Bring on That Invented Splng!

The words I called out were 'see', 'look', 'nap', 'new', & 'Otto'
I just read a trio of articles about invented spelling and learning to read, and they made me think a lot about the soon-to-be-first-grader (previously known as, the kindergartener). 

The first article, by Ouellette & Sénéchal, outlines research on the important relationship between using invented spelling and learning to read. 

Invented spelling looks like some of the spelling in the image, which is a photo of a game that the soon-to-be-first-grader and I played this morning (explanation of game below). For example, the first word I called out was 'see'. The soon-to-be-first-grader wrote the backwards 'c' that's on the first line and put down his pencil. I assumed he was trying to remember which direction an 's' goes in, and waited.

"I'm done," he said.

I just want to take a moment to thank the soon-to-be-first-grader for continuously reminding me to avoid making assumptions.

The second article, by Gentry for Psychology Today, explains why Ouellette and Sénéchal's work is such a big deal: for the past 20 years, adults have been asking early readers to focus on phonological awareness and alphabet awareness as preparation for reading. The Ouellette and Sénéchal article demonstrates that writing directly benefits reading and points out that focusing only on phonemes and alphabet awareness probably isn't enough.

The third article, by Koch-Sundquist for, breaks down how parents might engage with invented spelling with their kids by encouraging children to write, reading children's writing back to them, and having children read their writing back to you. Engaging with the writing that children do results in brain development that benefits reading and spelling over time.

Here's what caught my eye: invented spelling is important for learning to read, and the soon-to-be-first-grader HATES to use invented spelling. HATES it. I hesitate to write this because he had an amazing kindergarten teacher who, among other literacy instruction, had her class use invented spelling every day during Writer's Workshop. And, I LOVE Writer's Workshop. But nope, the soon-to-be-first-grader HATES invented spelling. To the point where he would come home from school and say, "Mommy, I don't want to do Writer's Workshop tomorrow. I don't like it," and then I would die a little inside.

So, thinking about the importance of invented spelling, I did a little wondering: why, I thought, doesn't the soon-to-be-first-grader like invented spelling?

I can think of a few reasons. 

The soon-to-be-first-grader.
First, sometimes the expectation with invented spelling is that children will write lovely long sentences. But the stories the soon-to-be-first-grader wants to tell are so long that his hand cramps up and he forgets what he's trying to say. If he were in a situation where he only needed to write a small number of words, would that make invented spelling more fun for him?

Second, the soon-to-be-first-grader has had a complicated relationship with hearing, and his understanding of how sounds correlate with letters means that those long sentences that he wants to share are seriously overwhelming. Again, would he enjoy invented spelling more if he could focus on just a few words?

Third, the soon-to-be-first-grader hates to make mistakes. His awareness of 'correct' and 'incorrect' spelling probably makes it hard to play with spelling. If I praised the thinking over the end result, would he enjoy invented spelling? 

So, I made up a game. The soon-to-be-first-grader loves games. Which is great and also amusing because I don't give him points and he never wins anything.

I made two columns of five lines each on a piece of paper. I labelled one column '# 'and the other column 'words'. The soon-to-be-first grader loves to write numbers because they're SHORT to write.

Then, I called out a number or a word, and he had to write them in the correct column. He thought the game was to see if you knew which one was a number and which one was a word.

The words I called out were 'him', 'not', 'she', 'get', 'wish'.

He LOVED it. And, he used all sorts of invented spelling. The first day, he skipped a vowel with confidence and authority when writing 'HIM'. He wrote 'SHE' as 'THE', explaining about a conversation he'd had with his speech therapist: she had told him that, even though 'thumb' might sound like it starts with something close to 'f', it's a complicated word that starts with 'th'. I said, "Oh, and YOU found another word with a complicated start. 'She' starts with 'SH'." 

The second day, I tried pulling words from a book that we had just read, See Santa Nap. I was surprised by the words he flat-out knew, 'look' and 'nap', and he never once complained that his hand was cramping. Tomorrow, I'm interested to see if he pays different types of attention to the words 'see', 'new', and 'Otto'. 

As with all blog posts about the soon-to-be-first-grader, this is what worked for him, and it's not necessarily universal. That said, making big tasks manageable tends to be helpful for most people, and the Ouellette & Sénéchal research used invented spelling of lists of words rather than invented spelling of sentences. Invented spelling is important for all early readers, even when they're afraid of being wrong and are overwhelmed by the length of what they want to say, so I'm thrilled that I found something that makes him like invented spelling just a little more.

Gentry, J. (2017, March 30). Landmark study finds better path to reading success. (Psychology Today) Retrieved from Raising Readers, Writers, and Spellers:
Koch-Sundquist, K. (2017, April 12). Sight words are so 2016: New study finds the real key to early literacy. Retrieved from
Ouelette, G., & Sénéchal, M. (2017). Invented spelling in kindergarten as a predictor of reading and spelling in grade 1: A new pathway to literacy, or just the same road, less known? Developmental Psychology, 53(1), 77-88.