I do differentiated spelling this way....I give the pretest right after the regular spelling test on Friday. They just do the pretest on the back of the paper. They are not hard to grade at all because I stop grading them when I reach 3 wrong. I usually only have between 3-5 kids who test out. I give spelling words out on Friday afternoon in the hopes that some of my weaker spellers will start studying them over the weekend (
--at least I can say I try.)
My regular list of words is 20. My challenge list is 10--10 hard words, but only 10. There is major incentive to try for the challenge list because our homework involves writing them...3x on Monday (in ABC order) 2x on Tuesday in cursive, and sentences on Wednesday. My kids are smart enough to know that 10 words is a lot less HW than 20. My kids who pretest out of the regular "spelling rule" list work on greek and latin root words. I personally think that is lot more applicable as they get older than spelling rules which have way too many exceptions to be rules anyway (can you tell I was not taught phonics??) With the greek and latin root words, I can go a lot more in to the vocabulary aspect of it and they enjoy it! They do different activities with their words than the regular list kids and there is a sort of eliteness about being in the challenge group. I generally will a couple who make it every single week, but then about 8 or 9 who rotate in an out week by week depending on the spelling skill.
Have I had smart kids who failed the pretest on purpose? I am sure I have, but I've had just as many kids who I would never think would pass it work so hard to get to the challenge list. I make a big deal of "announcing" my super spellers (100% on the test) and my challenge list kids on Friday afternoons. Even your most jaded gifted kid wants that kind of recognition. I have never had a kid that I knew was capable of passing the pretest fail it week after week.
My kids grade each others work all the time. My opinion is that it is all in how you handle it...If I have someone who makes a comment about another student's grade, I am sure to correct it. Before we switch papers the first couple of times in the year we discuss it. We are all a community of learners..here to support each other. It's just about building relationships. We talk about how it would feel if someone made fun of us for a low grade or teased us for being brainy. Once we get into the year and my class is close and treating each other with respect--it's not an issue. But then again, I do not teach in an area where grades are cut throat and everyone is trying to out do each other. Maybe it would be different there. For me, it's a major bonus and my kids get feedback on their work immediately. When I was in school that was so important to my learning. I needed to be able to see mistakes or validate my good feelings asap. There are lots of things that I grade, but they only get papers back 1x/week and I don't want the learning moment to pass. I don't want to grade a paper that we did on Tuesday on Saturday afternoon only to find out that Johnny really doesn't get long multiplication. Intervention is not as effective then. Or grade the paper on Saturday only to find that Suzy has been sitting in class bored for 4 days. I could grade all of my papers the same day, but then I'd have nothing to stop me from enjoying my weekends