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Spelling out effective instruction: An assessment informed intervention study

The Spelling Out Effective Instruction project seeks to identify best practices in spelling instruction by evaluating a novel spelling intervention programme which focuses on the use of spelling error analysis data to inform explicit teaching of the components of spelling, namely phonology, orthography and morphological awareness. 

Given the recently identified fall in literacy rates across Scotland (Scottish Survey of Literacy, 2019) and the predictive power of spelling to later literacy achievement, identifying ways to support children become proficient spellers is a national priority. Communication through writing is fundamental to literacy and contemporary knowledge-based economies. Cognitive resource demands placed on individuals with spelling difficulties negatively affect higher-order writing processes such as planning, text generation, sentence construction, as well as taxing processing memory (Berninger, 1999) resulting in slower overall writing time and compromised vocabulary (Sumner et al., 2016). Yet, teaching approaches of spelling vary considerably and are often found to be unsystematic, with a singular focus on phonics instruction, neglecting the explicit teaching of fundamental skills known to be associated with spelling success (i.e. morphological and orthographic awareness in addition to phonological awareness).

Dr Law and Dr Vincent will carry out this spelling intervention programme in a naturalistic school setting with the support of partner schools in the Dumfries and Galloway School Authority. The intervention will employ The Components of Spelling Tests (CoST) developed and validated by Dr Tessa Daffern (2017; 2015). The CoST provides an assessment of spelling ability utilising spelling error analysis techniques. Through an analysis of error type, this approach goes beyond traditional spelling assessment (limited to right and wrong answer) and provides a valid and reliable measure of phonological, orthographic and morphological sub-skills in spelling. This level of information provides teachers with a fine-grained measurement of skills, allowing for more effective differentiation of spelling instruction based on error type, thereby offering greater targeted support within the three main components of spelling.  This project will be the first to provide empirical support for the instruction of specific spelling sub-skill instruction in middle and upper primary levels through the use of a novel assessment-based intervention in a UK setting. Results will provide insight into the role of morphological and orthographic skills in spelling development while informing policy and the construction of novel and innovative spelling interventions.