Monday, October 26, 2009

Spell-checkers - are they really good for us?

Until I started teaching again, I hadn't realized just how dependant I've become on my spell-checker. I gave my eldest pupil a 'tricky words' list and told her to note down any words she habitually had trouble spelling. Following an old adage that you should never ask a child to do anything you wouldn't be prepared to do yourself, I printed out a sheet for me and kept it by my desk as I typed. So far, there are five words on it but I anticipate more. What is of even greater significance is that many of these are not difficult words - address is one of them - they're just words that I have let the spell-checker spell for me so often that my brain has forgotten how to spell them unaided........
But does it really matter? Outside of teaching literacy skills, do we really need to know how to spell when everything is done on computer?
I was talking to someone recently about calculators and how children can't really use them until they have a firm understanding of numbers because they need to be able to discern whether the calculator has come up with a plausible answer. Now I'm beginning to think the spell-checker fulfills a similar niche in the literacy world; of course you need to know basic spelling rules and be able to read competently but that's about it.
Pretty soon, I reckon students will sit exams on computers. Then, just as when I was at school and adults were horrified that we were allowed to take calculators into Maths exams, I bet that spell-checkers will be permissible in English exams. The need for perfect spelling will become a thing of the past. But will that really be such a bad thing??????

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