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A Bad Speller

Vince ponders what to do about his son's bad spelling.

My youngest child struggles with spelling.

And by struggles with spelling, I mean that he can’t spell to save his life.

Ask him to pronounce or define a word and he does so without trouble. Ask him to spell the same word and he’ll give you a deer caught in the headlights look.

My son has a wonderful vocabulary. Not that he can spell vocabulary.

His inability to spell has always been baffling. He’s an avid reader, spending 20-30 hours a week (more when school’s not in session) reading novels, comics, science books, newspapers, and magazines

He understands grammar. He always does well on the STAR and SCAT tests. He’s a gifted learner. But when it comes to spelling, he is flat out awful.

My son has always worked at becoming a better speller, but so far his efforts have not been rewarded. If effort was all it took to become a great speller, then my son would be as good a speller as his older brother.

When we lived in Colorado, my oldest represented his middle school at the district-wide spelling bee. With my youngest, I never pushed for him to follow the same path.

But I did expect, however, that he would write papers where the words were legible and spelling mistakes were easy to decipher. But that has never been the case with my youngest child.

Sometimes he’ll go back to read what he has written and say, “I’m not sure what this is. Can you tell me what I wrote?”

I would have an easier time deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics without the Rosetta stone than trying to figure out some of spelling errors my son makes.

As we neared the start of this school year, my wife and I hoped (and prayed) that our son’s spelling troubles wouldn’t follow him to middle school. We felt that the work he did over the summer would help him have the breakthrough he deserves.

But as each week of school passed, it became more apparent that his breakthrough was still off on the horizon.

“How is it possible for him to read above grade level, but struggle with spelling the way he does?” my wife asked me as she looked at another mediocre spelling test score.

“I have no idea,” I said.

As always, we were supportive of our son. We not only urged him to do his best, we provided assistance in helping him study his weekly spelling words.

But when the mediocre scores persisted, my wife turned to me and said, “Our son needs you to help him, Vince. He needs the old you.”

“Are you asking for the return of crazy daddy?” I asked my wife.

“Not a full return. Maybe just crazy enough to raise his spelling scores,” my wife said.

Before I learned to trust my kids and allow them to chart their own paths, I was what my wife called crazy daddy.

Every single thing we did was an opportunity for my kids to learn. You know you’re being a little too didactic when your toddlers roll their eyes at you. I had that happen a lot.

So, crazy daddy came back, albeit on a part time basis. And crazy daddy got results. My son’s most recent spelling test saw him spell 19 of his 20 words correctly. We celebrated his accomplishment. But the celebration was short lived. After all, we had to study next week’s words.

But I realized I’m no longer crazy daddy. I had to admit this much when I found myself searching the Internet for professionals who say they are horrible spellers.

“Here’s a physicist who says he has something called Dysgraphia,” I said to my wife. “Sounds just like our son.”

We read about Dysgraphia and had to marvel at how the symptoms for this disability sound so much like what we’ve experienced with our son.

“What do we do with this information?” I asked my wife.

“I don’t know,” she said.        

We’re at a bit of a crossroads as parents. Do we have our son tested and diagnosed? Or, do I keep bringing crazy daddy out each week until our son heads off to college?

Only time will tell which path we travel.

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