Monday, December 6, 2010

Perspectives on Spelling

Wow, it’s definitely that time of year when it feels like there is no time for anything extra. I have been perplexed over spelling this past month.
In Dancing with the Pen, spelling is discussed as a tool not a barrier to student writing. The teaching of spelling has encountered many styles. I personally remember taking spelling tests, having classroom spelling bees and I remember thinking spelling was all about luck. Either you were a good speller or a bad speller. I never felt it was something I was taught; instead I was just one of the lucky ones who could somehow avoid humiliation during a spelling bee because I was never the first one to sit down.  I almost never won either.
The section of Dancing with the Pen that elaborates on spelling is based on Richard Gentry’s paper that analyzes the development of spelling called, GNYS AT WRK. Gentry identifies five stages of spelling that I will briefly describe.
Precommunicateive: I usually call this “stringing letters.”
Semiphonetic: They begin to approximate. They begin to show some connection to letters and their appropriate sounds.
Phonetic: A consonant framework emerges. Some vowels may also be included and possibly high frequency words will be spelled correctly.
Transitional: This stage is where students are completely relying on sound to letter correspondence. They make errors based on what they think are hard and fast rules of language (/sed/ for “said” or /nit/ for “night”). Other examples include: “tipe” (type), or “lasee” (lazy).
Correct: Aside from just having mostly correct spelling, students are also able to identify when there is a misspelled word and the student may have a suggestion as to a correction. Students are able to monitor their own progress more readily due to the number skills that are in place.
So, this leads me to wonder, if these are developmental stages of spelling, and there is a continuum like pace to teaching spelling, why do some still do spelling tests from way back when? I sometimes think it may be due to parents liking the idea of a spelling list. A less overwhelming home activity that is familiar. 
I try to meet students where they are with spelling. I do not do spelling tests, but I do teach in isolation high frequency words, which could be considered a spelling list of sorts. I expect students to spell the words correctly within their writing after they have been taught and try to hold them accountable for their learning and my teaching. However, I am curious and would like to know more about what foundations need to be in place for a child to become a really good speller. Is it obvious; is it as simple as letter and sound knowledge, basic word identification, and some attention to spelling patterns? Or, is it deeper than this? Rebecca Sitton, the author of a spelling program is something my school is looking into as a way to fill what seems to be a gap in our spelling curriculum. I would love feedback on this program if anyone has experience with it, or if they have other ideas. Is there anyone out there attempting to imbed spelling; how successful is this and how is it done?  So, I am still program vs. no-program and not sure what is more appropriate. Suggestions and comments are welcome!

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