Invention vs gobbledegook

kids writing

One thing I love about working with beginning literacy learners is their use of invented spellings.  To avoid inhibiting the flow of ideas, children are encouraged to “have a go”. This invention involves an interaction of

  • knowledge of letter sound correspondence
  • recall of familiar words, such as basic sight words
  • memory of words previously encountered including words of interest or meaning to them,
  • in conjunction with available resources such as classroom word walls or lists.

The purpose is to encourage them to write, to express their ideas. There’s plenty of time for attention to the finer details later.

We early childhood teachers become experts at reading children’s writing. Like all effective readers, we use a combination of letter-sound knowledge, syntax, and meaning. If we are ever unable to decode a message, the writer is always happy to read the work to us, and may never realise the request stemmed from our reading disability.

As children’s knowledge of written language develops, their spellings more closely approximate the conventional. The comparison of writing samples taken over time informs teachers of the child’s progress. Consonants, especially beginning consonants, usually appear first; then a combination of first and last consonants. Vowels may be the last to be included.

© Norah Colvin

It is not surprising that vowels are the last to appear. They are more difficult to hear and distinguish, and not only may they be represented in more than one way (think of the long ī sound from my recent post A piece of pie), their pronunciation may (does) vary from locale to locale. Not only that, they are less important to reading than consonants. Think of text messages on the phone, or check out this article A World Without Vowels.

Or maybe now with predictive text available on phones, you are less likely to use the abbreviated form of words and allow your phone to predict what you want to write. That tends to work less than perfectly for me. It doesn’t always predict what I’m thinking and is just as likely to accept gobbledegook as any real word, let alone the correct one. Give me children’s invented spellings any day. At least I can use meaning and prior knowledge to help me unlock the message.

As a literacy educator, I am particularly interested in written language and fascinated by children’s development. I enjoyed the opportunity to write about children’s writing in a guest post on the Carrot Ranch A Class of Raw Literature earlier this year. I previously shared thoughts about spelling tests and the difficulty of knowing how to spell a word if its meaning is unknown. A variety of resources for teaching writing also appear in the readilearn collection.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a speller. It can be one who spells or a primer like Lawrence once had. You can deviate from the primary meaning if magic catches your imagination. Go where the prompt leads. Thanks, Charli. I love this challenge. Spelling: my forte. But which meaning should I choose?

  • To represent a word in written form
  • To create an event using magic
  • To have a rest
  • To signal the occurrence of something (usual disastrous)

Can I include all four?

Here goes.

MISSPELLING SPELLING DISASTER AVERTED: NEW SPELL RELEASES OLD FOR A SPELL

Chatter erupted as assessment commenced. A pass would grant membership to the Spellnovators, but the best would replace Imara, who, for her final duty, mixed their potions and tested their spells. She praised ingenuity as stars exploded, flowers blossomed, and extinct animals reappeared. Choosing her replacement would be difficult. Suddenly her glare in Ruby’s direction spelled trouble. The chatter ceased. “What’s this?” she demanded. “Mix in happy witches!?” Ruby’s lip quivered. “Wishes. I meant to spell wishes.” Voices united in wishes. Instantaneously, everywhere, hearts opened with love.  Goodwill rained down, filling all with hope. Imara would spell in peace.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

38 thoughts on “Invention vs gobbledegook

  1. Pingback: Spelling « Carrot Ranch Literary Community

  2. Charli Mills

    The process of learning to spell is akin to writing books. You have to attempt and as you go along, better conform to the conventions of successful books. Someone can break it down, tell you how to do it, but until the young speller or budding author experiences what it is to spell or write, it doesn’t quite make sense. I like the list you displayed above. At first glance, I though the crossed out #8 read “play forever.” I agree! Your flash is nothing short of amazing — all definitions included, great pacing, anticipation and resolution. And I’m replying on my laptop so no predictive errors! Any errors are my own. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      You explained the connection, or progression, from beginning writer to published author very well. It is a learning continuum. We don’t get it all at once, and not in a nice little series of lock-steps.
      #8 was originally play soccer – his absolute favourite thing. It became”Read ‘The BFG'” – one of my favourite things. Sadly, we got to do neither. I loved the ‘bored game’ (never!) and rap presents. I wouldn’t mind one of those. 🙂
      I really appreciate your comments about the flash. I think I have made considerable progress over the past four years. Or I hope I have! I’ve practised enough. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. Charli Mills

        Thank you for letting me draw the comparisons between an early speller and a budding author. It helped me process something I’m working on!

        Another comparison, maybe — hosting a flash fiction challenge over years is similar perhaps to a teacher watching the development of a student over the years. I knew, before I even started and you became my One, that any writer who practices flash regularly would have his or her own breakthroughs. I’ve watched you evolve in your craft as a fiction writer, but more importantly, I’ve seen you deepen your writer’s voice. You characterize children in a believable and profound way that it can impact an adult’s thinking. There’s nothing childish in what you do as a creative writer!

