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Spelling issues

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Hello! I am writing about something that has become more noticeable and frustrating to me since the start of this school year (I noticed it last year too, though). My ds is in 4th grade. He always does great on spelling "tests," but his natural spelling ability seems terrible to me! He is a great reader, and I assumed his spelling would be better because he is seeing the same words over and over while he is reading. That is how I remember learning to spell, by remembering how the words "looked," more or less. I am not talking about him misspelling complex words; I am talking about misspelling what I would consider everyday, frequently used words. However, I can cut him some slack for that, b/c not everyone is a great speller...But what is especially frustrating to me is that he will misspell words on a worksheet for school when the words are right in front of him in a book or in a word bank...When he misspells words that he could easily spell correctly if he copied them correctly, I think he is just rushing and not giving enough effort or focus. However, could it be something else?? (Also does not always read directions thoroughly, will sometimes not do the second part of a two-part question because he just read the first part and skipped to the next, etc.) I am getting tired of his m.o. of finishing things quickly and sloppily.  I see it only getting worse as he gets older b/c it seems to show a lack of attention to detail. Also issues with writing things down on his planner (planner is required by school, they are responsible for writing down their own assignments and bringing everything home that they need to...not everything is written down, not everything is brought home). Is this bothering me more than it should? I feel like he is so smart, but when you look at the sloppy, misspelled, rushed-through work, does it come across?

post #2 of 10
Misspelling a word when copying indicates a weakness in his visual memory. So if you are counting on finding spelling mistakes based on how a word looks, then this approach isn't going to work real well for him.

My DD kinda fell apart in 4th grade with
Copying errors (both spelling and math problem statements)
Inability to come up with anything to write in a loosely structured assignment
Lack of any grammer when writing (capitalization, punctuation, runon sentences)
Awful handwriting (often leading to misreading her own handwriting and compounding errors)
45-60 minutes a night of crying
She started saying things like "it's not good to ask questions in a subject where you're smart"
Few friends, and notably socially immature.

Despite that, she'd not been less than 2 grade levels above level in reading since midway through kindergarten (teachers would cap reading assessments to the end of the grade level or above), flew into gifted placement, and had a double acceleration in math.

I took her for a full neuropsych exam, worried about something like stealth dyslexia or dysgraphia, as well as depression or anxiety.

Through differential performance (difference between verbal IQ and spelling, writing, and phenomic awareness), she was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia. Along with that, she tested as having a strong auditory memory but weak visual memory (despite, oddly, very high perceptual reasoning), anxiety, low self-esteem, face blindness, and sensory processing disorder.

The school did their own testing to complement this, and came out with additional information that she couldn't segment words into their component sounds. She tested at k.2 level in that skill. They also did a proper reading test to her level, and found that her reading level was at an end of high school level.

Only because the district is under state supervision for major violations in disability identification and services did we get and IEP.

DD went through all of OG in 4months, raising her spelling from a bit below grade level to a high school level at the start of 5th grade. When I contacted the neuropsych for advice on stopping services (my concern was in losing gains because they were made almost too quickly) he could find no research on any kid remediated that fast. He contacted the Eides, who were also unfamiliar with remediation that happened that fast.

Here's my hypothesis:
DD is not neurologically dyslexic.
She learned to read (from no interest to >4th grade level) in less than 6weeks at the start of kindergarten
DD tends to tune out any instruction she thinks she knows
DD tuned out all group phonics instruction - all based on examples she just knew- from late kindergarten through second grade (after which only the "low" groups are getting instruction)
Her weak visual memory together with not actually knowing any of the rules made spelling fall apart, and anxiety and perfectionism made her freeze up in writing. She reads so fast that she goes from text to meaning without "hearing" the words so that she gained no sense of how sentences ought to be constructed. Being young for grade together with an extreme difficulty in recognizing her peers left her way behind in social development. Not recognizing peers, and having greater content knowledge in science than the classroom teacher( who didn't respond well) went a long way to worsening both anxiety and self-esteem.
She required direct instruction on the function of the English language. She also required structured assignments to help relieve the perfectionism and anxiety together with CBT. She was also placed with a 5th grade classroom teacher who had a strong content knowledge, had gifted certification, and most importantly, has her own PG kids.

I'm not suggesting that any of this is going on with your son, but I'm putting out there what we experienced to see if any of it seems to ring a bell.
post #3 of 10

I would be careful to label it laziness or rushing.


