I received an e-mail from a regular reader yesterday who explained that her daughter had just graduated from high school and was about to start university in September — without the English grammar and spelling abilities one might expect — and wondered how she would survive university without those skills.
It was also explained to me that she, the mother, had asked her daughter’s high school teachers over the years about why her daughter wasn’t being taught distinct grammar and spelling. In response she was always told they, high school teachers, didn’t have to do that. That whatever spelling and grammar she learned as a distinct subject would have been done, or at least should have been done, at the elementary level. Since that didn’t seem to have happened, the mother asked for my recommendations.
First of all, you can’t start from scratch. You can’t go back to the junior grades once your son or daughter is eighteen. So, once your children graduate from high school with the required marks and credits to get accepted into a Canadian university, it is best to deal with where they are at right now.
As such, my first recommendation was that her daughter make sure she take part in her university’s orientation “essay” writing and related courses because some grammar and spelling would be included, if only in a contextual way.
Secondly, I recommended the family purchase a technological aid called the “Franklin Spelling Ace” (with prices ranging from $35.00 up to $150.00.), available at most tech stores such as Best Buy, Future Shop or the Source. There are other brands but I have found they don’t work nearly as well as the Franklin. The small phonetic spell checker is # SA-207A (half-way down the link’s page) and is also available on various Internet sites — just google “Franklin Spelling Ace.” (And, by the way, I unfortunately don’t have anything to do with Franklin Electronics.)
The Ace is completely phonetic and there is a more expensive version ($130.00 and up) that also has a “speaking” dictionary, so a student can make sure they have the right word, based on the meaning. The one I used when I taught university could be turned off when in the university library studying.
The simple palm sized Ace works as follows: Let’s say you want to find the word “physician,” all you have to do is type in how it sounds, “fizishun,” and bingo you’ve got the right word.
Now, back to high schools not having to teach grammar and spelling. As it turns out, Ontario’s high school English teachers SHOULD be teaching courses about those topics. For example, I paid a visit to the Ontario Ministry of Education website — and I assume other provincial departments are similar — and what I found were several English curriculum documents that are applicable.
Here is the link. I won’t repeat what is there but I recommend parents who have high school aged children, read what is there or check out your own provincial or territorial department of education. Because if you are being told that high schools don’t or are not required to teach grammar, that information would be wrong.
Funny also that when I taught university undergraduate courses I had a complete class on grammar and spelling strategies when writing research and related reports and/or essays. And, I always included !0% for presentation as part of each written assignment’s grade. With grammar and spell checkers on every word processing program available, there simply should be no excuses!
In other words, if students don’t have the requisite writing skills, they need to learn them in whatever way they can and if that means taking non-credit short length courses or using tech aids, then they need to do what is necessary.
However, that said. To both elementary and high school teachers: There should be no such thing as “it should have been taught earlier.” Every individual matures at a different level. If high school and university kids need some guidance in this regard, it is our responsibility as educators to see that they learn the skills needed in our society to be able to read and write effectively.
Afterall, isn’t literacy (reading and writing and all that involves) and numeracy what school is all about or should be all about?
Update: Thanks to the regular reader who provided the tip, here also is an excellent resource for checking at what level your young child is spelling. Plus it provides some tips and other related information.