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Monday, 21 April 2014

My Spelling Approach

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I have been perfecting my spelling approach ever since I became a teacher 5 years ago. It was my worst subject in school and I thought the main approach used by my teachers had failed me. 

I wanted to perfect my spelling approach so that it allowed the weakest students to succeed and the top students to excel. I looked at many spelling approaches and through trial and error came up with a system that is currently showing great results. Of course I will continue to perfect it as time goes on but for now here it is:

My spelling approach focuses on rote memorisation of words and is not a phonetic approach. Phonics does have a place in the classroom and sounds should be taught for the benefit of spelling and reading but I keep it separate to my spelling program as not all students are able to effectively spell using sounds. Sounds did not click with me until I became a teacher and had to learn how to teach them. I want to make sure the words my students are learning to spell are applicable to them so the list I use comprises of 1200 words that make up 89% of written English language. I arranged them in increasing complexity with some more frequently words introduced earlier. These words are broken up into 120 lists of 10 words.

Many teachers choose a spelling approach where they allow students to pick words of interest. This can be good for motivating students but should a year 3 student be able to spell tyrannosaurus over they? With a word that big and complex how long will they retain that word if they still struggle to spell they?
Other teachers choose to take words spelt incorrectly from students writing. But if a student did one trip to a random country town is it important they spend a week learning to spell it?

I send the spelling list home to parents to encourage work on the words at home and have a class set of the complete list for use by students.
I use a pre test to roughly assign students to a list. This method is not full proof but it would be a waste of time to start all students from list 1.

A typical spelling lesson in my room goes for 15-20 minutes. You want to keep it quick and fast moving.
1.Spelling instructions and recording who wants a test.
2.Test (students not having a test continue on)
3. L.S.C.W.P.C.
4.Spelling Activity
5.Early finishers task or free time
If students do not finish the activity they should be required to complete it at an alternative time.

Look, Say, Cover, Picture, Write and Check has its place in a spelling program but is not effective if students don't focus while doing it nor if it is your stand alone spelling program. It can be a complete waste of paper and can teach students to spell incorrectly if they copy their own list words into their book/journal. I have my lists laminated and students use whiteboard markers or crayons to write their words on the back. This is a great trick as it forces students to 'cover' their words. We all know most kids just copy if they are able to.

For those that don't know what Look, Say, Cover, Picture, Write, Check is: The students look (L) at each word in turn and say (S) the word as they turn the card over (C). The students picture (P) the word in their head and then they write (W) the word with a whiteboard marker or whiteboard crayon (messier but don’t dry up or stop working from pressing too hard). Finally they check (C) that they have spelt the word right.
Students then complete a spelling activity from these Spelling Activity Task Cards usually selected in advance by me.
For younger students I have activity sheets I laminate and they write over.
For older students I have Spelling Activity Grids so they can have more of a choice of the activities they do or use it for homework.

Students shouldn't be forced to stay on a list for a set amount of time. Some students learn words more slowly then others and shouldn't be rushed. I keep a track of how often students pass so that I can given them extra help, encouragement or a push if needed. 
At the beginning of the spelling lesson the teacher calls out each list in turn and records who wants a spelling test. Students then complete the test on a scrap piece of paper (precut stash by teacher) as the teacher calls out one word from each list being tested before cycling through again.
The teacher should use the name of the students rather then the list name to ensure students don’t miss any words. It may sound quite daunting to test so many different lists at once but it ensure students do not cheat and can easily be completed in 5 minutes with a quiet class and practice.
The teacher then marks the test immediately. To pass a list students must get all 10 words correct. Students should study their errors if they don’t pass.
Talk to students every few weeks about how to tell if they are ready for a test. i.e they complete L.S.C.P.W.C without errors or needing to look back.
Publicly reward students with a certificate when they pass every 10th list. 

The most important part of my spelling program is the termly test. The main problem with rote learning is that students commit the words to short term memory but it is not guaranteed that they will commit it to long term memory. To catch the words that slip, a termly test needs to be done. I find it best to test on the block of 10 lists closest to where they are at. If the student passed list 13-23 then I would test them on 11-20. Use your discretion and knowledge of the students. The students are required to repeat any lists they did not receive 100% on. To repeat means they need to practice the words and repass a normal class test.

So that's how my spelling program works. Hopefully it gave you some ideas on how to perfect your own program or inspire you to try mine. If you do like the sounds of my approach you can purchase all the resources feature above in my Complete Spelling Package:

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