Friday, March 9, 2007

Spelling and Handwriting

Mina Shaughnessy might not have anticipated that parts of her book might become so outdated so quickly, but that seems to be the case with the "Handwriting" section and the "Spelling" portions of Errors and Expectations. With computers being in most homes across the country and most of those computers containing some sort of spell-checking device in their word processing program, the importance of these two chapters has shifted. I'm not saying that these two sections are no longer important, because the problems they seek to correct are not being corrected by computers and computer programs, they are simply taking the problem out of the hands of the teachers.
I recently got a new computer which automatically corrects words that are misspelled for me. I haven't liked it from the very beginning, since I like to know what words I've misspelled in order to learn how to properly spell them. I know that the process for me to turn off this function and just have the computer underline the offending text in squiggly red is a fairly simple one. But, I'm lazy, so the words I misspell are corrected right as I type. I continue making those mistakes in my spelling and I assume that every word I type is golden. I don't correct the problem, but my papers contain no spelling mistakes, allowing teachers to focus on my grammar, punctuation and argument rather than spelling and handwriting.
This is not to say that computers have covered up all of the problems Shaughnessy covers in her spelling chapters. Homophones (169) and certain instances of what she calls "failure to remember or see words" (172) will slide right under the radar of even the most astute spell-checking program.
My question, however, is that I don't know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Like I said before, computers are not correcting the spelling errors, they are merely ceasing to make them a problem for the printed document. Those problems remain in the writing of the students so that a person with deplorable spelling can get by with ignoring the problem and go through life without knowing how to properly spell receive, annoiance or asimilation. I don't know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I'd like to open this idea up to the class just to see what you all think.


bluegypsy said...

I think that spell check is a bad thing as far as this discussion goes. Not only does it become a crutch for students who are poor spellers, but it also often misguides them. I know I often have to tell my computer that the "mistake" I made is in fact exactly what I want. But if students are using this as a crutch and basically believing whatever the computer tells them, then sometimes they will simply exchange one mistake for another. How can this possibly be good for anyone!? Including those who would claim to be good spellers. I agree that I want to know when I make a mistake so I can begin to learn the right way to spell something. Anyway, there's always this dilemma with technology.

Amy said...

I agree with bluegypsy that spellcheck (and grammarcheck) lead writers astray too often, and this is especially true for basic writers and non-native speakers who assume the computer knows more than they do about the language.

I used to mistype a lot of words that MSWord would correct for me, but these days most of my typing is in text boxes like this one, so spellcheck often isn't available and autocorrect definitely isn't. So I'm more likely to get it right the first time.

Gabe Isackson said...

I'm with ya on the lazy thing, but I agree on the spellcheck - drives me nuts. When the red line pops up, many times I am quoting a piece, I hesitate and become sidetracked from my point. I don't need any help in getting sidetracked. Maybe if I would turn the red line off and back on at the end of my documents you wouldn't have to hear me grumble now ;)