Comparing different techniques to teach spelling in high school for Saudi students.
مقارنة بين طريقتين لتدريس التهجئة في اللغة الانجليزية في إحدى المدارس الثانوية بالمملكة العربية السعودية
Statement of the problem:
Saudi students learning English are facing some obstacles that prevent them from becoming proficient language users (Al-Nasser, 2015). One of
those problems is spelling. El-Dakhs & Mitchell (2011, p13) stated that “Saudi EFL learners suffer from serious difficulties with their English
spelling despite the earlier introduction of English in schools”
Therefore, research should be carried out to find the best way to teaching spelling in our schools. By the end of this study, the result will
be analyzed, and a decision will be made regarding the most effective technique.
Purpose of the study:
The study aims at comparing two different techniques of teaching spelling in a high school in Makkah region. It will teach two different groups
using those two different methods to find which groups show improvement. It will also examine students attitude towards the implementation of
those methods and how helpful they were to the students.
The research will answer the following questions:
1- Which spelling technique is more effective in high schools in Saudi Arabia (CCC or Flip Folder)?
2- What are the students’ attitudes toward those techniques?
After implementing those two methods a clear answer will be delivered, and a decision will be made regarding the most effective one.
Hypotheses of the study
The first hypothesis which represents the null hypothesis states the following:
Using copy-cover-compare or flip folder method to teach spelling do not improve students’ spelling.
The second hypothesis, states the following:
Using copy-cover-compare method to teach spelling does improve students spelling.
The third hypothesis, states the following:
Using flip folder method to teach spelling does improve students spelling.
Significance of the study:
There is a number of research which discusses Saudi students’ errors in spelling (Alhaisoni, Al-Zuoud, & Gaudel, 2015; Hameed, 2015; Khan &
Itoo, 2012). However, there is a shortage of studies that tackle spelling instruction in Saudi Arabia. Three articles were found to which
applied different methods to teach spelling in Saudi Arabia (Al-jarf, 2011; Alrwele, 2017; Nahari & Alfadda, 2016). This study aims to compare
the different spelling strategies and decide which one is better in our context.
Currently, copy-cover-compare has received many compliments on its efficacy in teaching spelling. Many have claimed that this is the best method
to be used (Alrwele, 2017; Darrow, McLaughlin, Derby, & Johnson, 2012; Skinner, McLaughlin, & Logan, 1997).
On the other hand, flip folder which is a variation of a technique that was proposed by (Horn, 1967). It is “systematic technique for learning
the correct spelling of words by using a combination of visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile procedures” (Gentry, 2004, p. 60)
The result of the research could be recommended to the Ministry of Education to include a spelling section in each module. That would hopefully
develop students level of spelling which would positively affect their overall language ability. In addition, it is going to be beneficial for
English language teachers in Saudi Arabia to use the method which has been proven to be suitable in our context.
Spelling is considered a difficult task to be learned not only by second language learners but also by native speakers, and that is because
English spelling has many exceptions (Eide, 2012). Krashen (1989) claimed that students learn to spell just by reading, which supports his input
hypothesis. Others emphasized the role of producing explicit spelling instructions to help students overcome this issue (S.; Graham, Harris, &
Fink-Chorzempa, 2003; Steve Graham et al., 2008; Steve Graham & Santangelo, 2014; Maddox & Feng, 2013). It has been claimed that poor spellers
are usually poor readers, in other words, reading and spelling are closely connected that if a student was unaware of spelling, it would affect
his/her reading ability (Ehri, 1987; Moats, 1999). Researchers have acknowledged that English spelling is unpredictable and cannot be solely
acquired by learning rules. (Schlagal & Schlagal, 1992, as cited in Davis, 2011). Westwood (2005,p36) commented: “mastery of the most commonly
occurring words is of particular importance for students with learning difficulties because these are indeed the words they use in their
writing.” Although spelling instruction is recommended to be taught explicitly, many Teachers are unaware of the most effective spelling
strategies and employ old theories ( Apel & Masterson, 2001 cited in Davis, 2011).
