Research: Spelling program benefits disabled writers

Research: Spelling program benefits disabled writers

(District of Columbia) A deep dive into old research provides new evidence that a widely distributed spelling program can help improve writing skills of students with disabilities.

Spelling Mastery, distributed by McGraw Hill, is intended to teach spelling to mainstream students in grades one through six. But researchers at the Institute of Education Sciences reported earlier this month that a 1990 study found the program can also be effective in helping disabled students to write better.

The program gives teachers fully-scripted lessons organized around student skill levels. Instruction is delivered in daily, 15-to-20 minute sessions where teachers present an exercise, listen to student responses and provide immediate feedback.

For beginning spellers, teachers utilize the phonemic strategy where attention is focused on sound-symbol relationships. The morphemic strategy is used for older students to learn multisyllabic words. The whole-word approach is used to teach common, irregularly spelled words using memorization drills.

A 1990 study looked at how the program influenced writing achievement. The review included 28 fourth graders in four classes at a university-based summer program in the rural southwest. All 28 were identified as learning disabled.

A second analysis was conducted in 2006 and it also looked at the effects of Spelling Mastery on writing skills. This study included 42 students from grades two through four.

Of interest to the research team at IES’ What Works Clearinghouse were student outcomes in nine domains: alphabetics, reading fluency, reading comprehension, general reading achievement, mathematics, writing, science, social studies and progressing in school.

They found that Spelling Mastery met  the WWC evidence standards reported findings in one of the nine domains: writing.

“Darch and  Simpson (1990) found  statistically significant  positive  effects of Spelling Mastery on three measures of writing, including  the Predictable Words  and  Unpredictable Words  subtests of the Test of Written Spelling  and an author-created spelling  test,” the report said. “The WWC characterizes these study findings as having a statistically significant positive effect.”

The second analysis reported that Darch et al. (2006) did not find a statistically significant positive effect of Spelling Mastery on any of the four measures of writing. “However, both  the study  authors and  the WWC found  substantively important positive  effects on all four measures of writing: the Test of Written Spelling,  and  three  tests created for the study  (a Generalization test, a Transfer  test,  and  a Maintenance test). The WWC characterizes these study findings as having a substantively important positive effect.”

The cost of Spelling Mastery varies depending on the level of program. Student workbooks range from $11 to $16 per student. Teaching materials include a teaching guide, which ranges from $172 to $202. 

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