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Why do some students find writing and spelling so difficult?

September 29, 2015

If a student can learn to read well, we expect that they will also be able to spell and write effectively. For many students, this is not the case. Why?

Spelling is more difficult than reading

With good phonics-based instruction, most students learn to read words quickly and automatically. They learn that written letters and combinations of letters make certain sounds, and can use that knowledge to read a range of words they have never seen before.

Spelling is a much more difficult task. To spell, students first need to be able to hear the sounds within words and match these sounds to the correct letters. For some students with auditory processing speed difficulties, this can be very difficult, particularly when two consonants are together; where there are two sounds, like the ‘st’ in ‘star’, the student may only hear one of those sounds because their brain just can’t ‘listen’ fast enough.

When there are multiple letters and letter combinations to choose from, the task becomes more difficult. Students are required to apply spelling rules or memory techniques to select the correct letters. That’s a lot to do at once!

Writing is a complex process

Spelling aside, to write organised, understandable text, students must not only have good oral language, but must also hold the concepts, vocabulary, and grammatical form of sentences and paragraphs in working memory. It takes a lot of brain power to coordinate and order all the processes involved in writing! Many students who struggle with spelling and writing lack these cognitive skills.

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