Do Riggs Students Use "Temporary" ("Phonetic") Spelling?

I recently read the following advice on a kindergarten teacher’s website:

As your child brings home writing for the first time, do not be surprised at the spelling. The English language is confusing to children. Premature insistence that students use standardized or “correct” spelling inhibits their desire and ability to write. We will use “temporary spelling” in our work.

This seems to be standard advice in today’s educational environment--standard doctrine. Does the Riggs Institute agree with it? Do Riggs teachers approve of such advice? Do Riggs students go home with papers that contain incorrectly spelled words? Do Riggs students use “temporary spelling”?

No.

Absolutely not.

Since the Riggs Institute’s program is a finely-sequenced, classical method of instruction, Riggs students have no need for such spellings. Like their forefathers in early America, Riggs teachers:

  • Teach the subject matter of English in a time-tested and orderly way.
  • Believe in their students’ ability to master the material.

The word “orderly” is operational here. Riggs students are not asked to write paragraphs, stories, reflection pieces, and journal entries before they have mastered the mechanics of spelling and sentence writing; therefore, Riggs students never have a need to invent their own spelling. And they are never encouraged to do so. Here’s why:

Writing is an extremely powerful activity. When a child writes, the action of writing creates a motor-memory. If the writing is a correctly-spelled version of the spoken word the child wished to encode, all is well: the created motor-memory, or engram, will be one that is useful in identifying the word in future encounters. However, if the child misspells his word, the motor-memory cannot be used for that task. 

Writing is such a powerful activity that incorrectly spelled words have a negative educational value. They clutter the brain with false information. As the brain becomes cluttered with "temporary" spellings, the ability to recall correct spellings becomes diminished. This is not good. For these and other reasons, Riggs students do not use “temporary” or "phonetic" (formerly called “inventive” or "developmental") spelling. They study phonetics.

Riggs classrooms are places in which students are helped to build skill on skill and success on success. Instead of pretending that they are writers from day one, students spend their initial writing time learning how to write correctly formed letters, step-by-step. Then they spend that block of time practicing this skill as they learn the multi-letter spelling patterns that are most commonly used to represent speech sounds. (Notice that they use the first skill to help them learn the next one.).

After this, Riggs students learn to write correctly-spelled common English words (using known spelling patterns--the Riggs phonograms), then they start using these same words in correctly written sentences. As they continue to learn the spellings of words, their sentences quickly become longer and more interesting. If they can’t yet spell a word that they’d like to use, they are encouraged to skip it (drawing an underline to hold the place) so that they can continue to write. During editing time, they can get help with the spelling of that word (and enter it into their personal writing dictionaries) before writing the next draft. (For Riggs students, there is no such thing as a first-and-only draft, so students are used to having to rewrite a piece until it is excellent.) Riggs teachers keep things simple and orderly (and emotionally safe) for their students. They do not set their students up for failure. They do not ask them to run before they can walk.

Riggs teachers:

  • Teach letter formation explicitly
  • Teach graphemes (symbols) with phonemes (sounds)
  • Teach spelling with rules
  • Teach sentence building with rules
  • Teach sentence structure with rules (and diagrams)
  • Sequence instruction appropriately

Riggs teachers don’t rush their students. They never ask them to do what they have not yet taught them to do correctly:

  • They are aware of the importance of preventing failure.
  • They are careful not to create incorrect brain engrams.

Riggs teachers tell students the truth about how brains function, encouraging them to understand that the brain is like a very hungry animal: It’s always looking for food, and it has extremely low standards. Since it will learn whatever is set before it, not caring if the thing is true or false (our brains lack wisdom), the brain depends on us to "feed" it with only correct information.

Instead of encouraging students to use temporary spellings and sending them home with illegible texts and the kind of “advice to parents” that is found at the top of this article, Riggs teachers stick to the tried-and-true way of teaching skill upon skill. They have a growth mindset. They take things one day at a time, and they help their students (and parents) understand that “practice makes permanent." Riggs teachers teach their students how to practice correctly.

Since the use of standard spelling increases the ability to read standard book print while the use of “temporary spelling” may lead to developmental dyslexia and dysgraphia, Riggs teachers teach children how to spell words "correctly," and Riggs teachers accept only standard spelling. 

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