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Is Spell Check the Work of the Devil??

Brenda has a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Language Arts and is also one of the WritAnon editors. She will be posting tips about grammar, punctuation, and spelling each Wednesday on WritAnon’s blog. Subscribe to the RSS feed to see her posts as they come!

As an English and Language Arts major, I love playing with words. I love to look at words and wonder where did these words come from? I think Shakespeare and Chaucer are pure geniuses. However, as an educator, I have noticed that most schools no longer focus on spelling as much as they used to. The focus is now on math, science, writing and, gasp, reading! Now, how in the world do they expect students to read without first knowing how to spell?

I have been leading a fifth grade Girl Scout troop for the past few months and at our last meeting, the girls were asked to make a list of tools that can be found in a tool box. One of the girls could not spell words like “hammer” or “tape”. I refused to spell them for her. Her mother, the co-leader, was going along with spelling the words for her until I told the girl that by fifth grade she was perfectly capable to sounding words out.

I am also tutoring third grade students and have noticed that they lack basic spelling skills, as well. In both settings when I have refused to help a student with words that they should know how to spell, they informed me that their teacher would either spell it for them or if they were on the computer, spell check would have caught it.

As an editor, I have gotten several submitted works that had many spelling and grammatical errors that could have been eliminated through a small amount of proofreading and double checking the correct spelling of some words against a dictionary.

So when is the use of spell check appropriate? I have become a firm believer that students need to be encouraged to become less dependent on spell check. If the students really want to know how to spell a word, they have two old school choices: they can sound it out to the best of their ability or they could use the old fashioned spell checker: the dictionary. If they really do not know how to spell it, they may ask the teacher or a classmate that may know how to spell the word.

As for adults, I suggest that if you are unsure of how a word is spelled, that you try to sound it out, as it is more likely to stick in your mind. If you cannot figure how to spell a word after that point, look it up in a dictionary or, as a last resort, use the spell checker.

However, be warned that spell check is not always correct. It does get words wrong. Even when you have used spell check, do not assume that it selected the correct word. You should still use a dictionary or a thesarus to check on the spelling. This practice helps the word to stick in your mind. Be sure to proofread your work and make sure that your sentences make sense and that you have said you wanted to say.

I will leave you with this thought: an excellent professor I had in college once told me that if you can read your work backwords, so that you are reading the last sentence first and your work makes sense all the way through to the beginning, then you have written something well.


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