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Schools told not to teach ‘i before e except after c’

Generations of children have learnt how to spell by chanting “i before e except after c”, but new guidance from the Government says that schools should stop teaching the rule because it is irrelevant and confusing.

The National Strategies document Support for Spelling, which is being sent to primary schools, says: “The i before e rule is not worth teaching. It applies only to words in which the ie or ei stands for a clear ee sound. Unless this is known, words such as sufficient and veil look like exceptions.

“There are so few words where the ei spelling for the ee sounds follows the letter c that it is easier to learn the specific words.” These include receive, ceiling, perceive and deceit.

The guidance contains 124 pages of ideas for teachers on how to draw up interesting and engaging lessons on spelling. These include analysing television listings for compound words, changing the tense of a poem to practise irregular verbs and learning about homophones through jokes such as “How many socks in a pair? None — because you eat a pear.”

While other spelling conventions are useful, it says, “i before e except after c” should be ditched.

Greg Brooks, a literacy expert, formerly of the University of Sheffield, told the Times Educational Supplement that the rule was thoroughly misleading. He said there were too many exceptions, including eight, feisty, foreign, heinous, protein and seize.

Masha Bell, who has campaigned for English spelling to be simplified, said: “I before e is not a good rule. There are other sayings that are more useful, like ‘one collar, two socks’ for ‘necessary’.

“But children are having to fill their heads with this rubbish — because spelling is rubbish. I think the spelling system should be reformed. We could get rid of the silliest anomalies.”

But Judy Parkinson, author of the book I Before E (Except After C), which sold 450,000 copies in Britain, said that teachers should be able to make up their own minds about how useful it is. “It’s an extremely well-known phrase, easy to remember, and it obviously struck a chord,” she said.

“There are words that it doesn’t fit, but I think teachers could always get a discussion going about the ‘i before e’ rule, and the peculiarities of the English language, and have fun with it. That’s the best way to learn.”

The document says that short, lively spelling sessions are more effective than an occasional skills session, and suggests ten sessions of 15 minutes spread over each half term.

It recommends that children should keep a spelling journal to record their progress, and that pupils should learn to proof-read their work for mistakes as part of the writing process.

Next Tuesday children from around the United Kingdom will compete in the The Times Spelling Bee grand final. The ten teams of finalists will battle it out in London for the prestige of becoming champions of our inaugural Spelling Bee. More than 850 schools entered the competition, submitting teams of three 11 or 12-year-olds, plus one reserve.


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Posted in: News on July 1, 2009 @ 6:38 PM

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