Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Shirley A. Freed

Second Advisor

William H. Green

Third Advisor

Bruce Closser


Problem. Spelling instruction in American schools has adhered to the same traditional format for more than 40 years. However, the whole-language philosophy advocates the delivery of spelling instruction through meaningful interactions with receptive and projective print. Since the whole-language movement is based on a philosophy of teaching and learning, rather than a prescriptive instructional model, perhaps many teachers who do not teach spelling holistically simply do not know how.

This study looks at the instructional components and contextual milieu in which holistic spelling instruction occurs. It also presents the strategies for conventional spelling that are used by teachers and students in three whole-language classrooms.

Method. A multiple case, descriptive approach generated data over a period of 16 weeks. The strategies for spelling instruction used by three whole-language elementary school teachers, representing grades 1, 2, and 3, were observed and documented. Each teacher was observed one morning per week during the duration of the study. An analysis of the cases looked for similarities and differences in strategies for teaching spelling that could be identified across the three grade levels.

Results. The three whole-language teachers in this study embed spelling instruction in the reading and writing activities that occur throughout the day and across the curriculum. The teachers develop curricularly integrated thematic units that provide authentic opportunities for reading and writing experiences. Spelling instruction focuses on the words that the students want to use in their writing, as well as the selective use of commercial materials.

Conclusions. Their students' acquisition of conventional spelling is important to the three teachers in this study, but they believe it is most successfully taught and learned within meaningful episodes of application. These three teachers believe that children learn to spell in developmentally progressive stages. Therefore, they adapt their spelling instructions and expectations of students' achievements to appropriately accommodate their students' stages of spelling development. Their provision of meaningful opportunities to interact and experiment with the visual and graphophonic elements of English words seems to afford their students an effective forum for acquiring knowledge about standard orthography.

Subject Area

Language experience approach in education, Spelling ability


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