The winner of the 93rd Scripps National Spelling Bee, Zaila Avant-garde, is still taking her well deserved victory laps in the media. Winning such a contest is obviously an impressive feat. But even more so these days, because I am sure that Zaila, like most students, has had at least a couple of teachers tell her “spelling doesn’t matter.”
The epidemic of “spelling doesn’t matter” sometimes referenced as “spelling doesn’t count” by teachers, has been sweeping the nation since at least the 2000s when I was in school and has only gotten worse in recent years. There is a large number of educators who genuinely believe that spelling isn’t important, at least not as it relates to daily tasks within a school.
Proponents of this sentiment say that spelling is often unrelated to the actual task or goal they are assessing on any given day. Spelling errors don’t even count on some major standardized tests anymore. Additionally, tools like spell-check and auto correct have decreased the need for a strict emphasis on spelling. Hence “spelling doesn’t count.”
Spelling is a fundamental part of literacy. There is a growing body of research that indicates spelling is actually a key component of reading. Nobody would argue reading itself isn’t important, and spelling is a big part of the cognitive lift while reading. Good spellers are almost always good readers.
There is also the fact that traditionally when you are spelling words you are doing so in order to communicate with another person. Misspelled words don’t necessarily render a document unreadable, but they certainly can. And even if they don’t, it still distracts the reader from the overall point.
Additionally, there is the whole perception piece. A misspelled word in the real-world signals two main things to people, lack of education or lack of attention to detail. Neither one of those categories is a good. It might not seem like a big sticking point in your daily life but when people are writing something important, and they misspell a word, it sends the wrong message.
Imagine a college entrance committee choosing between applicants and one of the applicants misspelled a bunch of words in their essay.
Would you trust a lawyer to handle your case if they misspelled the word “esquire” in their letterhead?
Spelling even matters in internet comments. How often have you seen an entire comment rendered useless with the simple rebuttal of someone correct their spelling of the word “you’re?”
Also, the technology that helps spell is meant to serve as a crutch, not a leg. Meaning it works under the presupposition that the user can spell well enough for the algorithm to recognize the mistake. That’s why they are referred to as “spell-check” and “auto-correct.” If the user doesn’t spell the word well enough for the computer to recognize, it’s useless. I see that daily. My students type most things that they turn into me and have access to both spell-check and auto-correct. However, the spelling of some of their words is so atrocious that it doesn’t help. This does not even touch on the time it takes to go back and correct spelling.
The days of spelling tests and students failing writing assignments because of misspelled words as opposed to the content of the assignment are over, and they probably should be. Admittedly, even I don’t go back and check spelling on assignments for all one hundred plus students I have every day … but I do sometimes. We all should. We have to at-least keep them honest and emphasize that spelling is important. You might not always grade something for spelling, but never explicitly say “spelling doesn’t count” because it certainly does in the real world.