We were at the point where, after some reluctance, I was setting about constructing a tool box for teachers - but a tool box for what?

Notorious victim of compulsive paronomasia as I am, I first thought of a “Tool Box for Sound Spelling”. That idea soon bit the dust as I reminded myself that not only would the intended pun be lost on most of the witless hoi polloi of edubabbledom, but also - and worse - they were likely to take my inclusion of the term ‘sound’ to be validating rather than implicitly mocking the pusillanimous sounditoutery of The Great Phonics Hoax.

In one fleeting moment of grey cell febrillity I toyed with “morphophonemic orthography” but quickly regained my sanity and settled for “real spelling” - simply spelling as it really is. And that, I felt, was compatible with what I was trying to produce : a coherent body of resources for enriching and informing the armoury of working teachers so that their own very professional qualities could select what, in their judgement, best suited the current needs of their students.




There was another need to meet - how to ensure that the flocks of those who look for the teaching equivalent of painting by numbers stop in their tracks, effect a U-turn, and bleat up another tree. The Tool Box needed to be deliberately constructed so that a first-time visitor to it could not just pick something out at random and hope that it would ‘work’.

The message had to be that the Spelling Tool Box would not be a scheme, method or system to be worked through in totality and in order, nor would its resources be employable without a basic knowledge of the principles, structures and patterns of the real English orthographic system. 

ManualThat need would be met by user’s manual, and I set to work on what was to turn out to be a 400-page tome. The first edition of the User’s Self-Training Manual was published in 1999, a couple of years ahead of the full Tool Box that was still under construction. 

The body of the Tool Box took shape, trialled in a few visits to Brussels, as a set of seven ‘Tool Kits’, each of which contained twelve teaching ‘Themes’, eighty-four in all.

The seven Tool Kits were arranged in increasing intensity and range of materials, but in absolutely no necessary sequence.

But here, to my eternally regretful embarrassment, I capitulated to the insistence of teachers on how they wanted the Tool Kits to be numbered. This is what I wrote about it in the introductory notice to the appearance of the Tool Box.

The numbering of the Tool Kits corresponds approximately with the American school grading system from K to 6. This labelling is not prescriptive. The Kit labels represent roughly what could be appropriate for each grade, but only when real spelling has become the established working policy throughout a school. 

In the event, my confidence that this message would be understood was exceeded only by my naivety. There are, though, thankfully few institutions that have butchered the Tool Box to fit the Procrustean bed of sequential teaching programmes (argh!).


TBox1aThus the first Tool Box found its form.

Apart from The Manual, the  teaching resources were assembled in an eight-drawer metal and rigid plastic storage box. Each complete spelling Tool Kit - twelve teaching themes and a reference overview of all the teaching themes in the Tool Box - had its own drawer. The Read Me First booklets (summaries of the contents of each Tool Kit and reminders of fundamental orthographic principles) for each Tool Kit were all together in a drawer of their own.

So the complete Tool Box appeared in 2001, appropriately the first year of the new millennium***. It was a response to teachers and tutors who, having tasted real spelling, wanted to make it a living and vibrant part of their classroom and tutorial life, whatever subject they taught.

During the following half-decade this first Tool Box found its way to over thirty countries where it did valiant service in laying the foundations of the task of rescuing spelling from petrification by the glare of the Gorgon of edubabble.

Until 2008, that is; it was then that the process of superseding it with TBox 2 began.


*** Post Scriptum

Yes 2001 was the first year of the new millennium, not the year 2000. It was with much amusement that those of us who do not live in the Anglo-Saxon English-speaking world watched its denizens celebrating the new millennium a year too early.

It’s not really that surprising that a culture that gets its own spelling so fundamentally wrong should also be ignorant of the evident fact that year numberings are not measured; they are counted.

  • There was no year 0 (A.D. or B.C.) - the year before 1 A.D. is defined as year 1 B.C. 
  • January 1st, year 1 was the start of the first century and the first millennium.
  • Because one millennium is 1000 years, the last year of the first millennium was the year 1000.
  • The second millennium started, then, with the year 1001 and ended with the year 2000.
  • Thus the third millennium began with the year 2001.

But what else can we expect from a culture that pushes <tion> as a suffix in its own language when there is not a single English word in which that letter sequence <tion> can actually be analysed as a suffix? Confusing syllables with morphemic elements is rather on a par with getting a year count wrong!