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assessing spelling
Old 10-14-2006, 02:33 AM
 
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Hi! My principal wants to eliminate the weekly spelling test. We're looking for alternate ways to assess spelling. I would love to know what others out there do. I'm putting together a list of ideas to try to prevent those afraid of change from freaking out. You help is greatly appreciated.

Steph


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Why?
Old 10-14-2006, 04:28 AM
 
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What is the reasoning behind your principal eliminating the weekly spelling test? Does he/she have any suggestions as to what should be done?
Could you do a pre and post assessment on grade level sight words? I know some schools who have a list of "no excuses" words and those are assessed in daily writing assignments.
I'm just curious as to why your principal has said this in the first place.
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Old 10-14-2006, 05:58 AM
 
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Depending on the grade level, I think it's important for spelling words to be learned in context. I teach older kids, though. By now, my students know how to spell common words like "because," and there's no excuse to misspell them.

Nancy Atwell has a book called Lessons That Change Writers, and it includes instructions on how to do a personal spelling list. I have used it and really like it, especially for a class that has many different levels of spellers.

I also like to use spelling words from other subjects. For example, if we're learning vocabulary words in reading, I expect the students to know how to spell those words.

In short, I don't agree that spelling lists should be ELIMINATED. I do, however, think that spelling should be in context of what the students are learning. Otherwise, they just memorize a list of words and forget them later.
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I agree with SC
Old 10-14-2006, 06:43 AM
 
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that the words need to have meaning, be in some sort of context. Words in isolation are pretty worthless.

However--research has been very, very clear on this for a number of years--lists and tests are a very ineffective way to teach spelling (although I think the in-context idea does have a lot of merit). But just having the weekly list for the class and the Friday test will do nothing to improve your kids' spelling, I promise you. Yet this is by far the most common teaching method for spelling. I do think that a lot of teachers are aware of this, but just continue with the lists and tests because it's what they've always done.

Word sorting and word study has been shown to be pretty effective--we spent one whole semester learning to do this in the reading minor--but it's a headache to set up. Once it's set up, it runs itself, but it is a lot of work initally. I don't know if you want to go through all that.

Remember too that spelling is developmental, and some spelling lessons don't hit home till the child is at the proper developmental level for that word (which happens at different times for different kids--another reason that a class list just doesn't work).

And spelling instruction is like diagramming sentences--it's only sort of academic anyway--lots and lots of time should never be spent in either of these areas.
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Wow!
Old 10-14-2006, 07:51 AM
 
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Your principal definitley has the right idea, I think. I feel that having students study/memorize words for the spelling test is a waste of time unless they continue to use it correctly thereafter in their day to day work. Unfortunately parents, most teachers, and most principals can't imagine life without a weekly spelling test. Research shows that weekly spelling test are ineffective. Futhermore when students study spelling the pupose should be to understand and use the pattern/skill the list is focusing on. I get very frustrated when I see spelling lists that contain only theme words (for example a Halloween word list in October). While I understand that if students are going to writing about a topic you want them to spell the words correctly memorizing Halloween or skeleton isn't really meaningful for long unless it is tied to a spelling pattern that they can use for a variety of words. Memorizing the spelling of vocabulary words isn't a best practice either. My background stresses that teaching vocabulary words is intended to help strenghten reading skills (comprehension) and increase the variety of word usage in writing. Vocabulary is most meaningful taught in content and while the definition should be learned memorization of the spelling should not be expected

While I agree basic everyday words (high frequency words) need to be spelled correctly (use of word walls and spelling dictionaries aid in this) I believe in teaching students skills not memorization. Skills for me include rules/patterns, using a dictionary, asking a friend,etc. As adults we haven't memorized every word, we use rules, dictionaries, spell check, and I ask my assitant all the time. The more I use a word the easier it becomes to spell, but I don't allow the fact that I haven't memorized the spelling limit my use of the word.

In answer to your question try this:

teach basic spelling rules - for example doubling the consonant on CVC words before adding a suffix (run, running). Continue working on that rule until students have mastered it and then expect to see that rule used correctly in their day to day work.

create a spelling dictionary for each student - my students have some common words already in them, but we add words as students need them. Not all dictionaries are the same. I have some hard core sports boys and the words we put in their dictionaries (the students actually write them in) are not the same as my little girl who loves to write about horseback riding. Once it is entered in their dictionary they are expected to spell it correctly.

I lack room for an actual word wall so during different seasons or units I create a list on chart paper of words they might need during that time. The students help suggest them and watch me write them. I use a picture clue if needed. They refer to the chart and the chart changes as topics change. Require students to spell those words correctly that are on the chart.

Finally they use the dictionary or a friend, while you can't really assess this, it is a life skill and is important to allow students to use their resources.

Unfortunately my school isn't ready for me to move away from a weekly spelling test, maybe some day. But I still put the other things in place. Best of luck and while the change will be difficult for many I think your principal has your students best interest in mind.


