Too many children go through school with the idea that they’re “no good” at spelling. It’s an attitude fostered by poor teaching technique.
Besides using faulty techniques to teach spelling, many teachers broadcast their own view that English spelling is hopelessly chaotic and that no one can be expected to master it.
In addition, the invention of spelling software has led to the mistaken notion that learning to spell common words is no longer necessary.
One way to head off spelling failure is to make sure that your child begins school with some spelling information already in place. The beginning reader who possesses the information needed to write and read words like cat, mop, red, six, and nut has a fighting chance to approach new words with the understanding that letters are supposed to represent sounds.
Standard classroom practice is to teach beginning readers the 220 words of the Dolch List by sight and shape. For this reason, parents are advised to teach their children to spell and read as many of the words on that list as possible before they begin school. The words can be taught in “phonetic progression,” that is, not in alphabetical order, but in the order in which various letter combinations are introduced. Full instructions can be found elsewhere on this site.
Parents of older children can supervise their spelling homework. Have the child analyze each word according to the letters in it. Distinguish sounds represented by single letters from those represented by letter combinations. Identify any truly nonphonetic elements and make up a memorable “spelling pronunciation” to fix the oddity in mind.
In addition to helping the child study spelling lists, look at graded papers. Note any misspelled words and have the child write each misspelled word correctly three times. Do this for every assignment on which any words are misspelled.
Basic literacy includes the ability to spell the words we commonly use. Dictionaries are for looking up unfamiliar spellings.