Improving the spelling ability of Grade 3 learners through visual imaging teaching strategies

  • Annalene van Staden


This paper discusses two key cognitive theories underlying spelling acquisition, i.e. the developmental stage theory and the overlapping waves theory. Within the developmental stage framework, learning to spell is viewed as a process of moving from spelling that represents sound to spelling that represents meaning, following a sequence of qualitatively distinct stages in a linear fashion. In contrast, proponents of the overlapping waves theory emphasise the use of different instructional approaches at any given time. This model is process-orientated and stresses the adaptation of strategies to meet the needs of the task. Other researchers maintain that spelling is a natural process and emphasise the importance of invented spelling practices and creative writing embedded in whole-language programmes. There is, however, a lack of research validating the efficacy of an exclusively naturalistic approach to spelling. In general, research findings support a combination of incidental learning and direct instruction as most beneficial for learners with spelling problems. Thus, this study was undertaken to develop a visual imagery programme for Grade 3 learners by compromising between direct instruction in specific spelling skills (i.e. visual imaging strategies) whilst also immersing learners in meaningful authentic reading activities. It was hypothesised that the spelling abilities of Afrikaans-speaking Grade 3 learners can be improved significantly by exposing them to a spelling programme that focuses on visual imaging, immediate feedback and self-correcting strategies. Researchers opposed to visual teaching methods for spelling moreover postulate, among other things, that learners with auditory preferences will not benefit from a visual approach to the teaching of spelling. In this empirical study the possible relation between preferential learning styles and spelling performance was also investigated.

Author Biography

Annalene van Staden
Annalene van Staden is a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology of Education at the University of the Free State. Her areas of interest and specialisation are learning problems and learners with special educational needs, including learners experiencing emotional and behavioural problems. Email: