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Researcher says spelling bee show may hurt children

A Charles Sturt University expert has questioned whether a spelling bee TV show could inhibit a child’s development.

Airing on Channel 10, The Great Australian Spelling Bee involves 52 children competing to be champion speller. Tessa Daffern, a PhD researcher at CSU’s Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education (RIPPLE), has expressed concerns that teaching strategies based on this new show may encourage educators to adopt rote learning.

“Friday spelling tests or spelling bees may be popular in many Australian schools but they encourage children to learn words in an isolated and decontextualised environment, often using rote learning techniques,” Daffern said. “Most children cannot meaningfully learn about words and spelling through rote learning.”

Instead, Daffern believes children should be encouraged to learn about the meaning and structure of words, rather than memorising their spelling. She also said educators should equip children with a repertoire of problem-solving strategies they can draw on to spell a difficult word.

Daffern’s research has also shown good spellers have strong orthographic sensitivity – meaning they can visually imagine words and deduce possible letter patterns. She wants to see what particular techniques will be used in this new show.

“I’ll be interested to see if the contestants are able to ask questions about the word to gather this information or if they are expected to rely only on their memory and being able to sound it out,” Daffern said. “It is likely that the contestants will be asked to spell words that they have never seen or heard before.”

Click to hear more from Tessa Daffern.

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