Recently, I was thinking about Luke's last school teacher, just before he left 2nd grade, telling me about new research that showed kids retain spelling better when they memorize it properly the first time, kind of the direct opposite of inventive spelling.
At the time, I thought only of making Luke's school life a little easier, by stopping the memorization of 'sight' words. He was supposed to have memorized about 100 of these by the end of 1st grade, and the pressure on him to 'practice these every night' and have them committed to memory was making him sick - really, really sick. We're talking night terrors at least 5 nights out of each week, migraine headaches, and weight loss - Luke lost 20% of his body weight in 1st grade. By the time his problems started up again in fall of 2nd grade, after taking the summer off, I didn't care so much about how many sight words he had memorized, I just wanted him to stop feeling bad.
But, because his teacher had this new research, I put aside my education, all I was taught about how kids learn in many different ways, everything I had experienced in learning to write myself - I used inventive spelling until at least 3rd grade, and I'm one of the best spellers I know - and allowed her to persuade me that this decision about my son's learning was for the best.
Needless to say, it was the wrong decision. And now, happily, we've rectified it.
What matters more than children's ability to spell each word properly is fostering their creative spark, the one that will get them interested in lifelong writing and reading. As a homeschooler, Luke reads voraciously, and spelling doesn't hinder him from reading books, graphs, selected Newsweek and newspaper articles, even books written for adults. (A fact that I'm sure confounds teachers everywhere - how can an 8 year-old kid read at a high school level, but be unable to spell!)
Recently I decided to look up this research and see it for myself. Here is what I found: an article which 'critiques' inventive spelling. My reading of it gives only one valid (from the author's point of view, anyway) criticism, that teachers do not have enough time in the day to decode children's inventive spelling. And, my thought on that is: some things you just can't rush, and one of them is written communication.
But what really galls me is the author's position that there is only one method by which children will learn to spell, and write, correctly, and this is phonics. He puts the fear of God into parents that should their children be exposed to "Whole Language" (in quotes, of course, like any radically ludicrous idea) they will suffer from an inability to write or spell, pretty much ever.
Next, I wandered down to the bottom of the page and clicked the 'home' link; it brought me here, to the home of The National Right to Read Foundation. And, hey ho, guess what they're selling? Yep, phonics stuff. Their mission statement reads, in part, "Explicit and systematic instruction in phonics is a non-negotiable component of comprehensive reading instruction." The italics are theirs, showing how very much they want to drive home this point.
Now, I can see the value of some phonics instruction, for some kids. But to state that phonics is non-negotiable, even for kids (like mine) who learn, as it were, by osmosis, that statement is a death sentence: learn these rules, or you'll never learn to read. It's simply not true, as many thousands of kids are learning the hard way.
Why not expose kids to both phonics and whole language? That way, if they learn better one way than the other, at least they'll still learn. Kids don't need to memorize sight words to read, and Luke is a living example of this.
As a wise yoga instructor I know says, "Take what you need, and leave the rest."