Saturday, March 5

I had another idea...

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.


Sarah said...

This is such a great overarching theme and what a wonderful extension of what they were already learning about! I can't wait to see what they come up with :)

Nancy C said...

Nancy - You are a genius. First of all to get the kids interested in humanitarianism is a wonderful. I truly believe our kids want to be helpful and make a difference. Going beyond the usual ideas of recycling and saving animals is great.

Having the kids just look at the website and LEARN about it without taking notes is genius. Often the kids are just too focused on the task and getting the job done. I'm sure having them read and digest what they've read is going to help them understand.

Great job - Thanks again for sharing.

Denise Krebs said...

This is my first time visiting your blog. I have been here a while checking out different posts. I love the Academy Awards event and the fact that your students don't lose recess. I think the clipboard for research is a good idea, and it could help prevent inadvertent plagiarism too.

Keep writing,

NancyTeaches said...

Hi Sarah,
Thanks for the comment. I can't wait to see what happens next myself. I truly don't know. Shhh.. don't tell, but I'm not a great planner. I'm more spontaneous! Thanks for stopping by. Nancy

NancyTeaches said...

Hi Nancy,
Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. As for genius, that may be a great example of hyperbole! I try to create situations of discovery and hope they focus on the learning. It is scary that as fourth graders they sometimes seem to focus intensely on the result and forget to enjoy the process.

I always appreciate your comments and look forward to them.

Thanks, Nancy

NancyTeaches said...

Hi Denise,
I'm so glad you found my blog and spent time exploring. Your time is appreciated and valued. I hope you found ideas that you can use. That is why I blog! Thanks again and I hope you visit again.

Eric Manheim said...


I often practice the "seat of the pants" planning method as well and it's pretty cool when it comes together effectively in more than one way. I always enjoyed it when I got to get hands on experience in class growing up because you forgot that you were at school. I'm going to keep that in mind when I get my own class full of kids someday. Thanks.

Patricia Radford said...

Hi Ms. Nancy, my name is Patricia Radford and I'm a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. Students have great ideas on how to give back, but rarely do. They do not see how much time and effort it takes, they just see the easy parts. If students took the time and effort and gave back, they would see how rewarding it can be and would enjoy it very much.

KaShondra Rudolph said...

Hello Nancy,

My name is KaShondra Rudolph. I am an EDM310 student from the University of South Alabama. I really enjoyed reading your post. I think students have many wonderful ideas and an a wild imagination. They really want to do their part to help and make a different. As long as we guide them the right way and give them that extra push and motivation, they will succeed at doing just what they want to do.