The parents of the students that I teach are so very passionate about the topic of spelling. As a matter of fact, it seems to be a favorite topic of conversation among some of them. "When are you going to teach spelling?" is often the first question a parent will ask at our curriculum night. They can't wait for those lists of words to start coming home so that they can drill their children.
I struggle with this for a few reasons. First, I have never believed that memorizing a list of random words has resulted in better spelling in the context of actual writing. It seems that, most often, the kids do great on the spelling test (after being drilled on them all week), but then continue to spell the words wrong in their writing. It seems like such a waste of precious instructional time. Also, spelling tests can become a real source of angst with some of the kiddos. Those little ones that aren't your naturally good spellers...it's so painful for them...and not helpful (I feel). Finally, I believe that good writing doesn't have anything to do with good spelling, but when we dwell on it by giving lists and tests, it stifles our fledgling writers...just a little bit.
All that said.....I want my students to be good spellers. Of course I do!! I secretly cringe when I see the same child spell the word "thay" instead of "they" over and over again. I also sometimes secretly curse my seventh grade son's teachers when he spells "there", "their", and "they're" wrong. I mean, c'mon...shouldn't he know that by seventh grade?!
I have tried a variety of ways to address spelling in my classroom and haven't really landed on one that pleases me completely. Here's some that I have tried:
WORDS THEIR WAY
A great program that teaches kids the most common spelling patterns and their exceptions. It is also differentiated, which is important for spelling instruction. But....I found it really difficult to find the time to manage all of the different groups, and with every kid doing a different sort, it can be tricky to keep track of it all. Not to mention, for WTW to be effective, students need time every day to practice the pattern...not just sorting, but all the other activities....games, word hunts, etc. I know there is a way to manage this program effectively...but I haven't figured it out yet. Oh, and parents reluctantly accept this spelling program, because the word sort is somewhat similar to that list of words they like so much and there is a "test" every week.
SPELLING IN THE CONTEXT OF WRITING
This is probably one of my favorite ways to teach spelling. As I confer with students, we circle words that they are very close to spelling correctly. Then we make a list of 5-10 misspelled words in a steno notebook. The list is copied onto both sides of the line in the notebook and then half is ripped out for me to keep with my conferring notes. The student works on those words all week (they can make flashcards, or they can write them over and over again onto register tape). The next week, when I confer with them, I give them a quickie informal quiz on the words. If they get them correct, they are crossed off the list. If not, they go onto next week's list. I love this way of teaching spelling because the words students are learning to spell come directly from their own writing, and usually are words that the student cares about spelling. Thus, they are more invested and are more successful at learning the words. However....parents hate this. No list to memorize...no real test. Parents also feel they aren't learning "the rules" of spelling with this method and will never learn to spell bigger and more important words if they are only learning to spell words from their own writing.
BETH NEWINGHAM'S WAY
This is what I'm trying out this year. Third grade guru Beth Newingham has struggled with finding the right way to teach spelling and has come up with what might be a happy, "middle of the road" place to teach spelling. She basically quizzes the kids at the beginning of the year on basic sight words (from a list of 1200 most common words). The students highlight the ones they spell correctly on a grid. Students will then receive five of these words each week to learn and be quizzed on. I think this is reasonable...and after all, students SHOULD be able to spell these common words correctly....kind of like "no excuses" words.
In addition to the five high frequency words, once each week she teaches her students a word pattern (like in Words Their Way). This is done as a whole class, but she differentiates by giving a pre-test and any kids who pass that with only 1 or 2 errors, receive a list of challenge words instead of the regular list (see below). You can find a much more detailed description of this method by visiting Beth Newingham's Scholastic page (or click on her name above).
Teacher Chick has put together a more formalized version of Beth Newingham's spelling program, complete with all of the word lists for every week of the school year: Spelling Lists Words Study Unit (available on Teachers Pay Teachers). I love when someone does all the work for me: Thanks Teacher Chick!!
So, that is my spelling journey, in a nutshell. We'll see how this latest pans out. I would love to hear about your spelling program....so let's chat friends!