Teaching spelling to children with specific learning disabilities: The mind's ear and eye beat the computer or pencil

Virginia W. Berninger, Robert Abbott, Laura Rogan, Elizabeth Reed, Sylvia P. Abbott, Allison Brooks, Katherine Vaughan, Steve Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Children with only spelling (n=24) or handwriting and spelling disabilities (n=24) were randomly assigned to a pencil or computer response mode. They were taught 48 words of varying orders of sound-spelling predictability using a method that emphasized hearing the word in the mind's ear and seeing the word in the mind's eye and making connections between the phonological and orthographic representations at the whole word and subword levels. Although no main effects were found for response mode, at posttest the pencil was superior to the computer for easy orders (single-letter spelling units with high sound-spelling predictability), but the computer was superior to the pencil for moderate and difficult orders (multiletter spelling units with intermediate or low sound-spelling predictability). Prior to and in response to treatment, children with handwriting and spelling problems spelled less well than children with only spelling problems. Multiletter spelling units of moderate or difficult orders of sound-spelling predictability explained unique increments of variance in spelling achievement, whereas single-letter spelling units of easy order of sound-spelling predictability did not. Based on these findings, instructional recommendations are to provide explicit instruction in the correspondence between sound and multiletter spelling units.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)106-121
Number of pages16
JournalLearning Disability Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Health Professions(all)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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