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Old 10-14-2006, 09:27 AM
 
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I currently use Daily Spelling (In series with Daily Geography etc.). I can't remember the publisher. It consists of a weekly list of 12-14 words grouped phonetically or in word families. There are 8-10 other related words so words are not just learned in isolation. The students are given two dictation sentences a day to then edit together and focus on spelling rules.(I use a composition book so I can gauge progress over time.)It is designed to be supplemental to your spelling program, but I think it is sufficient because it practices authentic spelling, is quick, and it involves editing which is used on standardized tests. I have added a point system with mini prizes for careful editing to encourage focus during correcting time. It also gives you an opportunity to reinforce daily best handwriting which we do not always have time to do. The entire program consists of one inexpensive teacher's manual so you can't beat the price!! I started off without the weekly test last quarter, but then added it because some kids seemed to need it and the parents wanted something familiar to practice at home. I do feel that you could easily eliminate that step. In my experience kids seems to be natural spellers or not. Practice in actual reading and writing is going to be time better spent than a spelling test. Daily Spelling may solve your problem easily.
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Word study...
Old 10-14-2006, 09:29 AM
 
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We do a lot of word study activities. I am teaching first grade and we work on phonics. We don't have spelling tests per say. We have word wall words and they must be spelled correctly in their daily writings. We also incorporate our words from Rebecca Sitton. We have our phonics set up for the entire year. We have phonics lessons for each day (from the book Sequencial Phonics that they use), our word wall words go with those. We also have something called my books that we put in categories with our phonics. We focus on word families in our guided reading groups also.

We "test" the kids by having them read the words to us. We have the new word wall words for the week and then two weeks worth of reveiw words on the test as well. I really like this system as I am not a fan of weekly spelling tests. I don't feel that kids learn the words for anything other than the tests...

There is a program from Rebecca Sitton that doesn't use weekly tests in the traditional sense...I wasn't crazy about the program, but in its defense, I only used it for one year! It may be something for your principal to look in to.

Good luck, I think it is a step in the right direction.

Amy
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what i do
Old 10-17-2006, 06:26 PM
 
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I just gave up weekly spelling tests in my classroom this year, choosing to switch to a more intregrated word study and really love the results I'm getting!

I'm basing most of my instruction on the Working with Words portion of the Four Blocks framework. We have a word wall in our classroom and post about four frequently misspelled words a week on the wall. It's a policy that word wall words have to be spelled correctly . . . and when they aren't, the assignment containing the misspelling gets handed back so the spelling can be corrected.

We also study common prefixes, suffixes and roots through a group of words called the "Nifty Thrifty Fifty (NTF)" (introducting a couple new words each week). These NFT words incorporate most of the most common roots, prefixes and suffixes, and I get one of my spelling grades from taking parts of the words we discuss and having the students recombine them to spell new words.

We also do a lot of word study activities that get students building words, exploring word patterns, completing word sorts, what word looks right activities, etc. (all activities I found in a Four Blocks Working with Words book), which in many cases I also can take grades from for assessment purposes.

Though all these activities I'm finding students are getting more conscious of their spelling. Before with weekly word lists, the focus seemed to always be on memorizing the words for the test (and then immediately forgetting them afterwards or at least never transferring them into their own writing), while now they seem to be paying more attention to making sure their spelling is more accurate and the words do seem to be getting truly learned and applied.
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Weekly Spelling Tests
Old 11-10-2006, 05:28 AM
 
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Wow...I SO agree with maryteach and the merits of incorporating word study and word sorts. I have been teaching for almost ten years but am now at a new school (second year). I am VERY frustrated with what I see going on in the primary grades with spelling instruction. I teach kindergarten and feel like I am wasting my time when I see "my" kids (from the previous year) going into a classroom and being given these "one size fits all" lists of developmentally inappropriate spelling words...week after week...test on Friday. *SNORE* I like the "Words Their Way" process of instruction which involves assessment guided, direct instruction utilizing sound and word sorts (depending on the level of the child). The lessons are multilevel and multisensory and very appropriate for primary grades. (There are also books for upper grades, but I particularly like how the children are touching, seeing, saying, and then can/will transfer their knowledge to writing.) Yes, one will have to invest some time setting up the program, but the efforts are well worth it because instruciton is EFFECTIVE. Why waste a school year with practices that you KNOW don't work well and do not feel good about implementing?


I've also taught 4th grade using the "Nifty Thrifty Fifty" from Patricia Cunnigham's Big Blocks and thought it was very effective AND, more importantly, the kids enjoyed the lessons...and RETAINED and UTILIZED what they had learned!
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Weekly Spelling Tests
Old 11-10-2006, 05:31 AM
 
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Wow...I SO agree with maryteach and the merits of incorporating word study and word sorts. I have been teaching for almost ten years but am now at a new school (second year). I am VERY frustrated with what I see going on in the primary grades with spelling instruction. I teach kindergarten (utilizing Kindergarten Building Blocks) and feel like I am wasting my time when I see "my" kids (from the previous year) going into a classroom and being given these "one size fits all" lists of developmentally inappropriate spelling words...week after week...test on Friday. *SNORE* I like the "Words Their Way" process of instruction which involves assessment guided, direct instruction utilizing sound and word sorts (depending on the level of the child). The lessons are multilevel and multisensory and very appropriate for primary grades. (There are also books for upper grades, but I particularly like how the children are touching, seeing, saying, and then can/will transfer their knowledge to writing.) Yes, one will have to invest some time setting up the program, but the efforts are well worth it because instruction is EFFECTIVE. Why waste a school year with practices that you KNOW don't work well and do not feel good about implementing?

I also agree with the comment about doing the weekly lists because that's what they've always done, but I also think it's because a lot of teachers just DON'T KNOW what ELSE to do! I think that the administration is partly to blame for this if they are not providing professional development opportunities for the staff to enlighten teachers of the best, research based, and most effective practices.

(I've also taught 4th grade using the "Nifty Thrifty Fifty" from Patricia Cunnigham's Big Blocks and thought it was very effective AND, more importantly, the kids enjoyed the lessons...and RETAINED and UTILIZED what they had learned! )


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