Thursday, March 4, 2010

Spelling Maters

Did you catch my mistake? When you saw the word “matters” did you think, “Oops, how did Kim let that one slip?” Or were you far more critical, thinking, “How careless. That was dumb.”

For the record, I misspelled “matters” intentionally. This week, spelling has come up again and again. One of my colleagues spelled the word “address” with one d. One of the parents in my son’s class spelled “writer” with two “t”s. I must confess. I was hard on these people. I was thinking things like, “These are professionals. They should know better than that.”

On Monday, my first grader brought home his writing folder and as I sat sifting through the contents, my older son looked on. Matthew loved what Nathan had written about Great Wolf Lodge and wanted to add to the written responses that Nathan received during his in-class writing celebration. He wrote: I think you put a lot of effort into this book. Your awesome.

I couldn’t let it pass. I seized the opportunity to tell him about contractions and pointed out that what he is really saying is “you are,” therefore it should be written “you’re.” Instead of being gracious, he curtly replied, “So. Does it really matter?”

Does it really matter? I was shocked when he said this. I began to wonder if my son’s attitude represented the attitude of other children. And if it does, where did they get this idea?

Over the years, children seeking the correct spellings to words have been the bane of the writing workshop teacher. Echoes of “how do you spell…” bounce from one side of the classroom to the other and we just can’t keep up. So what do we say? “Don’t worry about the spelling. Just write.”

I am wondering now if those words have inadvertently taught our young writers that spelling isn’t important. I’ve been conscious of this issue for some time and have been making a concerted effort to change my language. Now, I say things like “spelling is important, but right now your ideas are more important.” Or “Right now, focus on your ideas. Draw a squiggly line under the words you are unsure of so we know what to look at when we edit.”

Spelling matters. Spelling matters because it is a communication conduit. When I can read the words that you have written on the page, I can understand what you want me to know. When words are spelled correctly, I don’t have to work extra hard as a reader. The less I have to work, the more inclined I am to read what you have to say. And finally, accurate or not, people make snap judgments about our intelligence based on how we spell. If we want to leave readers with positive impressions of us not only as writers, but as people, spelling matters.

So, in answer to Matthew’s question, “So. Does it really matter?” I say this: If you’re going to be respected, you’re going to need to listen to your mother: Of course spelling matters!

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