Monday, June 20, 2011

On Spelling...

In my experience, spelling has not seemed to be connected to any other part of language learning. When I have a look at my own children and their spelling knowledge and skills this also seems to be evident.
Jillian learned to read before she went to grade one. She taught herself and at age 14, reads voraciously. She is also an awful speller having to use many strategies in order to spell well and she seems to have no attachment to caring about this challenge of hers.
Max learned to read along with his primary school classmates and has followed a so-called “normal” pattern with the learning of new material. He only reads what he has to read and prefers to ponder and create more than take in. He is a terrific speller making connections between like words and transferring his knowledge of one word to many. Phonics makes sense to him, as do exceptions to spelling rules.
In the box called school, Jillian is a straight A student with very little effort and Max works hard for B’s.
What does this all mean?
Well first off, it is only fascinating to me, not important, as I know what their gifts and talents are and how to encourage those to be used for good in this world. As a teacher, I felt that this was my greatest responsibility after keeping them safe physically and emotionally.
However, part of my responsibility was also to teach academic skills. I am a writer and know that one becomes a better writer by writing and so I wanted my students to write and write and write – freely. This meant that spelling had to be thrown by the wayside in the initial stages of writing. However, in order to produce polished pieces, editing was necessary and with editing comes spelling correctness.
One of the strategies I used was to have handheld electronic dictionaries available throughout the classroom as well as a variety of hard copy paper dictionaries. But the greatest strategy that produced far-reaching and long lasting results came to me when I had a triple graded class of 6-8 year olds. It unfolds as follows:
When you, the student, are doing a spelling edit on a writing piece and you come to a word you are not sure of:
1.       Ask how many letters there are in the word and then put that many blanks on a piece of paper, white/chalk board etc. eg: The word “like” would look like this _ _ _ _
2.       Attempt to fill in blanks – must be quick and brief or I would give hints and sometimes fill in the blanks with an explanation. Say child writes, lick for like, I then would put a check mark above l and i and erase the c and k and see if he/she can fill those blanks in.
3.       If child cannot, I remind them that there are many words that end in this silent letter and we must get used to remembering this. Invariably they write ke for the ending of the word.
This entire process should not take long - just seconds. Other students can take these same seconds to help their classmates and I would suggest students that may be a resource for each other. For instance: I remember a child needing to spell the word dolphin and so I asked that child if they could think of someone in the class who loved dolphins and might be able to assist them. Sometimes I would ask a child if they remembered someone else needing that word a few days ago and then the child would remember and ask said child to help them.
When I accidentally fell into creating this strategy, it was out of need and a noticeable desire for all. For the first two days it was mayhem and after that it was so smooth that one hardly noticed the goings on and spelling became a secondary focus.
What I did notice is that the students were becoming good spellers maybe it was because they were beginning to see and make connections and because the words that they wanted to spell were from their personal thoughts and vocabulary. I am not certain.
What I do know is – it worked!

(I hope that this is stated clearly enough.)

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