Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Be A Brave Speller

During my thirty-four years as an elementary educator I've probably approached the teaching of spelling in thirty-four different ways, and yet I'm still looking for the "holy grail" of spelling instruction.  Nothing seems to fit just right.  I've done the drills, the rules, the developmental approach.  I've gone from workbooks, to word sorts with all kinds of paper flying around the room. I've taught  patterns and strategies, open and closed syllables.  I've required students to study lists, memorize rules, chant using Cast-A-Spell, you name it, I've tried it or I've researched it.

I'm sure many folks have done dissertations on spelling instruction, and I'm sure some have made millions from selling books and programs, but really what works?  I've concluded two things, it all works and it all doesn't work.  I believe an individual's understanding of spelling  really depends on the speller or the spellee ( that a real word?).  We know kids learn differently, and we also know when it comes to various approaches and pedagogy, most (but of course not all) of our students will make progress with a variety of approaches.  It gets down to, can they improve their spelling accuracy?  Are they able to become a consistently better speller in daily work? What role does technology play in our current practice?  If you ask most adults they can clearly tell you if they were/are a good speller or not.

Dana Murphy recently wrote a blog post on Two Writing Teachers (December 3, 2015) about being a brave speller.   I'd love to see all kids be BRAVE SPELLERS.   I'm starting to talk to my third grade writers more and more everyday about being a brave speller, using all you know, trying a word more than once, using all the strategies you can muster, but also being able to move on and keep their writing flow as they draft.  I believe can save exact accuracy for our "polished pieces".

In elementary school I was a successful speller.  I'm not positive, but I think it had a ton to do with the fact that I loved reading, and had a pretty good visual memory.  I was in fact, horrible with phonics, to the point I had to pull an all nighter to pass my phonics exam in college!  It doesn't mean I don't know how to teach kids phonics and spelling, it just means I've really got to think about it, it's my part of being a brave speller.

So now, when kids ask me to spell words for them when they are drafting, I'm going to ask them to be a brave speller, I'll throw out a strategy or two as well, but foremost, I want them to be problem solvers.  I want them to grow their independence and their thinking.  I think being a brave speller is one way they can do that.

If solid tips are something you seek here are a few tidbits I've used or new ideas I've found  that I also like.

  • Circle the word, then move on!  Sometimes just knowing what you don't know will help. Acknowledge the lack of spelling accuracy, then get back to the writing.
  • Try the word three times, three ways and three ways only.  Choose the one that seems the closest, then move on.
  • Try the five second rule.  If after five seconds,you're still stuck, take a guess and move on, approximation is acceptable when drafting.
  • GUM-when you want to write a word you don't know think GUM.  GUESS based upon sounds you hear, UNDERLINE to show you think the word isn't write, MOVE on to get the important content out, there will always be time for spelling editing.
  • Use the tools you've got, portable word wall lists, charts around the room, mentor texts, a writing partner.  BUT make sure this is quick and then move on!
Good luck on becoming the bravest speller you can be and teaching your students to do the same!