“How would you spell the word plate?”
Joe grabs his pencil and starts working. I nudge the pencil with my hand. “What’s the word?”
He huffs a little. “Pate.”
“Oh, we’re not matching on that word. Let me say it again and you say it back. Plate.”
“Great! Now you can start writing.
I sit back, but only for a moment. “Are you being super quiet, or are you not saying the sounds?”
Joe’s face tells me he’s forgotten this step. He starts back at the beginning. “Pl –ae…”
“Pl… that’s two sounds. Can you separate them for me?”
Joe says, “Pl–” again.
I ask, “When you say /pl/, what does your mouth have to do first?”
Joe considers my question. He pays attention to how his mouth is moving. His eyes light up. “Oh!–my lips pop, and then my tongue lifts.”
Now he is registering each sound well, so he says them one by one.
As he makes the sounds, he’s writing down the letters. I wait a few seconds after he stops writing, but he doesn’t begin the self-check step, so I remind him. “Read through it and make sure all your sounds match your letters.”
He checks the letters he wrote down. P-L-A-T. “Yep, that’s right.”
I point to the a.
“What sound and feeling are you thinking of here?”
Joe pauses for a moment to check the feeling. “Ae, smiley.”
“Great! Now how do we normally spell smiley ae?”
“A…” Joe stops himself, confused. “No, it’s a-e!”
“Awesome thinking!” In the middle of my praise, I intercept the pencil headed for the page to correct the error. “Now tell me one more thing – when an e makes a vowel say its name, does it normally stay with the vowel or hop to the end?”
“The end!” Joe says, shifting his pencil to the end of the word. “Here.”
Connecting sounds to the letters they represent is harder for a dyslexic than for a person without a learning difficulty. The step-by-step approach to spelling that focuses first on perceiving the sound in the spoken word targets this difficulty and exercises the portion of the brain that is not activating properly.