Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

Hello all,

Recent work in a variety of contexts has motivated me to make a clear case about what I see as a common and long-standing blind spot in literacy instruction research and practice. 

Part 1 (linked HERE) focuses on the logic behind an argument for a proposed litmus test for literacy instruction:

  • For literacy instruction to  facilitate understanding about how English spelling works, it must address the interrelation of morphology and phonology.

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Part 1 presents a set of spelling questions to clarify how how the interrelation of morphology and phonology is operates in English spelling:

  • Why does <really> have two <l>s instead of one?
  • How am I supposed to remember the letter-sound correspondences in words like <does> <business> and <sign>?
  • Why don’t we spell <please> *<pleese>?

Matrices and word sums are used to consider the spelling of these words within the context of the structure of morphological relatives. It is shown that we cannot make sense of these spelling questions without reference to the interrelation of morphology and phonology. 


Two key conclusions are drawn: 

  1. Instruction which is isolated to phonological features, or which does not specifically target the interrelation of morphology and phonology, cannot make sense how the spelling system operates to represent the meaning of English words.
  2. Analysis of morphologically related words with the matrix and the word sum facilitates attention to how spelling is governed by the interrelation of morphology and phonology. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how this understanding could be achieved without these tools or something very much like them. Thus it is argued that analysis of word structure with the matrix and word sum should be standard to English literacy instruction in English. 

When completed, Part 2 will consider the research evidence related to the logical case made in Part 1. 


Please share any critical responses in the comments section. 

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