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
        1. Norah Post author

          Seems like we’ve assisted each other along the way. That’s SMAG!
          I do enjoy the flash challenges as my earliest thoughts were to write fiction and poetry. I’ve gone more into the non-fiction realm at the moment, but I do love it when I get a chance to write a story. I guess if I can help readers remember what it is like to be a child, and perhaps tickle the toes of their inner child, it’s not such a bad thing. Thank you. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          Reply
  3. roughwighting

    Cute cute story, Norah. With happy witches and wishes, life is good! Such a good post here about children and spelling. I’m in a mixed mind about the subject. When I read my children’s book Birds of Paradise to a 1st grade classroom, afterwards I asked them what was the most important thing to do, to become a writer. Several of them guessed — to have a good pencil and some paper (very literal, 1st graders). Some of them guessed to have a good imagination (how wonderful!). But several of them also guessed a writer had to be “a good speller.” Without thinking I exclaimed, “Oh,no, that’s the least important thing!” Oh dear, the teachers kind of gave me an eye-full. But when I teach creative writing for adults, I tell them to just write and let go, and not worry about the spelling. The spelling can come in the second draft. When we’re letting our creativity go, we need to not worry about the technicalities of writing. I know it’s imperative for children to learn how to spell (and I’ve watched the progress of my young grandchildren’s notes to me from age 4 to 9). But hopefully teachers also release their students from ‘proper’ spelling when they write their stories.
    I’m with Beth, above. Writing is magic, and watching children learn how to spell the words they use is magic also.
    By the way, my answer to the 1st grade classroom about the most important thing to do, to become a writer? Read, Read, Read.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Pam, for sharing your experiences with year one children. I can just imagine their responses. As a teacher, I would love the “good imagination” response and second your comment about spelling. Sadly, for some children, that is the most important thing to their teachers. If only teachers engaged in the writing process, they would realise that it is an important part of the process, but not the first part. The way you teach in your creative writing classes is how I believe it should be taught in schools. It’s probably more important to teach it in school so children understand the real purposes for writing. But we are in agreement on this issue all the way. Writing is magic, and the best way to become a writer is to be a reader! Thanks Pam. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  4. dgkaye

    Great post Norah. And I’m not so sure about predictive text on phones for being good teachers. That autocorrect can sometimes be embarrassing if we don’t read before we hit send, lol. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      I agree. I try to remember to check my messages before sending, but don’t always remember to do so. Fortunately the nonsense I have sent hasn’t been too embarrassing. Yet. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  5. Kate

    Love that Ruby was a ‘happy’ witch. We need more of them to cast their spells! I thought you made a good point in that our electronic devices taking over our messages. What is scary is how many times someone receiving a gobbledegooked message can decipher it.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for appreciating my “happy” witch. If only it were that easy. I’ve received (and sent) gobbledegooked messages that have been impossible to decipher! Sometimes we scratch our heads. Other times we have a good laugh. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  6. Susan Scott

    That’s a very interesting idea of asking the children to spell they way they naturally would, if I’m reading your post correctly Norah? – and they can de-code it by reading it back to you? Sometimes I despair at the lack of my small learners reading ability where I volunteer at a prep school that in spite of repetitions they still don’t get some basic words. But strangely enough towards the end of the year they suddenly seem to pick up – which I believe to be a sign of natural maturation and things coming together .. which and witch are two of those words .. 🙂 which I’m wishing and hoping they’ll finally get right.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with young learners, Susan. Yes, you interpreted the post as I intended. I agree with you about the importance of maturation, which makes me wonder why we stress ourselves, and the children, by imposing unrealistic expectations in the first place. Which witch is always difficult, even for older children. As with other words, they will get it.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  7. robbiesinspiration

    A lovely post, Norah. I enjoyed your piece of flash fiction for this challenge as well. I must say that I have never been a good speller and I never really got to grips with times tables either. Nevertheless, I have managed to get by in life and always use spell check or a good old fashioned dictionary.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Robbie. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. Spell check and dictionaries are great resources to use. Reading is one of the best ways of learning to spell. We come to recognise whether a word looks right or not. Trouble is the computer doesn’t always latch onto our intended meaning and sometimes predicts an incorrect word, or highlights as incorrect, a correct word. We still need to be vigilant.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  8. Annecdotist

    I love your compassion and humble attitude to young children’s spellings, particularly encapsulated in this line: If we are ever unable to decode a message, the writer is always happy to read the work to us, and may never realise the request stemmed from our reading disability. I think it really exemplifies your overall attitude to early years education.
    And your flash is lovely and clever to use various interpretations of SPELL.
    As an aside, as you know I used voice-activated software which generates different, but equally frustrating, alternatives to what I want to write. One of the difficulties with SPELL is that it treats it often as a command, ie assumes I want to write a different word letter by letter.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Anne. Your comment makes me feel warm and fuzzy. I hope I lived up to your interpretation.
      And I’m pleased the flash worked.
      I can just imagine the frustration with having your software “thinking” you want it to spell out a word, rather than write the word spell. I’m sure you came up with a creative way of solving the problem.
      Thinking of the frustration it must cause, makes me think of my “friend” in the car who helps me make hands-free phone calls. I don’t know why she can’t just listen to me rather than insist I “wait for the tone to speak”! Computers!

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Irene. I’m pleased the flash worked and wasn’t too corny.
      Thanks for sharing your spelling memory. I wonder how differently you see the children spelling now.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Irene. I’m not certain that literacy standards are falling. I am certain that expectations have been raised. I think each generation becomes increasingly educated.

          Liked by 2 people

          Reply
          1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

            I think that each generation is becoming increasingly educated. I probably don’t know half of the stuff my nephews know but from the reports I’ve read and work I’ve done refereeing papers and journal articles I think literacy is declining. We’ll probably have to agree to differ on that score.

            Liked by 1 person

            Reply
              1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

                Thanks Norah. The articles were interesting and it made me realise that we are possibly talking about two different things. Certainly there are more people that can read and write and that is good. My terminology was probably wrong in that I was thinking more of skills and knowledge (such as the finer points of grammar and spelling etc) in those that are literate.

                Liked by 2 people

                Reply
  9. ksbeth

    one of my favorite things is invented spelling. seeing young children try to make sense of language and how to use it, is an amazing thing. i’ve gotten pretty good at translating, and when in doubt, i often ask a child to read it to me. they are inevitably able to read their own writing. i also love to see the logic and method they’ve used to sound something out, it tells you a lot about their understanding and where they are in the process. it is magic.

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s