Poll Results: Are Good Spellers also Good at Math?

On July 12th, following a great #eltchat on the topic of spelling (great summary of chat here) I posted a poll related to the connection (or correlation, but this isn’t a proper research!) between being a good (or poor ) speller and being good (or not) at math. The question was based on my assumption that that both spelling and math require analytic skills, something I notice in the classroom. It was also based on the fact that I was an AVID reader from an early age, yet did not pick up spelling intuitively and have always had trouble with math.

Photo by Roni Epstein

I must have struck a chord because teachers reacted (both on the blog and off it) very emphatically to the issue, regardless of their opinion.

I would like to point out that the two questions on the poll DID NOT examine teachers’ opinions on the issue but focused on personal experience. The questions were:

1) Were you good at spelling when you were a child?

2) Were you good at math when you were a child?

33 EFL teachers answered the poll. I  tried to advertise the poll in #matchat as well but did not receive any responses from math teachers.

In addition, one research citation was helpfully provided by Dorit Renov. She also informed me that, at least in the past, one had to have high grades in math in order to be accepted to the University Linguistics Dept. Lingusitics is not spelling yet I believe that it is worth noting.

First a brief look at the research and then the poll results themselves.

The research is called: ” Predicting Spelling Scores from Math Scores in a Population of Elementary School Students with a
Learning Disability”  by Christopher B. Wolfe

In the research a connection between math skills and spelling is found under certain conditions:

“…at low levels of spelling and arithmetic skill, such as those found in some students with a learning disability, children are accessing a similar ability to complete the tasks. ” “…the finding of a mathematics/spelling relationship lies outside reading
skill. Scores used in this study were obtained from children who exhibited a significant reading disability and had not yet received an instructional intervention that targeted this skill. Therefore, even with little or no ability to read, a relationship exists between aspects of spelling and mathematics performance.”

Photo by Roni Epstein

The responses of 13 teachers supported the poll’s assumption. Five of the thirteen teachers, as children, had trouble with both spelling and math. The other 8 teachers were good at both.

Obviously, the responses of the 20 other teachers did not support the poll’s assumption. 15 of the 20 teachers were good at spelling but had trouble with math. Only five teachers were good at math but had had trouble with spelling. Two of those reported that they had a learning disability.

As was pointed out in the comment section, the poll questions are very general and do not relate to issues such as the phonetic difference between specific languages or the effects of learning disabilities. Though it is interesting that the one research found during this poll was related to learning disabilities.

In any case, it is interesting to note that only 13 of the 33 teachers who participated in the poll were good at math as children. Perhaps the poll question should have examined the connection between being an EFL teacher and math?



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