Spelling it Out-“Diaper Baby” Style

13 Feb

“I’ve heard from some adults who were not happy about the misspellings, but I think they’re missing the point…The point of all the mistakes in George and Harold’s comics is: it doesn’t matter. The comics are still good… and funny… and worthwile. Even with all the errors.”

Dav Pilkey, Author of “Captain Underpants” et al.

Based on a suggestion by Amanda Lee (@LeeAmandaJ). Thanks.

I was thinking about spelling the other night while reading ‘Super Diaper Baby‘ to a couple of children. “SDB” is part of Dav Pilkey’s series of graphic novels that started with ‘Captain Underpants‘. The main characters are George and Harold, two creative 10 year olds, and the ‘SDB’ books are comic books ‘created’ by George and Harold. They are full of phonetically correct misspellings and primitive drawings which add authenticity. They are also irreverant, funny and popular with many students, especially boys.

I began to wonder if books like ‘Captain Underpants’ and ‘SDB’, which intentionally misspell words, make it harder for students to become skilled at spelling? The bigger question is does it even matter?

The curriculum around spelling is quite clear. In Ontario, students are expected to spell familiar words correctly, spell unfamiliar words using a variety of strategies and confirm spelling using a variety of resources by end of each grade. Teachers can’t simply discount spelling, it has to be taught. How much importance we give spelling is important to consider, however.

What emphasis spelling gets in the classroom is a ‘bellweather” issue. Those who emphasize spelling hold a more traditional view of education. They see spelling as a basic skill and think that students who aren’t good at spelling will be seen as unintelligent dolts. It’s the same as someone wearing jeans to a job interview. It doesn’t mean much on the surface, but it gets extrapolated to represent all sorts undesirable qualities.

It’s also tempting for teachers to overemphasize spelling. It’s concrete, quantifiable and much easier to teach and measure than something as abstract as creativity or problem solving skills. Joe Bower makes this point very effectively. And many parents love it. They were told spelling is a basic skill for success and they don’t want their children left behind.

I think spelling is an outdated skill (personal disclosure, I’ve always been a weak speller). Just like learning your times table and cursive writing, knowing how to spell words is less important than ever due to changing attitudes and technology. Students need to understand the basics, to know when something is clearly wrong and how to correct it. But the world my students will live in will value people based on their thinking skills, not their spelling. Any deficits they have can be accommodated by spell checkers and editors.

When students reach for “Super Diaper Baby”, I encourage it, and I spend more time explaining the jokes than I do correcting the spelling. That’s the more important lesson.

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