This discussion is all over the place, showing up in various comments and referenced in various posts, but I think it's a fascinating side issue that I wanted to provide a specific forum for while I continue frantically to get my blog project running for my t-r. I am very interested in hearing Stacey (Or anyone else who wants to chime in), express an opinion or two about this, and don't worry, I'm not easily offended so don't hold back and let me have it!
My objection to spelling is philosophical. Let me first state that I agree that students need to learn audience adaptation and that giving students access to the power code is an essential part of what I do as a teacher. I would not be a good teacher if I did not follow the curriculum standard which clearly states that students should learn and use proper grammar, mechanics, and spelling.
However, I do not believe that spelling tests are an effective way to teach spelling. They are an assessment of a student's ability to spell, but they don't teach a student how to spell. The best way to learn spelling is by reading--repeated exposure to words in context works much better. By the way, the same is true of grammar rules--reading is the best way to learn them. Check out the book Understanding English Grammar, particularly the first chapter, or just about anything written by George Hillocks for more on this.
Bottom line is, if in doubt look it up (which is much easier now that so many kids have a spell-checker and are writing on a computer that has web access so that they can double-check problem words like their/they're). Using all the time saved by not giving spelling tests to work on grammar and spelling in context allows me to apply these concepts to what the students are actually doing rather than forcing them to engage in an exercise that doesn't relate to what they are writing. I do grade spelling in my student's formal essays, but not in their journals. I want their journals to be a place where they can focus on content and critical thinking rather than worrying about spelling and grammar (I give guided, specific prompts [level 3 questions about the texts we're studying] for journals--they are not free writing or morning pages style journals).
The issue goes deeper than that for me, however. While it is part of my job to teach students how to write in formal situations for audiences that expect good spelling, it is not my job to like it, or to believe that it is an important, worthwhile, or even legitimate project. I believe that spelling is just another way for people to judge others, feel superior to others, and find ways to discriminate against other people. I can't count the number of times I've seen a comment posted on the web criticizing another person's spelling and the comment itself contains misspelled/misused words or grammar errors!
This is a fact of life, I know, and kids need to learn that they will be judged, whether it's fair or not, by the way they speak, dress, wear their hair, and write. But spelling in the English language does not make sense. We have held over spellings of words from Old English, and continued to include letters that are no longer pronounced. Words like "weigh," "through," "night," and "sleigh" were originally spelled phonetically by speakers of a "vulgar" tongue that did not have a codified system of spelling. Having studied Old and Middle English texts, I can tell you that often the spelling of words changed even within a single text, let alone between different texts. Eventually spellings were codified into a dictionary, and the spellings at that time reflected the way words were pronounced--words were spelled phonetically. But as the pronunciation of these words has changed, and the meaning of our words has changed, and the syntax of our grammar has changed, the spelling of our words has not changed--why?
It makes life more difficult for English language learners of all ability levels and backgrounds. It makes students afraid to write and "dumbs down" their writing because they replace the word that they really want to use with one that's easier to spell. By the way, I feel the same way about some of our grammar rules. Some are necessary to avoid ambiguity; other rules are arbitrary and unnecessary impediments to our student’s ability to express their thoughts freely and without fear.
I devote two whole days of my Freshman English class to reading about and discussing the idea of grammar and spelling rules, in which I explain the importance of learning the power code, while also explaining how much I detest and resent the fact that the power code is defined and enforced by those who are in power at the expense of those who are not. It's just another form of discrimination masquerading as education.
The following excerpt is from a junk email, and I have read various opinions as to whether the idea contained herein is legitimate or not, let alone the assertion that it comes from research at
Do Not Read This!
I cdnoult blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg! Wtienss the azaimng pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to rseeacrh at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer waht odrer the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit too mcuh torbule. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Itnseretnig, huh? Wow, and I awlyas tuohght slpeling was ipmorantt!