Spelling Matters

When it’s actively taught!

The vision and starting point was realised following an initial diagnostic test at the start of the new session back in August 2014.

Results from testing learners on their spelling ability versus spelling ages left many gaps that I, as their proactive and target driven teacher, had to do something about. The class, consisting of 25 mixed ability Primary 4s and p5s, were showing ‘room for improvement’ and my plan came to me, as many other teaching ideas do, at 3 o’clock in the morning!!

The plan, to deliver a consistently constructed spelling programme that was measurable daily. Having only known these pupils for a few days I felt it paramount that my previous studies and academic interests be brought to the forefront very quickly to help address the poor results achieved. Relating to theorists: Gill 1992, Ehri 1986 and Henderson 1990, I was aware from their work that two important learning processes occur during the teaching of spelling. Firstly, children learn to spell using predictability and secondly, spelling memory is best exercised using knowledge of written and oral skills.


Having identified a clear pathway, I commenced the plan and reiterated the phrase ‘spelling matters’ which was soon to become the children’s motto within every day in class. Pupils were introduced to a series of differentiated word lists in a timetabled slot. These words were taught, learned and definitions explored to ensure an understanding of the words was clear to all. Every Monday a brand new spelling strategy was introduced to promote active learning and to be honest this is what triggered the response, that pushed them to learn.

Many resources were introduced to encourage a ‘bums off seats’ environment (multi-sensory approach as it is officially known), some of these being: Alphabetti Spaghetti, Interactive White Board, Chalkboards, Magic Fingers, Comics, Cereal and Rice, to name a few. My belief in ensuring ICT was utilised to reinforce and compliment inclusive learning allowed learners to further explore various iPad applications, digi-cams and voice recorders. The programme was also encouraged by parents who have shown great interest in supporting their children in homework tasks. Throughout term 1, I observed a very vibrant, energetic and noisy environment with a class full of very engaged ‘buzzing’ learners. That ‘buzz’ continued and children actually looked forward to their weekly tests, which from experience is usually one of the most daunting times for some pupils. Weekly test scores were recorded into pupil files and a class target displayed with incentives attached.

Even at any early stage, there was a direct correlation between the results achieved and the children’s’ chosen learning modality, which was clear to see through progress in age variance and spelling accuracy graphs. At the end of term 1 (October 2014), having evaluated the progress made, I knew I had to continue with the then ‘project’, which was now just becoming ‘the way we do things in P4/5M!’ Spelling accuracy had increased tremendously with the biggest variance with the poorer spellers. Spelling ages in learners initially showed that the majority were 3 years below actual spelling ages, but now with dramatic increases for all.

Problems encountered during the process were mainly my concerns about specific learning patterns and how retention levels would be sustained. Many pupils have preferred sensory needs and, in general, display low global learning levels. In addition, many pupils receive additional support needs (ASN) assistance and require ‘chunked’ lessons, but to my surprise and theirs, they adapted exceptionally well and were able to transfer their learning of spelling across the curriculum developing literacy skills in other subject areas very well indeed. One pupil demonstrated exceptional levels of spelling ability and was already scoring 4+ years above his actual spelling age. My challenge for him was to continue to increase the complexity of his words, but ensuring to keep him within a social group to ensure strategies were explored equally as per other learners.

To continue with the project in term 2, I decided to use core reading genre and produce a bank of relevant words and continue to reinforce previous strategies taught. Children were now in a routine for their spelling programme and success was shared with them on a daily basis. The children had now completed two further diagnostic tests and were able to set their own next steps and review these prior to their final test in June 2015.

Throughout the project ‘pupil voice’ has been the paramount motivating factor in raising awareness of the importance of teaching spelling. What started out as a hunch developed into a huge improvement science project which the children were encouraged to take ownership from the onset. Pupils have enjoyed visiting other classes to share their learning and celebrate success.

The success of the programme has been commended and will be delivered to colleagues during in-service day training with aims of rolling it out across the school next session. would urge all practitioners to give this project a go, you may be surprised that by, thinking small may end up with huge benefits and if anything raising awareness for the need to teach a structured spelling programme highlighted and this will make a difference to the confidence and growth mindset of your pupils. It has in my class! As for me…… I will continue doing things the way I did them last session and emphasise to my new learners that ‘spelling matters!’

Many thanks to the pupils of P4/5M for their commitment, dedication and belief in themselves. Also thank you for the ongoing support from Mrs Audrey Ross, Head Teacher at Bannockburn Primary for believing in my projects.

This article was first published in the August 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine. Read the magazine freely online by clicking here.

Jackie McKay @JMcKay1972, Innovative, highly creative Class Teacher and an active promoter of #growthmindset at Bannockburn Primary School, Stirling, Scotland.

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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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