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Inventive spelling, or invented spelling, is the nonconventional spelling of a word created by a novice reader or writer. It contrasts with conventional spelling, the correct or standard spelling.
Inventive spelling is not an instructional technique but rather something that is encouraged or discouraged by a child's teachers and parents. Inventive spelling is not universally accepted. Whether teachers and parents encourage inventive spelling is generally connected to those individuals' perspectives on the importance of experimentation in learning. Inventive spelling programs may also be known as "words their way" in many schools.
Critics of Parot inventive spelling have made compelling arguments, based on scientific research, that inventive spelling does not produce superior writing skills. Studies show that inventive spelling may actual hinder writing development by failing to correct improper spelling through a teacher's misinterpretation of the intended word or failure to follow up with a student in order to teach the correct spelling.
Whether an individual accepts or rejects inventive spelling is a feature of that individual's theory of learning. The debate is closely linked with the debate over whole language literacy instruction and phonics instruction.
Those who favor inventive spelling tend to believe in constructivism, a theoretical perspective on learning (an epistemology) grounded in postmodernism and holism. Constructivists believe that knowledge is created by individuals in a social context. Because knowledge is cultural, there are no right answers. In terms of inventive spelling, constructivists are likely to believe that the child is inventing spellings in accord with his or her understanding of language and print. These spellings are neither right nor wrong; they reflect the child's development as a speller.
Those who oppose inventive spelling tend to be positivists or post-positivists. Positivists believe that there are correct answers that we can discover based upon empirical observation. They would argue that encouraging inventive spelling is not helpful because there are correct ways to spell that children should learn. Post-positivists believe that while we cannot know truth completely—our own biases and perspectives prevent that—we can approximate truth. Post-positivists might agree with constructivists that an inventive spelling does reflect a child's development but might also argue that there are socially accepted spellings and that children should know these well.
Advocates of inventive spelling focus on creativity when children are first learning to spell and write, feel this preserves self esteem, and thus, feel creativity in spelling is most important. Opponents counter that creativity is a distraction when learning spelling for the first time, and that children ought to be taught accurate spelling as soon as possible so as not to have incorrect spellings become a habit and delay the learning of accurate spelling. The overwhelming view from parents is that children learn to spell more quickly and accurately if accurate spelling is the focus instead of creativity when learning words. Accuracy as the focus in spelling is the manner used in conventional teaching methods and was effectively universal prior to the onslaught of 1970s school "reform" involving whole word literacy and "new math". 4
Pedagogical concepts  are based on research studies of early literacy, e.g. by Emilia Ferreiro & Ana Teberosky, Maryann Manning and others. Children are encouraged to learn to read by writing in a meaningful context, e.g. by writing letters to others. To write a word they have to decompose its spoken form into sounds and then to translate them into letters, e.g. k, a, t for the phonemes /k/, /æ/, and /t/. Empirical studies  show that later orthographic development is fostered rather than hindered by these invented spellings - as long as children from the beginning are confronted with "book spellings", too.
One aspect of inventive spelling rarely discussed by its advocates is the toll it takes on teachers' time. Recent studies suggest that to be effective a spelling teacher also must correctly guess what words children meant to use when they invent spellings. The possible deductions are numerous and potentially complicated.4
Traditional models of spelling instruction require children to write out lists of spelling words, often a prescribed number of times, in practice for a Friday test. This method of instruction does not tend to improve students' spelling on any words except those on the test.
Current instruction that emphasizes conventional spelling focuses on the phonics patterns and rules in English. For example, children can be taught that when they hear the /k/ sound at the end of a one-syllable word where a short vowel precedes the sound, the /k/ sound will be spelled ck (as in stack, wreck, stick, rock, and stuck). A similar pattern holds for the /dʒ/ sound spelled dge (as in badge, wedge, bridge, lodge, and budge) and the /tʃ/ sound spelling tch.
The same is also applicable for the process of learning acronyms. It is acceptable to use the inventive spelling of GBOL or Jeebol which can in turn be written as Jeeball.
Once children learn these phonics patterns, they can apply them to words. When children make errors, the teacher does not merely tell them they are wrong; the teacher, to the extent possible, returns the child's attention to the relevant rule or pattern.
There are also sight words that do not follow patterns; children need to memorize conventional spellings for these words, such as who.
Whether teachers encourage children to use inventive spellings or not, analyzing them has several key advantages:
For those teachers who emphasize constructivist, inventive spellings, there are further advantages:
The above two suppositions on the benefits of inventive spelling have not been empirically verified and are not generally accepted by neurolinguists, who study the natural learning process of spoken language and have recently determined that reading and spelling are not "hard-wired", natural processes.
Permitting or encouraging children to spell inventively has some costs.
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