I have some pretty good memories of getting ten out of ten in weekly spelling tests back when I was a young student.
But I know that most other adults and I don’t have that in common.
And I’m not sure, now that I’m a teacher, that the learning intention behind these tests mightn’t be achieved in a better way. Which is why I don’t do them.
And I’m pretty sure parents back me up on this one.
If I want to assess student spelling ability, here’s what I do instead.
First of all, I make sure that spelling is tested in context. I do regular dictations so that children understand that words are not used in isolation, but rather are guided and shaped by the grammar and punctuation of what surrounds them.
I also differentiate spelling lists. I don’t believe in a one size fits all approach to learning the correct ordering of letters within words. I choose words from the curriculum that match what’s being taught, words that match the phonics sound being explored that week (reflecting various levels of difficulty), words from the spelling stage that the particular student has reached as determined by a thorough and insightful once-a-term inventory, as well as words from students’ own writing.
Instead of asking kids to memorise words (which, more often than not, they then misspell in their own writing anyway), we categorise words by searching for patterns. We talk about why some words have OY and others have OI. We match word families, we make generalisations based on our observations and we go hunting for exceptions to the rule.
So, ask yourself, just because it’s always been done a certain way, is that enough reason for it to continue?
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