WHILE many of us are scratching our heads at the incredible spelling ability of primary school children on the television series The Great Australian Spelling Bee, a Charles Sturt University spelling expert is warning parents not to buy into the buzz.
Higher degree researcher Tessa Daffern says the show, which sees some of Australia’s best spellers aged eight to 13 compete in a series of word games and challenges, should not be taken seriously.
She said contestants were elite spellers and high achievers, and was concerned children and parents would compare the contestants’ abilities to their own or their children’s own.
“I wouldn’t encourage parents or families to stop watching the show or not watch it at all, but I think it needs to be put in perspective...it is not typical of what most children’s abilities are,” Mrs Daffern said.
“It is purely an entertainment show in a really controlled environment.”
She did not believe the show, which aired on Monday and Tuesday nights on Ten, was a useful tool to encourage children’s interest in literacy skills.
“You are better off sitting down with a good book and reading,” Mrs Daffern said.
She also condemned the age old tradition of school spelling bees.
“I find it really concerning that schools do conduct spelling bees, it could exclude some students and make them feel incompetent in literate learning.
“Education shouldn't be seen as a competitive event, it’s not a sport."
Retired Lutheran Primary School principal and teacher Ken Albinger is just as concerned about the educational value of the Channel Ten show.
“You do have to wonder about shows like that, is it exploiting the children rather than encouraging them to learn?” Mr Albinger said.
He warned spelling bees can do more harm than good.
“There was a time where it was viewed as the most valid way of getting better, to compete with others and win, it’s now seen to be detrimental,” he said.
However, he’d never rob a spelling bee die-hard of their joy.
“If spelling bees are voluntary it’s no different to playing scrabble.”
He fears that spell check poses a threat to basic literacy skills, and teachers must be particularly scrupulous.
“The best way is constantly correcting and working on words that trouble the child.”
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