spelling checker

A parent sends me a telegram yesterday.  Nothing like an angry-letter telegram on the first day back from the break. 

Deer Mr. Thompson,

I am worried about this whole "spelling checker program" you are using with my son.  I fear that it will make him lazy.  I saw how you underlined every mispelled word in red and gave him a dictionary to look up the proper way.  You even gave him the right suggestion won time.  I never had spell-check and I write real good.


Billy's Mom

A few thoughts on this letter:

First, if you are concerned about Billy becoming lazy, you might want to look at his effort in homework first.  The kid doesn't even bring his slate to school half the time. He's a sweet kid, but he struggles with motivation and is still convinced that he'll play on a barnstorming big league team someday. Who knows, maybe I'll someday see him play for the St. Louis Brown Stockings. Until then, I'm hoping he learns fractions.

Second, I have a few thoughts on the content. If you misspell the word "misspell" you might want to invest in a dictionary for your home.  If you mistake "deer" and "dear" and "one and won" then you might also want to learn homonyms and homophones.  Also, "good" is an adjective.  You don't "write real good" (and apparently you don't write really well either).

I mention this letter, because I think it's one of the biggest misconceptions of using documents with a spelling checker program.  If I underline a student's paper for mistakes, it's called instant feedback.  If that child has access to a dictionary, it's called a learning tool.  People may call it a crutch, but let's be honest, aren't crutches necessary if you're going to heal from a broken leg?

I send the mother a graph demonstrating how students have decreased in spelling mistakes due to the spelling checker on all of their pencil documents.  I also explain that I can de-activate the program.  It's less work for me and less red ink to waste underlining Billy's words, but I don't think it's beneficial for him.

His mother checked with the Writing Curriculum Coach (who, ironically is not much of a coach.  Not once has she blown a whistle and yelled kids who can't write) and the lady ignored the data.  Apparently, data is only useful when it supports the status quo.  According to the edu-crat, "spelling checker is dangerous because it gives children a false sense of security.  How will students do on the Caravan to the Top High Stakes Test where they are prohibited from using dictionaries?"

So, now I have another student refusing to use a dictionary because we live in a culture of fear that believes the best way to assess students is on drill-and-kill tests that do not reflect the realities of life. People tend to think of pencil integration as occurring in a social and cultural vacuum, but often the biggest divide to cross is one of paradigms.


  1. You've touched on another issue, intentionally or not, in education. The teacher has a red ink pen. What? Students are barely getting pencils and the teacher has a red ink pen?

    Typical of my classroom. I have an iMac on my desk. I have a MacBook that I travel with (granted, I wrote a grant for that). I have a document camera. I have IWB. None of this is related to student use. I need technology in the hands of and in front of the faces of my students.

    I'm loving this blog and look for updates in my RSS. Thank you for your creativity and inspiration.

  2. Not at all where I was going with this, but I like that perspective.