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Research in Spelling: Implications for Adult Learners

Sawyer, D.
Joyce, M.
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation: 
Resource Type: 
Number of Pages: 
Product Type: 
Skill Level: 
NRS EFL 1--ABE Beginning Literacy
NRS EFL 2--ABE Beginning Basic Education
NRS EFL 3--ABE Intermediate Low
NRS EFL 4--ABE Intermediate High
NRS EFL 3--ESL High Beginning ESL
NRS EFL 4--ESL Low Intermediate ESL
NRS EFL 5--ESL High Intermediate ESL
NRS EFL 6--Advanced ESL Literacy
Required Training: 

Teachers would be wise to consult some of the references and investigate the strategies suggested.


This research review begins with a brief history of spelling instruction in the United States. The authors provide descriptions and the underlying research for four principal theories of spelling- two theories that attempt to explain the underlying mental processes involved in spelling and two that attempt to explain how people learn to spell. The authors conducted a survey of spelling instruction in ABE classes in the U.S. which reached the conclusions that (a) Spelling instruction in ABE classes—what to teach and how to teach—is most likely left to the discretion of the teacher, and (b) Teachers are given little opportunity to specifically learn about spelling as a subject to be taught and a process to be learned. The authors discuss spelling issues for students with specific learning disabilities, hearing impaired students, and English language learners. The implications for practice section includes the components of effective spelling instruction. There are also brief discussions of the need for further research and implications for policy.

What the Experts Say: 

This resource would be appropriate for administrators, teachers, and students in an educational teacher’s program, and parents who are interested in learning about the wealth of educational research regarding the most beneficial methods of teaching spelling. It would be highly beneficial for a teacher’s college content class regarding reading and writing, a parent who is homeschooling, or an administrator determining the appropriate professional development for his or her staff.

Significant/useful features:

  • The historical research shows the instructional practices and lessons learned
  • The most recent research demonstrates the most effective methods for teaching students spelling
  • Research includes students with disabilities
    • Learning Disabilities
    • Hearing Impairments
  • Research includes second language learners
  • Research includes adult learners
  • Implications for practice are provided for each subgroup

This resource has several features that would be helpful for teachers who work with adult learners, specifically:

  1. Interesting historical perspective of spelling instruction.
  2. Clear summarization of important theories of spelling acquisition.
  3. Good synthesis of key empirical spelling research spanning each of the major theories.
  4. Research summarized in a non-technical manner.
  5. Solid inferences from studies supporting each major theory.
  6. Conclusions offered by the authors are well-supported by the research.
  7. Interesting summary of spelling instruction in ABE classes nationwide along with an appropriate perspective on current practices.
  8. Excellent section summarizing needs of learners with disabilities.

My only hesitation with the article is that the implications for practice section is rather brief. A practitioner can derive their own pedagogical hints from the remainder of the article, but a more comprehensive treatment of spelling instruction in ABE classes would be more effective. Certainly this article is a good foundational piece for anyone who needs to develop an understanding of spelling instruction.

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