This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Improving the Spelling Skills of Elementary Students with Mild Learning and Behavior Problems: A Comparison Between an Explicit Rule-Based Method and Traditional Method




Simmons, Kate

Type of Degree



Rehabilitation and Special Education


Students with learning and behavior problems often experience great difficulty in written expression, especially in the area of spelling. Even though students with mild disabilities often have lower achievement levels across all content areas, spelling ability has been determined to be a powerful predictor between low achieving students and students with learning disabilities. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of two instructional procedures for teaching elementary students with mild learning and behavior problems to spell. Overall, there were three specific questions the researcher wanted to investigate: (a) Are there specific methods that are more effective in improving the spelling performance of students with mild learning and behavior problems? (b) Are there specific methods that are more effective for students maintaining their spelling knowledge? and, (c) Do students with mild learning and behavior problems have a preference towards certain types of spelling instruction? In the present study, 41 students from an inner city elementary school in Southeast Alabama with mild learning and behavior problems were randomly assigned to either the traditional or explicit rule-based group. Daily instructional sessions lasted 20-25 minutes for a total of three weeks. Every effort was made to ensure differences in spelling performance were due to instructional features. Results suggest that both types of instruction were effective in teaching students to spell. Findings indicated that students had no preference for the way they were taught spelling and that they enjoyed spelling. Informal interviews revealed that students in general have difficulty using the correct spelling strategies, transferring those skills to other content areas, and may display inappropriate behavior when frustrated. The lack of explicit rule-based performance in this particular study contradicts a large body of evidence that suggests a more systematic approach to spelling is most effective in teaching students with mild learning and behavior problems to spell. Ultimately, future research should include maintaining and transferring new spelling skills to novel situations in order for students to become autonomous in their spelling, while potentially, improving their reading and writing skills.