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Research in Spelling: Implications for Adult Basic Education

Volume 6: Chapter Four
Diane J. Sawyer and M. Tara Joyce

In Chapter Four, Diane J. Sawyer and M. Tara Joyce review existing research on spelling and its implications for adult basic education. As the authors point out, in our society, poor spelling can negatively influence perceptions of intelligence and even jeopardize the poor spellerís ability to succeed in the job market. The authors trace the history of spelling instruction in the United States and describe theories of, and research on, how people learn to spell, concluding that, among other things, both visual and auditory systems play important roles and that learning to spell proceeds in a predictable, developmental sequence.

Despite the fact that many adult literacy learners cite spelling as a problem, Sawyer and Joyce reveal that little if any research on spelling and the adult learner has been conducted. Moreover, they note that state policies and professional development for adult basic educators do not typically address spelling instruction. The authors next examine the research on spelling as it relates to subsets of adult learners: those with learning disabilities or hearing impairments, and those who are enrolled in English for speakers of other languages classes.

Sawyer and Joyce conclude with recommendations for practice, research, and policy. They note that spelling instruction is most effective when reading and spelling skills are understood as supportive of each other and that instruction will be most efficient when tasks are meaningful to students and encourage the application of new skills to activities that are part of studentsí daily lives. With respect to research, the authors point out the need for longitudinal studies of spelling among ABE students and experimental studies that assess the efficacy of instructional methods for adults of varying literacy levels. Finally, Sawyer and Joyce call for state guidelines for developing spelling instruction, in addition to high-quality professional development, as a means to improve spelling instruction and outcomes for ABE students.

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