Author Identifier

Sally Robinson-Kooi

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education

First Supervisor

Lorraine Hammond

Second Supervisor

Christina Gray


Using Explicit Instruction (EI) to teach spelling is controversial because teaching approaches vary considerably in the contemporary classroom. Teachers may privilege visual over linguistic strategies and include target words based around themes, rather than the phono-morphological structures of words. There is also little current research about the benefits of using sentence dictation to practise taught spelling skills and thus to increase the likelihood of developing spelling automaticity. Spelling automaticity is important because it complements crucial reading and writing skills. Developing fluent spelling through EI, followed by sentence dictation, was a specific focus of this study.

Two primary schools in rural NSW and a total of 30 teachers were involved in this mixed methods research. One of the schools was used as a comparison school and the other was the intervention school. All 30 teachers involved in the study completed a knowledge survey about the components of the English spelling system considered essential to teach spelling explicitly. From this data, the specific knowledge of the teachers involved in the Year 2 intervention, the Learning Support Teacher and the Acting Principal, was extracted. The two Year 2 teachers in the comparison school received professional development on meaning-based approaches to spelling, whereas the five teachers at the intervention school received professional development on EI techniques and word level components of the English spelling system. Mid-intervention teacher interviews gathered data about their feelings on implementing EI techniques in practice. Post-intervention quantitative tests and interviews allowed in-depth and rich understandings of aspects that either enabled or hindered implementation of the intervention.

The spelling competence of 60 students at the two schools was also assessed before any intervention took place. The 35 Year 2 students in the two classes at the intervention school received EI in the phonological and morphological aspects of words, editing, and contextualised sentence dictation during Term 3. The 25 students in the Year 2 class at the comparison school continued their established literacy routine. Interviews with randomly selected students from both schools facilitated an exploration of their feelings about spelling approaches used during the term.

The findings showed that spelling results in both schools improved as expected. However, overall the intervention school had superior results to the comparison school; one class in the intervention school consistently outperformed all other classes in word spelling and dictation assessments with moderate to large effects. Many of the teachers demonstrated an increase in morpheme knowledge, but not in word structure.

In this study the EI spelling Lesson elements were reinforced by teaching strategies that included contextualised editing tasks and daily sentence dictations. These tasks were embedded in the term science theme of Insects, which was chosen in collaboration with the intervention teachers. The dictation component, a previously underutilised tool, involved students writing two lines from a contextualised poem, each day. In Australia, current methods of teaching spelling remain varied and contentious. Teachers who are engaged in improving spelling knowledge may find that using EI strategies reinforced by contextualised dictation can improve outcomes for all students.