We have a standard spelling program from a reputable publishing company. It is a pre-set part of our curriculum and all of the teachers are required to use it. Each week the students complete different pages of a workbook and then take a test. Some teachers spend part of their teaching day doing these pages. In my fourth grade classroom, I don’t!
Each week’s lesson has a “rule” and through various activities the students practice the rule. I do not devote any of my class time or instructional minutes to these four pages. Each week I assign it as homework and tell them to finish it by the end of the week. (We are required to assign a certain number of homework minutes each night.) The students do it without complaint and easily finish it. Most weeks every student gets a perfect score on both the workbook pages and the test. Would I rather have them reading for pleasure, you bet! If I have to do the spelling program, I would rather it be something they can breeze through at home so I can concentrate on real learning in the classroom.
I have a few students who each week score 100% on their spelling tests and they are the worst spellers. Their talent is in memorizing! I’ve tried to explain this to parents and have been met with disbelief. A weekly spelling test is a memorization test – not authentic learning.
Some parents eagerly embrace the spelling work and weekly tests. It is familiar to them and something tangible that they can readily measure each week. I’ve stressed that it shouldn’t be used as a barometer of their child’s school performance or success.
At this point, you may wonder why I even use the program. When I wanted to change from our basal reading program to Reading Workshop, I had to fight hard. After hours of persuasive arguments and research, I won, which means the students won! In every great negotiation, you have to leave something on the table to get the most sought after prize. I left spelling on the table.
You may ask if I am one of those teachers who embraces “inventive” spelling. The answer is no. I teach spelling all day long, every day. Whenever I am working with students we discuss spelling rules: prefixes, suffixes, root words, doubling rules, vowel diagraphs, etc. Throughout each area of the curriculum, we discuss it and apply it as needed. Each student in my room has learned the dangers of relying on “spell check” on the computer and learned editing skills. When we construct paragraphs, we let the words flow and fix spelling during editing. All of my students keep a handheld spelling ace with them for checking words. We use peer editing to check one another’s work. I’ve taught them the old trick of reading your work backwards since your eye can sometimes miss words that you spelled wrong. Spelling is a part of every lesson.
I envision my students sitting for their SATs and attacking the writing section. I imagine them using the prewriting techniques I’ve taught them to organize their ideas. Then, I envision them constructing their paragraphs. Finally, I see them editing and fixing their spelling. They will successfully compose not because of workbook pages, but because they learned to apply rules innately and in context.