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Primary Education News
News Teaching spelling and grammar is still vital in a technology-driven classroom
Students can't rely on auto correct and spell checker. Advances in technology are no excuse to stop striving for high standards of literacy, says English teacher, Laura Deighton
In a recent article for The Telegraph, Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, claimed that in today's technologically-advanced world that there was no place for teaching grammar or spelling as the technology would correct it for us.
However, this argument falls down in one fundamental area – it relies on students having a high standard of literacy already. The whole-school role of teaching literacy seems to stumble when computers are involved but the basics of literacy are just as important, even when the on switch has been flicked.
On one day in my training year, I realised that, despite living in the UK where there are 54.5 million personal computers in use, there are still a large proportion of students who arrive at secondary school without having grasped the basics of using a computer. One student couldn't log on to her computer because she couldn't find the 'CTRL', 'ALT' and 'Delete' buttons and, secondly, because she couldn't spell the password she had been told.
It seems to be commonly viewed that students are tech-savvy, and indeed a lot of them are. But, what about those who aren't? Much of the recent educational discourse has focused on 'narrowing the gaps' in attainment and ways to achieve this. Surely access to technology is part of this? This is just another reason why we cannot rely on technology to solve our literacy needs – not everyone has access to it.
Spelling when using computers does matter and we, as teachers, should not assume that this becomes less important just because our students have a computer at hand. We are all aware that Google helpfully pops us with 'Did you mean x?' when we make a simple typo. However, this isn't a failsafe tool; what about when you spell a word so inaccurately that Google cannot find it or it brings up a word you didn't want?
In one of my first years of teaching, I taught a year 8 student who had a spelling age of six years. She was producing an article about a market stall which sold wellies and was on Google looking for an image to finish her article when she piped up with: "Miss, I can't find a picture of any wellies for my article". Why couldn't she find a picture of any wellies? Because she had typed in 'willies' instead. Luckily for me, the school's internet protection software was preventing her computer from showing any images.
It is similar to handing a student a dictionary and telling them to find out how to spell a word. They must have at least some idea of roughly how to spell the word or the first few letters to be able to find it, and they need this level of knowledge to check or guess spelling using a computer. I have watched students type work on to a word processing document with a spell checker and the spelling is so inaccurate that it doesn't appear as a correction or they then select the wrong word from the list of corrections. Plus, it takes them twice as long to correct their work as if they had been taught spellings. Teaching students to rely on technology for spelling is not the way forward.
To assume that literacy is the domain of English teachers is wrong; just as it is wrong to assume that teaching computing is the domain of the ICT teacher. Any subject that uses a computer is also responsible for teaching literacy and this doesn't stop when we press the on-switch of a piece of technology.
Laura Deighton is a teacher of english at a school in South Yorkshire. She is a Teach First ambassador and tweets as @miss_edugogy.