Sunday, July 13, 2014

Word Smarts: Individualizing Spelling in the Classroom

Hi Friends,

Let me get to the point...  I hate teaching spelling.  Ok. There, I said it.  My problem with weekly spelling lists is that you hand out 10 or so words on Monday, say, "Go study.", work on the words throughout the week, and then give your students a test on Friday.  Friday comes and you grade  30+ test happily writing 100% in bright purple marker across the top of several pages.  You may even slap on a happy face sticker!

You grab that pile of writing, get your purple pen ready to make smiley faces, write specific comments and feedback only to notice that those same students who just got 100% on their spelling test have made spelling error after spelling error in their writing.  YIKES!

Some kids are good memorizers.  They can memorize their spelling words for the weekly test, then the test comes and goes and so do the words.

I've really struggled with this.  A couple of years ago it really got to me when I noticed a few of my students who were getting perfect scores on their spelling tests (above grade level spelling by the way) were making spelling error after spelling error on their daily work.  These were my advanced spellers and they were getting below grade level scores on conventions in their writing.

I almost gave up teaching spelling.  What was the point?    But, I took a step back and decided to do a little research.

Through my research and experience with my own students I've come to the conclusion that good spelling habits require many skills including:

*having a spelling consciousness
*having an understanding of the rules and patterns of the English language
*having a desire to spell correctly

I also believed that students should be learning how to spell words that they WANT and NEED to use in their own writing, thus individualizing their spelling lists.  INDIVIDUALIZED SPELLING LISTS!?? I have 34 students.  That means 34 different spelling lists!  34 spelling tests!!  That's CRAZY talk!

Actually, it isn't as daunting as it sounds.  Trust me, you can do it.
First, you have to have a plan for tracking words students need to know how to spell.  In my classroom (4th graders), students keep a "Words-to-Learn" list. There are a few ways that words get added to the list.

  1. The first is words that students want to use, but are unsure how to spell.  These are words they circle in their work using their "spelling consciousness" or words they ask others how to spell. 
  2. The second way words are added are words that I find misspelled in their daily work.  I either circle the words and write directly on the paper, or I write the words on a sticky note.  The students then know to add these words to their journals.  
  3. The third way words get added is from words students misspell on their weekly assessment.  

I created this "Personal Spelling Journal" for my students to keep track of their words to learn:
Personalized Spelling Journal
But you could also have students keep a list in their writing journals or create a journal out of notebook paper.

Because students have different levels of spelling skills, learning to spell words from their writing individualizes and differentiates the lists.  Some students may be spelling below grade level words incorrectly while others are stretching their spelling limits and want to learn above grade level words.  
When the weekly spelling lists are handed out, students choose 5 words from their journal to learn that week.  They add these words to their weekly spelling list.  
This is a diagram of the first list in my "Word Smarts Year-Long Spelling and Vocabulary Bundle".  
So, this is one way that I individualize my students' spelling each week.  I use the my "Word Smarts" product for my year-long spelling curriculum, so another way that I am able to further individualize my students' spelling is assigning either the base list or the challenge list to students.  

The base list consists of grade level words that fit the spelling focus for the week.  The "Challenge" list is above grade level words that also fit the focus.  This way, each week, students are learning about and practicing spelling rules and patterns with words at their level and also studying words that they need to learn from their own writing.  

Yet another way to differentiate spelling is to limit or extent the number of words students spell.  

As you can see, there are a lot of different ways to individualize spelling in your classroom and with a little training of routines with your students you will have your spelling study running like a well oiled machine! 
If you'd like to know more about individualized spelling in your classroom I'll be adding more blog posts on this topic.  

Here are some other posts in this "Word Smarts" Series: 
  • How do You Get Kids to Care About Spelling?
I've linked the above titles to the posts as they become available.  This one is the first, so if you are interested in the following topics, please follow me on Bloglovin, follow by e-mail, or bookmark my blog.  I will be posting them throughout the rest of July in preparation for Back-to-School!
Thank you so much for stopping by!  


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