Spelling is also a major problem for Arabs and Saudi English language learners. There is much research conducted which emphasize the weaknesses
of Arabs in spelling. Students in various stages and ages have been suffering from English spelling precisely when it comes to writing. (Al-
Jarf, 2008; Alhaisoni et al., 2015; Bowen, 2011; El-dakhs & Mitchell, 2011.; Hameed, 2015; Saigh & Schmitt, 2012). “The focus of Arabic readers
on consonants and the absence of written vowels in Arabic text can frequently lead to inaccurate guessing both in Arabic and English” (Bowen,
2011, p. 88). Arabs and Saudi students rely on pronunciation to spell words which causes many mistakes such as vowel substitution and
phonological mistakes (Cook cited in Hameed, 2015). Al-Nasser also commented (2015, p. 1612) “There are many sounds corresponding to
characters/letters in the English alphabet which cannot conveniently be pronounced by the Arabic speaking people”.
Additionally, spelling affect students’ writing as Nahari and Alfadda (2016) commented “some argued that individuals with low confidence
regarding their spelling and related skills not only write less and with a more limited vocabulary, but may feel unable to express their
knowledge in various subject areas(p3)”
The presented techniques for teaching spelling (Copy, Cover, Compare and Flip Folder) are all different ways of enhancing students memory to
spell words correctly. In teaching most common words, students are asked to memorize them as most of them do not follow rules and patterns and
can only learned by memorization.
Copy-Cover-Compare is based on the Behaviorism theory. The Behaviorism theory states that learning occurs by repetition which leads to habit
formation. That is the main focus of the theory is to boost learners’ ability to memorize words spellings. In this method, students are asked to
memorize words spelling in isolation and repeat the exercise in case of mistakes. Learning to spell words as a whole unit is better for
remembering and recalling them later without making mistakes (Wallace, 2006).
Flip folder technique is a combination of different steps to maximize visual memorization. It is believed that students would produce
correct words if they use their visual memory. Researchers concluded that “one of the main processes by which a student learns words that do not
follow a phonetic rule is by visualizing those words as they have been seen or as they resemble other words” (Allred 1977 as cites in Davis,
2011). According to a study conducted by (Ormrod, 1985) he stated that visualization works well with a short-term memory situation.
Those two theories will be put into tests in this research to conclude what is more effective on teaching spelling. Copy-cover-compare
which focuses on repetition and flip folder which combines memorization with visualization will be practiced by students to see if there is any
improvement on students’’ memories.
The study is going to be a mixed method research. That is the research will begin with a quantitative research and followed by a qualitative
one. Data will be collected quantitatively in the first phase (Pre-and Posttest) and qualitatively in the second one; open-ended questionnaire
about student’s perception. In this way, an explanatory sequential mixed method is applied to show the outcome of the intervention in the first
part, and deliver a full picture of how students experience the process in the second one (Creswell, 2014).
In the quantitative phase, a pretest will be administered first, followed by an intervention for three weeks. After the intervention a post test
will be conducted and compared with the pre test and with the other group to see if there is any improvement after the intervention.
In the qualitative phase, an open-ended questionnaire will be distributed to students to check their opinion about the intervention and how the
whole experiment was. A questionnaire was used because it saves time in collecting data. The result will be analyzed thematically using NVivo
program. Thematic analysis is a method for identifying, analyzing, and reporting patterns (themes) within data. It minimally organizes and
describes your data set in (rich) detail (Braun & Clarke, 2006, p. 6).
A website (http://countwordsfree.com/# ) is going to be used to analyze and appoint the most frequent words in Traveller 3 (students’ current
English language book in public high school). Words of more than four letters are selected form this list. At first, students will have a
dictation pre-test from the word list which contains 50 most frequent words, followed by a post-test at the end of the intervention. Students
are provided with words and trained on them with no context. It is sufficient to teach words in lists than in context (Horn 1967). An automatic
scoring program (Zidan) will be used to mark the pre-and post-test to show what students in both groups have gained and which group scored more
than the other. The results will then be analyzed using SPSS software.
Due to the nature of the researcher’s job; teaching, a convenience sample was used in this study. So, the teacher will be teaching the spelling
technique as well as carrying out the research. A convenience sample means that the participating students are selected based on their
availability and convenience (Creswell, 2014)
The participants of this research are second-grade high school students from Makkah city in Saudi Arabia. Students ages range from 16 to 18
years old. They will be divided into two groups; each group consists of 26-30 students. Students will take a pre-test followed by spelling
instruction for 15 minutes in each week. A post-test would follow after students complete 90 minutes of instruction.
1- There are many methods and techniques to teach spelling, some would be more beneficial than what have been used in this research. Thus,
further studies focusing on using different strategies would add more to the literature.
2- Those methods are used only in one grade, one school in Makkah. The result could not be generalized, but it would serve as an indication of
how students learn. Further research is recommended to teach different students from different educational regions, different stages (junior-
high, or elementary school).
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