Just based on my own difficulties- I struggled to write, spell, and formulate cohesive essays. Though I have an excellent vocabulary and am a strong reader. I did not learn true 'phonics' until I have to learn how to teach it in college. 


I did testing as a young teen to help figure out why I struggled to write/memorize classwork when my personal drive to do well was high. Testing showed a 50-60 point spread between my ability and current level of functioning in written language. Ouch. Found out I have poor auditory skills & working memory skills and an average processing speed. Combined with a high IQ- no wonder I found school frustrating and often seemed disorganized.


That said, I learned a lot of good modifications/techniques that enabled me to graduate with high honors from both HS & college. But it was not easy. At all. I struggled to know that I *knew* something but just could not get it down in written format and/or that I needed time to think and do visual cues to memorize material. I am glad that I did not know my #s (IQ or achievement testing) until I was an adult because I would have felt more pressure to do well. FWIW: my brother has a very similar IQ, but sailed through school and can easily memorize (almost photogenic).


Long story short : GT does not always translate into *do well in school* or school comes easy.


Your DS may be having some executive functioning (organizational?) weaknesses, or a written language weakness. It is worth a look into to see if he could benefit from some remediation or support.

post #4 of 10

Your DS may not know whether he is having executive functioning issues. I think of it as being like wearing glasses--most people I know who get new glasses for the first time are stunned to see all the separate leaves on trees, because they didn't know they were supposed to see them, didn't know that their own perceptions were not typical--except that neuro stuff is perhaps even less obvious. Especially if the school has been focused on motivation and behavior rather than skill and compensating technique, he has probably learned to see it as not trying, or as laziness, even if there is another component.


For spelling specifically, I can't say enough wonderful things about The Logic of English by the Eides, particularly for an analytical learner. For reading and then later on for spelling, my DS needed formal scaffolding to understand the language as a system rather than isolated, contradictory pieces. We went through the program this summer, and the change in his spelling and in his confidence has been fantastic.


Your DS getting words correct on an isolated test but making mistakes on the same kind of words does make me wonder if the pieces are not being put together into a coherent whole.


(There may be other great programs out there; I looked at a number, and this one struck me as being much smarter and more thoughtful and more trusting of students as worthy of being taught the actual ideas than anything else *I* had seen, while still explaining clearly enough that non-linguists could understand. Reading it, I got the feeling that it was written by people who like language and who think the rules of English spelling make sense, which is not the impression I get from most curricula. I got the teacher's manual as a download, which was not inexpensive, but is one of the single best homeschool buys I have ever made.)



post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thanks to all for the replies! Very interesting. His memory is really, really good. One of the things that first stood out to me about him is that he would memorize the language of long books from hearing me read them before he could read. He can also memorize spelling words and other subject matter easily...Reading & math abilities strong...It is primarily the written output and the "natural" ability to spell where he seems to struggle...punctuation not really strong either...And no, he is not really organized, either.  Hhhmmm...The Logic of English sounds great!

post #6 of 10

My 8 year old is very similar to your child. He gets 100% on all his spelling tests (good memory) but when prompted to spell words he has not studied before falls apart. I had him tested last spring and the psychologist choked all his writing (he cannot stand it and does very poorly at it both in terms of content and execution) issues to anxiety. We managed to get a 504 for anxiety that later a psychiatrist attributed to LD, but I could not believe that the psychologist thought it was normal for a child off the charts in verbal ability to be in the 25th percentile for writing. I need to repeat testing to get the diagnosis of dyslexia--my son fits all the symptoms that gifted children exhibit.


My son also has weak visual memory and we are currently doing vision therapy. He was very slow to learn how to read but can actually read above grade level now, mostly using contextual queues. I did 3 phonics curricula with him and it seems he has not retained much from them.


DS is off the charts in auditory memory and all his teachers have said that if he could do school orally, he would be the star student. Presently he is pretty average except in science, where he knows ways more than any elementary teacher... It is very frustrating to watch my child struggle!

post #7 of 10
Dessismama, has your son taken a CTOPP or DIBELS test?

When you say that his writing is 25th percentile, is that from something like a WIAT or WJ-ach? The diagnositic criteria for a disorder of written expression (DSM version of dysgraphia) includes a split between the VIQ and the associated writing achievement score. A reading disability (likewise the DSM term for dyslexia) is the split between VIQ and phonological processing, most closely tested by something like a CTOPP.

Have you presented the scores to the school? 25th percentile isn't low enough for an average child to get services, but we were lucky enough in how our school chose to interpret the wording of IDEA to give DD services. Alternatively, I'm wondering if you can find someone local who understands gifted+LD to do a chart review for your son?

