The Strategic Spelling Skills of Students with Learning Disabilities: The Results of Two Studies

By: Craig Darch


Students with LD who struggle with spelling use different strategies than students without learning disabilities.


Spelling problems seem to be one of the most difficult to remediate among students with learning disabilities. The author suggests that the reason for this difficulty is that students with learning disabilities are less adept than students in general education in devising and utilizing spelling strategies that allow for the systematic application of spelling rules.


The author first creates a qualitative design. This means that the author interviews a small number of students with learning disabilities to learn how they think as they try to spell a word. This qualitative method enables the researcher to gain in depth knowledge about a few participants. From the information gathered in a qualitative study the researcher forms a hypothesis, or an idea, to be used in quantitative research. In the qualitative analysis four spelling response categories were found: rule-based, multiple (use of more than one strategy), resource-based (use of a prior learning experience), and brute force (tenacity rather than strategy). Strategy deficits in spelling in children with LD were identified.

In quantitative research larger groups are studied and the results of testing are then compared statistically to determine if there is a significant difference between groups, or as was the case in this study, between teaching strategies. In the research reported the effects of two spelling programs were compared: Spelling Mastery Program ( Dixon & Engelmann, 1990) a program that teaches students to use spelling rules;and the Laidlaw Spelling Program (Roser, 1987) that utilizes writing activities based on word families, practice and motivational activities.


Results demonstrated that spelling of students with learning disabilities improved significantly more than students in the motivational model.

Bottom line

Though the sample, even in the quantitative study, remains relatively small, (30 students), the results offer support for the concept of research-validated instruction. This research design shows how investigators can take a learning need and then discover learning style. From this point it becomes easier to define a teaching strategy that can be expected to increase academic achievement. If the expected increase does not occur, this model also helps the individual teacher know how to back step to find out where a child's learning needs may differ from the method of instruction employed.

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