Dyslexia: Spelling Goals Gone Wild

Spelling goals in IEPs are usually so poorly written I have to read them more than once to even begin to understand them.

Spelling Goals Gone Wild - Dyslexia Training Institute

Goals are the heart of an IEP. They describe the skills the team has agreed that the student will learn or improve during the year. The quality of the goals are the best evidence you have as to whether or not the person writing the goals (who is usually the person implementing the goal) has a solid understanding of the skill described in the goal.

When it comes to spelling, poorly written goals are the norm which is evidence that those teaching spelling either do not fully understand it or do not fully believe in its importance.

The bottom line is that poorly written goals waste the precious time of students who are struggling – and believe me, students know when something isn’t working. Before we look at some real spelling goals, let’s take a moment to understand why spelling is important to teach and to understand.

Why Spelling Matters

First, spelling matters in a person’s life. Just ask any adult who has struggled with spelling during their lifetime. It leads to embarrassing situations, holds them back from spelling words they can use in their spoken vocabulary which masks their intellect and spelling difficulty is incredibly frustrating.

Second, teaching a student why words are spelled the way they are simultaneously teaches them why a word is pronounced the way it is which also leads to improved reading and vocabulary, but more importantly, shows them they can learn which improves self-confidence.

The ubiquitous message that English is crazy and we just have to memorize all the ‘sight’ words only sends the message that it isn’t even worth trying.  And trust me, that is the message they receive and then they are told to ‘try harder’  – do you see the vicious cycle?

Dyslexia and spelling goals: Are your IEP spelling goals all they should be?

Spelling Goals for Students

Third Grade Goal

Let’s take a look at a goal for a third grader:

When given visual spelling supports (such as phonics cards or a personal spelling dictionary), Jack will spell words containing long vowel patterns and other vowel patterns correctly, or will correct misspelled words with one teacher reminder…

Ok, this is one loooong sentence, so let’s take it piece by piece.

First, the ‘visual spelling supports’ listed in this goal are actually accommodations. Accommodations are entirely necessary, but goals are the skills the student is supposed to learn while the student is receiving an intervention.

Second, which long vowel patterns is this goal referring to? There are several like the vowel-consonant-e (ex. take), vowel combinations like ee (feet) and ai (bait) and ay (bay), and ea (beat) and on and on. Then it goes on to state he will spell “other vowel patterns”, well that just leaves it up to the universe to decide which of the many vowel patterns Jack will ‘learn’ or learn to look up based on use of ‘supports.’

Here’s the kicker, if a student misspells a word, they almost always know they have misspelled it, if they could spell it correctly or correct it on their own, they would…a ‘teacher reminder’ will not help and that is not teaching.

Most adults with dyslexia will tell you that they cannot spot their own spelling mistakes and looking them up is not a productive activity.

Dyslexia and Spelling Goals in the IEP

Second Grade Goal

Here’s one more for a second grade student:

With fading adult support and the use of a personalized student dictionary, Kristen will revise a piece of classroom writing to edit sight word spelling and CVC spelling…

Again, ‘adult support’, which I am assuming is the support of a teacher, and a student dictionary are accommodations not instruction. So, this goal suggests that spelling will be learned by editing something written during class time, which is fine. But then it goes on put all the onus on the child, the struggling and frustrated child, to find the misspelled words in the first place and probably in a limited amount of time.

Additionally, it requires the student to find the ‘sight words’ and only words misspelled that are ‘CVC’ words…if the student is only going to learn the CVC words in second grade then this goal is setting the bar pretty low.

What Are Good Spelling Goals?

I know there are only two goals here, but trust me, there are 100s of spelling goals written just like this. A good spelling goal will emphasize what exactly it is about spelling that the student will learn, not what they will identify or correct with the use of accommodations. For example, a spelling goal might state:

When presented with a list of complex grade-level words Jasmine will identify and spell the bases and affixes that build the words (and related words) with 90% accuracy.

Spelling goals are instructional goals, and not accommodations.

The accommodations are so important they have their own page on an IEP or 504 or other official school document. Do not blow off the spelling goal or the teaching of spelling. Learning to spell can mean that when a dyslexic child becomes a dyslexic adult (which they invariably do), they will be less likely to fear being ‘found out’ or humiliated or hold themselves back from opportunities that might reveal their spelling problems.

So, take care of your goals. Water them. Nourish them. They are the seeds of the IEP.