Enhancing Spelling Without Those Antiquated Spelling Tests

April 26, 2014

It would seem that Friday morning spelling tests have been around since the dawn of time. Yet, it would also seem that students, even those who get a shiny gold star on the top of their test, are not transferring the knowledge of their newly memorized words when they get to Writing Workshop. I've tried several different spelling programs over the years and while are better than others, I haven't found one that really makes a difference in my students' spelling. Go figure. 

 

This year, my colleagues and I tried implementing The Do's and Don'ts of Spelling (another fabulous idea from Gini Rojas). Each time I finish a unit of study in Writing Workshop and my students publish a piece of writing, I gather their final drafts and make a long list of every single word they spelled incorrectly. Because I currently teach in an international school these words, even in fourth grade, range from "him" to "communication". I write them all down. 

 

I then type them up in a chart (see picture) exactly as the students have spelled them. If two children spell the same word wrong, both misspellings go in one section. The children then get together with their spelling partner. These are partners I've assigned and in this case, they are paired up homogeneously. Otherwise, you end up with one child doing all the work and the other child letting him... They are tasked to correct the words in the Don't list and spell them correctly in the Do list. Before beginning the activity we come up with ways to correct these words. I ask the children to tell me how they could fix the words but typically I guide them toward the following five methods: 

 

  • Use a spelling tool (dictionary, thesaurus, charts around the room)

  • Look in a book (if applicable- for instance, you know you'll find the word "explorer" in our book about Christopher Columbus)

  • Type it into a Word Doc and see if you get those pesky red squiggles

  • Scribble it in a few different ways in the margin and see if one looks correct

  • Ask a friend

 

I encourage them to use a couple of these methods in combination until they're sure they have the correct spelling.

 

Once I look over their work and make sure they've spelled the words correctly, they are tasked with identifying spelling rules. Some of my English Language Learners are still noticing the job of the silent e at the end of words. Many of my ELLs are trying to make some sense of when to double a consonant (not typical in other languages). But they all work at their own pace to see if they can create rules for spelling tricky words. Once they've gathered a few rules, they share them with the class. We discuss them and add them to our Spelling Rules chart. 

 

This process takes several days and their intense work with the words allows the correct spellings to enter their long term memory. We outlaw the Don't Words and they are accountable for spelling those words correctly in Writing Workshop and other parts of the day. I'm in awe of their ability to recall the proper spelling of such challenging words. Spelling instruction for transfer, at last!

 

 

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