Thursday, August 15, 2013

Spelling, punctuation, and the young writer

My 6-year-old son is an obsessive little writer. When we went to Cape May for a week this summer, and didn’t have a whole lot of paper or notebooks with us, he wrote stories on napkins. When he’d run through all our paper napkins, he moved on to the paper towels.

Mostly he’s been writing Magic Tree House fan fiction -- stories incorporating Jack and Annie as main characters, with some of the same conventions (they go to the tree house first every time, and it spins faster and faster, until “everything was still. Absolutely still.”)

It’s all very cute and fun, and I’ve mostly been like “that’s great, sweetie.” But on all of these books, he writes “Majic” Tree House. He’s seen dozens of the real books and has read this word many times, but still writes it as “majic.” So the question I’ve been pondering is whether it’s helpful or not helpful to bring up such matters as spelling, grammar, and punctuation with the young writer.

Part of me says no, I don’t want to in any way second guess his creativity. He’s having fun. He’s writing purely for the joy of it. Writing is play for him and I’m in no hurry for him to think otherwise.

But another part of me says that I’m bringing negative baggage to spelling and grammar and such that isn’t inherent in these things. I wish I’d had the finer points of grammar introduced to me far earlier. I also love the growth mindset inherent in writing a draft and then making it better. My son writes a story and then abandons it, rather than going back and doing it again and making it better and thinking about how he can improve it. That’s probably the part of writing I like best -- taking a rough draft and experiencing the joy of progress as I see myself making it better.

So, those are the two sides of this argument. What do you think? It occurs to me that I could let him type some of his stories and he'd see the indication in a Word document that something was spelled wrong.


Anonymous said...

Does he ask you for feedback or to read his stories? Because if he doesn't, then he's clearly writing just for himself and should be left to it. However if he's asking for input, I'd simply pose the question back to him "do you want feedback on the writing mechanics or just the story?" And if he's open to feedback, then have a light hand. Maybe just note some of the misspellings or obvious punctuation errors (every sentence needs to end with a period, question mark, or explanation point) and leave the rest. If he needs a reason, make it clear that it's about readers being able to parse the story easily, which will make them enjoy it more.

If you want to encourage revision, I'd ask questions about the story that might make him want to go back and fill in pieces "what happens to so-and-so, you never explained that part in the story?" But don't force it. Every first draft is still a learning experience.

He's obviously a very advanced writer, but he's also still a young child. Probably as he gets older, his mistakes will start to bug him more and he'll want to try to go back and make things better. But he won't if he stops writing because people keep nit picking his stuff.

I was a terrible speller until adulthood (hurrah for computer spell check) and it made me paranoid to write because people would care more about the spelling than the writing. Since that time, I've published a book, so I think I've gotten over it, but it took a lot of time.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I'd say to go with what he wants. Definitely correct school stuff, as that's work. But with hobbies, let it be up to him.

Looks like I agree with Anonymous above!

Btw, my son doesn't mind having his spelling corrected at all, even though he generally has strong perfectionist tendencies. It doesn't seem to be a big deal. But who knows, it might be for some kids.

Natalie F said...

You are lucky! My daughter (also 6 but she is entering second grade) is obsessed with spelling to the point it prevents her from writing. I remember reading a book (I think it was Raising Lifelong Learners) that very emphatically cautioned against early spell checks. It is supposed to come on its own in a year or two, and I already see it developing here, but I wish now I were not as "helpful" with my proof reading in the past.

Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy said...

One of my mentors is an educator (with a PhD, no less). She says at this age, creative writing and spelling use entirely different parts of the brain, and it's not unusual even for kids who are wonderful spellers to spell atrociously when they're writing creatively. I've taken this to heart, and never correct my kids' spelling since they're all 10 and under.

Of course, if they ask me how to spell something, I spell it for them. But I won't correct their spelling in their creative pieces for a few years.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I'm not convinced by the education research that says it is harmful to correct spelling, especially when talking about gifted kids. Most of it is theory-- educators saying they think it is probably bad. Some of it is badly designed. Some of it is on college students rather than on children. I don't actually know of any of it done on gifted children. In addition, none of it takes into account mindset theory or changes over time. (As in, you may feel worse at first starting something new, but after you master it you feel true pride.)

My son's parochial school starts spelling in kindergarten and starts correcting it at that time and we've never had a problem. He's more worried about getting the creative writing prompt "wrong" than spelling a word wrong. They don't get points taken off for spelling, but it does get corrected.

I remember when I was a kid how absolutely annoyed I was that my teachers had allowed me to continue to misspell words because not correcting spelling was part of the self-esteem movement. I imagine that in school work, not correcting actually helps to further a fixed mindset rather than encouraging a growth mindset. We should *want* to be corrected with our work so that our work is better.

Hobbies, however, aren't work. That's why our blog posts (and comments) aren't as polished as they would be if we were getting paid to do them.

Karen D. said...

If your son is fine with it and not asking how to spell "magic", I would not criticize his creative process. However, I would like to add a comment about spelling and gifted kids. My son is highly gifted but was struggling in reading. His analytical brain could not make sense of incomplete reading and spelling rules being taught in school. He was being taught to write using invented spelling. The teachers would not tell him how to spell a word correctly, which was frustrating to him. His invented spelling of words stuck with him even when he was taught to spell the word correctly during weekly spelling tests (and spelling the word correctly on the test). When I started homeschooling him last year, I used a program called Spell to Write and Read. I have seen fantastic progress. He has also expressed to me how frustrating it was not to know the rules of spelling before now. We took a break from formal writing until some of these spelling rules could be learned. Now his writing has vastly improved.

For gifted children, I believe invented spelling is only ok when the child does not ask how to spell a word. They are experimenting with how the letters work together. I do, however, believe children should be taught the correct spelling rules from early on, which some/most adults do not even know. It greatly reduced my son's frustration. It drove him crazy to be told, "When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking." This only occurs 27% of the time. He would give the teacher examples of when it did not work (never works with au, eau, eu, oi, oy, ui) Now with Spell to Write and Read, he has the rules and can apply them when needed. I can assist him in spelling words when he needs.

Sorry for the rambling, but I think invented spelling versus teaching spelling needs to be discussed in educational circles a great deal more, especially in respect to gifted children.

Anonymous said...

I would tell my young children "I'm proud of you for sounding out that word. Do you want to know the school way of spelling it? ---Isn't it funny that they used a g when it's making a /j/ sound?"
This gives them both the gratification that they did something good, as well as a nudge in the "right" direction.