Friday, July 29, 2011

It's Friday - Let's Look at Spelling Tests

Perhaps no memory of elementary school is as universal as the Friday spelling test. We all went through it -- the list of words in the beginning of the week, using the words in sentences as part of our homework and, on Friday, the weekly spelling test.

The traditional Friday spelling test may result in students learning the spellings of the words on their lists for a while, but as far as long-term learning, its effects are pretty dismal. As with any experience when students cram before a test, most information learned is quickly forgotten again. This makes sense, since student engagement with tasks like practicing lists of words over and over again is bound to be low.

Gary Alderman and Susan Green, professors of education at Winthrop University, believe that spelling tasks must be both challenging and sufficiently meaningful to cause students to remember the words. Their article “Fostering Lifelong Spellers Through Meaningful Experiences” offers the following suggestions for teachers to use for spelling instruction that works:

  • Encourage students to use spelling words in real-world writing. Have them write notes to each other, make lists or signs, or write poems or songs that include spelling words. Not only does this provide practice, it reinforces the notion that the words on the list are relevant in real communication. Competitions that reward creativity, such as who can use the most spelling words in a single sentence, can make these activities particularly motivating and enjoyable for students.
  • Use multisensory techniques that involve children with words in auditory, visual, and kinesthetic ways. Have children draw pictures to illustrate words and write them in logical format using different colors (e.g. using one color for prefixes or for blends like st and cr). Have students spell words aloud, clapping out each vowel that represents a short sound and stomping when they say the names of vowels that represent long sounds.
  • Teach spelling rules explicitly so that children understand the logic behind spelling. Do not ignore the exceptions to the rules, but teach students that most words can be correctly spelled by following reliable guidelines. This will cause spelling to seem less mysterious and intimidating to students.
Here at The Yellin Center, we sometimes recommend Ginger Software which goes beyond standard spell check functions in word processing programs and helps students correct word usage and grammar mistakes as well. And the traditionalists among us still keep a dictionary on our desks, to complement our quick link to an online dictionary.

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