Focus on Teaching Spellings

spelling-list-2-200x264The weekly spelling test is still common place in many schools across the globe. The routine remains unchallenged in many settings as, rightly, the importance of being able to spell correctly is a key life skill we all must master. But some children find it easier than others. One problem persists that the testing culture remains relentlessly evident, but is one of the least taught. In an article for The Conversation, Misty Adoniou argues:

Sending a list of words home on Monday to be tested on Friday is not teaching. Nor is getting children to write their spelling words out 10 times, even if they have to do it in rainbow colours.

Looking, covering, writing and checking does not teach spelling. Looking for little words inside other words, and doing word searches are just time fillers. And writing your “spelling” words in spirals or backwards is just plain stupid.

So why do teachers and schools persist with such practice? Within England, and some other UK countries, there is a focus on synthetic phonic learning, especially in the Early Years of schooling in an attempt to improve literacy skills. There are many opponents to this system, and the formal testing that takes place for pupils aged 5/6 years old (for example, read Michael Rosen’s views here). Beyond this, the spelling test remains in place, to the joy of some pupils, and the fear of others. Indeed, some parents relish the challenge of helping their children learn the weekly list, and the practice continues unchallenged, as though embedded into a normal routine which children must go through.

UKEdChat explored spellings within a SPaG Special during Session 134, so what is wrong with the weekly tests? Many teachers observe that many learners who do well on the tests cannot spell the words within their subsequent writing; some always do well, others always do badly; the focus on preparing for the test takes time which could be more wisely used with more constructive activities.

One major and important element of spelling is to attach meaning to the words. Adoniou continues,

Children should know the meanings of the words they spell, and as logical as that sounds – ask a child in your life what this week’s spelling words mean, and you might be surprised by their answers.

If spelling words are simply strings of letters to be learnt by heart with no meaning attached and no investigation of how those words are constructed, then we are simply assigning our children a task equivalent to learning ten random seven-digit PINs each week.

Memorising our own cash machine PIN’s is tricky enough…imagine this process for a child who is still developing. Many continue with spelling tests, so here are our top ten tips for aiding spelling instruction in a more interesting way (for the teacher, the child, and the parents):

Top Ten Tips for Teaching Spellings

  1. Use technology to support the process – For iPad, MySpelling App (£0.69*) is a great resource, allowing for the recording of words on the device. Also available Squeebles Spelling Test (£1.49*). On Android, Miss Spell’s Class; Spelling Bee; and Spell Wiz are all freely available, with Squeezbles also being available at £1.49*. Click on the names to be taken to the relevant online store.
  2. Add meaning to the spelling. Place the word within a short, simple (or silly) sentence. Get pupils to write the full sentence, but only focus on the actual word. This works a treat, and can lighten the mood during the ‘test’.
  3. Give surprise mini-tests on words from previous weeks  – this helps children retain key words they have learned. In fact, Include words from previous tests. Warn learners that you will do this but do not tell them in advance which ‘old’ words will be tested.
  4. Put a focus on teaching, not testing. The only people who benefit from spelling tests are those who do well on them – and the benefit is to their self-esteem rather than their spelling ability. They were already good spellers. (Adoniou)
  5. Spelling City has a great bank of resources, allowing you to place focused words into different activities to make the experience a little more enjoyable. Click here to visit the site.
  6. Use mnemonics, which can be used to help spellings in other writing exercises. For example: Because = B=big E=elephants C=can A=always U=understand S=small E=elephants.
  7. Break words down. Long words can be broken down into digestible syllables.
  8. Ensure words are pronounced correctly. This can lead to many spelling mistakes as we rely on the sounds we hear, and our interpretation.
  9. Support parents. Try to contact parents to explain the processes being taught in school. Some parents will need support with their spellings, so guidance and tips on how they can help their child can be welcome.
  10. Make it an enjoyable experience, and be a positive role model with your own pronunciation and spelling.

For spelling clarification – this article has been written in UK-English.

*All prices current at time of publication.

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About UKEdChat Editorial 3007 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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