A mum recently showed me some spellings that her twins, now in Year 2, had been given to learn when they were still in Year 1. I could see that some of the words were from the National Curriculum (NC) list for Years 3/4. The twins are very young for their year-group (late July birthday), but have obviously been well taught at school and are up for this sort of challenge. The mum didn’t know how many other children in the class would have been given the same words, but even if only some had, it’s encouraging to know that teachers now probably have higher expectations than they used to have.
One thing that worried me a bit, though, was that the teacher had taken a couple of liberties, resulting, in one case, in something very dubious: the NC has ‘accident(al, ally)’, but the teacher had not given ‘accident’ and ‘accidental’ but just ‘accidently’, which is not as in the NC and is non-standard, though it’s not unknown in print. The NC presents it in a way that stresses the morphology, but the teacher was not only ignoring this but also making the children learn what would usually be regarded as a misspelling. Another word she had given them was ‘business’ – the NC list presents it as ‘busy, business’ and has a note pointing out that ‘once busy is learnt, with due attention to the unusual spelling of the /i/ sound as ‘u’, business can then be spelt as busy + ness, with the y of busy changed to i according to the rule’. In getting the children to learn just ‘business’, the teacher may have missed an opportunity to teach something about morphology.
It’s good if teachers now expect more in term of spelling, and this in itself should bear fruit. We still have a generation of adults, however (not just teachers but also parents), who have gaps in their understanding of spelling (e.g. see nothing wrong with ‘accidently’), and this may continue to put a ceiling on children’s performance for a bit.
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