.

“The first episode seemed to be quite entertaining and most of the children appeared to enjoy the experience,” Mrs Daffern said.

“It was obvious that the children were all high achievers and each had some kind of competitive streak. However, it is important for parents and teachers watching at home not to compare the contestants to their own children or students.

“Spelling ability has no proved correlation to overall intelligence. Every child learns in their own way and needs to be nurtured on their own journey without comparisons to children competing in a dramatised, highly-controlled and isolated environment.”

Mrs Daffern noticed a number of strategies being used by the contestants and was glad to see contestants ask for the definition of some words as it is equally important to understand the meaning of a word. She observed mistakes that are common among primary school aged children.

“Many of the contestants stumbled at the middle of the word or at the different parts of the word and were challenged with derivational suffixes such as ‘able’; these are all common challenges for children learning to spell,” Mrs Daffern said.

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“For example, Blake’s hesitation when spelling ‘accelerator’ saw him pause and ask ‘where was I up to? Can I please start again?’ This shows how children can struggle to hold longer words in their working memory while they process the word and encode each letter one-by-one.

“Longer words with many meaningful parts can often be harder to retain in working memory. During my research I observed even the highest achieving spellers in year six found this challenging. Spelling less familiar words can be a memory test as much as a linguistic problem solving test.”

Mrs Daffern observed some inconsistency with the difficulty of words in each round and has questioned the process taken to select the words.

Mrs Daffern’s PhD is titled An examination of spelling acquisition in the middle and upper primary school years and is based on the learning experiences of almost 1400 primary school children from year three to year six at 17 schools in the ACT. Mrs Daffern has also developed a new spelling assessment tool, titled The Components of Spelling Test (CoST), which is informed by Triple Word Form Theory.

(Source: Charles Sturt University)

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Date Created: August 10, 2015