Shouldn’t we take the time to support good vocabulary development in our students?
My first exam script of, and there it is, staring back at me in black and white.
How is this possible? I ask myself. The third paper, the same thing and I know this will be the start of my usual rant about spelling.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not professing to be a ‘spelling-bee’ champion or the next contestant on Countdown—the daytime version, where spelling is actually important. But, surely questions should be raised when students are unable to spell common subject-specific words correctly, but even more importantly the choice of their option subject at A-level! My frustration is further compounded by the fact that I don’t teach philosophy, or psychology but business. That is business, not business. Ironically this new ‘bussiness’ doesn’t concern itself with meeting customer needs but instead is focused solely on the niche clientele of the ‘costumer’.
This may seem like a very petty issue, especially when we should be concerning ourselves with active-learning, pedagogy, and developing our high-end learners but shouldn’t we, as practitioners, be committing time to the basics. I know that the misspelling of a word doesn’t take away from the content and that until recently SPAG had apparently been consigned to the ‘tried and retired’ heap. But spelling is important, so shouldn’t we take the time to support good vocabulary development in our students, and staff as a whole for that matter?
But what does spelling really matter? Students are more tech-savvy, they use ‘txt’ speak on devices and even when talking to their friends. Shouldn’t teachers just ‘chill out’? No, I don’t think so. Spelling is important, and will have a huge influence on how our young people are perceived and judged when they enter the workplace—even if they are no longer told via marking feedback that they are making errors, it counts.
For example, I recently was unable to access my controlled assessment accounts. Why? But, I was spelling ‘Leisure’ correctly, but the accounts had been given the username of ‘Liesure’. So the conundrum (to continue with my countdown pun) is do I tell my students to spell it incorrectly, or correct another adult mistake?
However, my issue with spelling is not restricted to this tidy little area of literacy, it spills out in general grammar. I find I am constantly asking my students why they think so little of themselves, to which I received quizzical looks. ‘Why Miss, what do you mean?’ Only for me to point out that they have failed to spell their given name, one they have been using all of their lives, without a CAPITAL letter.
But can we blame the students? Absolutely not! When leaders, teachers and mentors take little care in dotting their ‘I’s ‘ and crossing their ‘t’s’, what can we expect from those who learn from us? If emails and corporate communications cannot be spelt right, if we communicate these errors in grammar and spelling in documents to our students what can we expect? Don’t even get me started on menus and signs that our students are exposed to every day—they haven’t really got a chance!
I think we could all benefit from spending a little more of our time ‘teaching’ correct spellings, getting support for word-specific tricks from our learning departments, and generally putting literacy at the forefront of our practice. Literally, at the front of the lesson, for example, a spelling or vocabulary starter. If we cared more surely our students would too, making them more literate adults.
I am a business (and other subjects) teacher, who has been practising in the classroom since 2007 in both FE colleges and secondary schools, across a range of level 1 to level 5 business and business-related subjects.
This article was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2020 by the UKEd Editorial team in accordance with website and policy changes.