British Teachers Told To Drop the "i Before e" Rule

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There are 1,100 ways to spell the 44 sounds in the English language. Image: sxc.hu

Recently, while helping my 8-year-old with her homework, I realized that in many ways, learning math is just like learning to spell. Except that math is a heck of a lot easier. In both subjects, there are rules that, if followed, will lead you to the correct answer. But unlike math, spelling has all those pesky exceptions to the rules. And there are few spelling rules with more exceptions than the "i before e" rule.

That standard works in some words, but not all. Like when following the letter "c." In that case, you make the long "e" sound with "ei." Those two letters can also make the long "a" sound in certain words where the "e" comes first (like sleigh). And in many words (seize, leisure, protein) neither the rule nor the exceptions apply.

You probably have a pretty good handle on spelling by now, but for kids who are just learning, that "i before e" business can be pretty confusing. In fact, the British government has decided it is so confusing as to be "not worth teaching" and has instructed primary school teachers to stop passing it on to their students.

At least one spelling expert agrees with the decision, but for many of us the "i before e" rule is the only one we actually remember learning. And despite all the exceptions, I think the rule is helpful. I cannot be the only adult who still runs that little ditty through my head when writing certain words. But in an age where students are asking -- and getting permission -- to use text message abbreviations in the classroom, it might be time to get rid of this rule.

What about you? Do you think the "i before e" rule is still worth teaching? Or does it just cause more confusion?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.