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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Spelling

Has spelling gone the way of the dodo bird? Not in my classroom! While some see spelling as a waste of time, I disagree.

Research shows that effective reading instruction includes spelling. In "Why Teach Spelling," the Center on Instruction shares research that links inclusion of phonemic, orthographic, and morphological instruction to strong reading instruction (Snow, Burns, and Griffin, 1998) and notes that a meta-analysis found a strong (0.79) effect on reading fluency in grades one through seven (Graham and Herbert, 2010).

It's great to know that research supports spelling instruction, but I have other reasons:

  • Reason 1: Vocabulary Connection - In my classroom, spelling is linked to vocabulary. Students are expected to learn how to spell the fifteen words presented in our vocabulary book each week, as well as five content words that I select from math, social studies, or science. This allows me to focus even more heavily on words that I really want my students to learn. As I give the spelling test, I talk about each word one more time.
  • Reason 2: Correcting Misspelled Words - Each student also gets five personal words. I cut scrap paper in fourths, write students' names on the top, and add misspelled words as they occur. Any words that are misspelled on the previous week's spelling list go on the list first. As I grade papers, I write correct spellings of misspelled words on the top margin of the paper then transfer them onto the students' lists before returning the papers. If a student asks me how to spell a word, it automatically goes on the list. (By the way, I never ask students to look up words that they don't know how to spell. How can they look it up if they don't know how to spell it? How silly!) Yes, the twenty-something little pieces of paper with personal spelling words cause me some extra work. Many would consider it a royal pain. But I still do it. Why? It works!
  • Reason 3: Study Skills - Fourth graders need to build their study skills. I feel that regular study of spelling words helps kids develop habits necessary to succeed in middle and high school. Learning to spell 25 spelling words each week gets them in the habit of studying.
Here's how the spelling/vocabulary schedule in our class goes:
  • Monday - Hand out a list of spelling words (vocabulary and content); assign first two sections in vocabulary book. Do I go over each word? No. It's all there in black and white, and students can read for themselves. This is the one subject that I ask students to handle independently. (Again, building study skills...)
  • Tuesday - Assign second two sections in vocabulary book. This is the first year that we do not grade (or even check) the vocabulary book. It's too time-consuming, and we have agreed that not all practice needs to be checked or graded. I provide them with an answer sheet, and they can check it if they want to. You might be wondering about students who don't do their vocabulary book pages. Well, they fail the test (which is pretty hard). Then we have to have a tough discussion. And it doesn't happen very often.
  • Wednesday - Administer spelling pretest. I give the pretest on a half-sheet of lined notebook paper. For this test, students only take the first twenty words (vocabulary and content). After checking their pretests, I give them three papers: their graded tests, their personal words, and a form like the one below. Students write their names on both sides, circle words they missed on both sides, and write their personal words on the bottom of the left-hand side. They cut the paper in half, keep the left-hand side for studying, and return the right-hand side and the small sheet with their personal words for use on Friday's posttest.
  • Thursday - Administer vocabulary test.
  • Friday - Administer spelling posttest. On the top twenty, students take only the words they missed. For the individual words, pairs of students trade personal lists and administer them to one another.

Other teachers may say, "I don't have time for spelling in my crowded curriculum." But I choose to make time. How much time does this program take? Less than fifteen minutes each day!

If you've been following my blog, you know that this series was written for my new student teacher. Hopefully, this post provides insight on my teaching style. The name of my blog, "Teaching . . . Seriously," tells part of the story. But there's more. I aim to create a community of learners who embrace the struggle involved in daily learning, who enjoy the rush that new skills and knowledge bring, and who are personally accountable for their own learning. It's a lofty goal . . . but a good one.

As 2014 draws to an end, I look forward to learning and growing with you in 2015!

Brenda

P.S. Two free sites on the Internet really help my kids study their spelling and vocabulary words: spellingcity.com and quizlet.com. Check them out!