Learning to Write and Spell
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There are neural connections between the brain areas that process the visual shapes of objects (this includes letter shapes) and word sounds. These 'fuzzy' connections also extend into two nearby motor areas of the brain: those that control the sequence of muscle movements required for hand gestures and those for the muscles of the mouth, lips and tongue. Synkinesia (to move together) is the term used for the effects caused by this neural cross-activation. Professor Ramachandran talked about these connections in the Reith lecture he gave in 2003: www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2003/lecturer.shtml
N.B.Don't confuse synkinesia with synesthesia, which is where two or more bodily senses are neurally coupled, for example, in grapheme-colour synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored (Wiki)

Charles Darwin, himself, pointed out that when we cut paper with scissors, our jaws may clench and unclench unconsciously as if to echo the hand movements.' (Scientific American). Synkinesia also explains the tongue-out position that many children adopt whilst they are drawing and writing and why babies who are born deaf, 'babble' using gesture and hand movements (D. McGuinness 2004 p41) The hand movements we tend to use during conversation reveal the gestural origins of language.

Now that is known that our vision, hearing, mouth and hand muscles are all linked and cross-activated in the brain, it becomes obvious why it is so important to use a multi-sensory method which includes sounding out and HANDwriting activities when teaching reading and spelling. '(C)hildren find it easier to remember spellings if they can remember the movement of the hand in forming the word; hence the reason most people, when asked to spell a difficult word, prefer to write it down. Janet Townend, past head of training at Dyslexia Action, says this kind of multi-sensory approach is particularly helpful for dyslexic children. "Fluency of writing helps with fluency of spelling," she says. "If children can see words on the page, feel them in their mouth and experience the movement of writing as well, that helps enormously with spelling." (TES Friday 12/11/04 p12)

Forming invisible letter shapes in the air, on a textured board or on a person's back/forearm, is not a useful activity. Memory for letter shapes can be greatly improved by creating cross modal connections, but two or more sensory modes must be connected at the same time; real writing is movement made visible. (McGuinness. WCCR p217)

Debbie Hepplewhite, a synthetic phonics teacher, programme writer and trainer, gives the following advice on teaching reluctant children to write: ''If children are not writing then something is preventing it. Can they segment orally? Can they write all their letter/s-sound correspondences independently (give them a dictation test)? Can they write at word level? Can they talk in simple sentences which they can then write? Don't expect writing to 'emerge' - TEACH THEM!' We now know that we cannot just expect children's writing skills 'to emerge' with maturity or 'readiness' and we understand, or should, the many basic sub-skills involved with the technical side of the writing process - and that we need to teach these very explicitly before we should ask, or expect, children to 'write' their ideas'' (Hepplewhite.TES)


Don't expect creative/independent writing too early.

Debbie Hepplewhite discusses nonsense words, invented spelling and independent writing.

Modern youngsters have poorer speech skills, right? Wrong!

Doing dictation doesn't make you a dictator.

Definition of writing: 'A system of more or less permanent marks used to represent an utterance in such a way that it can be recovered more or less exactly without the intervention of the utterer.' P Daniels. The World’s Writing Systems p21

Link to Handwriting | Spelling