A child who compensates for a LD can certainly experience significant anxiety in the mix. The anxiety can start to take over and (sadly) make the disabilities come out more as the child falls further behind. It would be wise to distinguish the scores that are due to a LD and those due to anxiety asap.
post #8 of 10

Yes, it was WIAT. I am still upset since I spent a lot of money on the testing and they did the short version of WISC/WIAT and he scored at 140 for overall IQ, with significant scatter among different sub-tests. He absolutely bombed the task of reproducing a three dimensional shape, for example, while being off the charts in verbal ability. It is very true about the anxiety, it is back full-force, and this is with extra time he gets to do his writing and math at school.


Yes, I presented the scores to the school and here in MA they do not care if a child is gifted and struggling, as long as that child is passing. My son is doing average work, but hates school, cries often, and begs me to homeschool him (I cannot until he is 12 since both DH and I work full time and I am already homeschooling my 14 year old)...


I definitely need to get him tested with the tests you are suggesting. I have found a person specializing in EE children, it is a matter of saving the money to do it. If he does get the diagnosis of dyslexia or whatever learning disability he has, we will be able to get him an IEP and some specialized instruction that will help down the road.

post #9 of 10
Originally Posted by dessismama View Post

I definitely need to get him tested with the tests you are suggesting. I have found a person specializing in EE children, it is a matter of saving the money to do it. If he does get the diagnosis of dyslexia or whatever learning disability he has, we will be able to get him an IEP and some specialized instruction that will help down the road.

Groan.  Sorry the previous person did a half job.


If I were in your place, I'd show the scores you have to the EE person and ask for feedback.  Knowing there are gaps in the testing, it will be impossible to get a diagnosis based on that testing from this person, but it should help this person zero in on what additional testing might be necessary.


For a poor visual memory, we found the NEPSY to be very informative as well.  If you discuss this with the tester, you might ask if it might be warranted.


Also, insurance sometimes covers this testing when there's an established need.  My insurance covered it because of the anxiety diagnosis.


Getting a diagnosis from a psychologist and qualifying for an IEP are two independent steps.  An IEP only comes when there is a demonstrated educational need.  If your school district (and these decisions can be made on a very local level) chooses to interpret academic failure as the only point of qualification, then it doesn't matter how much evidence you bring in from a psychologist, your child won't qualify.  If that's the case in your district, I'd urge you to find an educational advocate who knows your local school and the administrators involved.  These people can smooth the waters significantly, either to make the IEP happen, or at the minimum to place your child on a 504 for the anxiety with academic accommodations that recognize the underlying triggers for anxiety, which would be the dyslexia.


Good luck.  It's a hard road.

post #10 of 10
Originally Posted by dessismama View Post

 I had him tested last spring and the psychologist choked all his writing (he cannot stand it and does very poorly at it both in terms of content and execution) issues to anxiety. We managed to get a 504 for anxiety that later a psychiatrist attributed to LD, but I could not believe that the psychologist thought it was normal for a child off the charts in verbal ability to be in the 25th percentile for writing.

Never mind, I see you already have a 504.


What's your relationship with the teacher like so far?   A lot of these issues come down to having the teacher fully on board.  Informal accommodations and structure we've found is the biggest part of making progress in my difficult-to-put-in-a-box kids.


Here's what's helped for my kids in terms of content of writing + anxiety:

We gave highly structured assignments.  Paragraphs are exactly 5 sentences long.  It's formulaic.  You give the child a topic.  The child is never asked to come up with a topic (no free write)  You write 2-3 words to denote each of 3 details (exactly 3 details.  Not 2.  Not 4.)  The paragraph is then a topic sentence that states what the paragraph will be about.  It can be as simple as restating the assigned topic.  Then you make sentences out of each of the three topics.  Then you close with a restating of the first sentence.


Each of my kids did this 3 times a week with a tutor in the summer.  They hated it.  However, in both cases it broke the biggest part of the log jam, and real writing progress was finally made only AFTER that tutor sat down with the new classroom teacher and presented the evidence for how it worked for my kids (showing beginning and end of the summer samples).  We now have as accommodation in DD's IEP for highly structured assignments with clear grading rubrics and time to spend on writing planning.  In essence these are solid practices for any child, and so having the teacher do this actually helps everyone.


Once there are words on the page, then a teacher can help with sentence structure and the editing process.  There's not much to work on when there's nothing on the page!  Getting those words down was the first step.

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