Friday, September 7, 2012

A True Test for Spelling Skills

After spending much time with research on reading and spelling, I've decided to do spelling a bit different this year.

The skill of spelling is about learning letter patterns and using these patterns to form words.  It's not about memorizing individual words, but about learning patterns that can be applied to many words.

My school districts uses Reading Street. I know at my level (second grade) the spelling lists are designed to practice specific phonics skills each week.  My plan will fit in very well with our assigned  spelling lists!

Here's my plan. When my students take their weekly spelling tests, they will be tested on 6 of the 12 list words each week.  I'll also give them the option to try the 3 challenge words.  Then, I'll give them 6 more words.  These extra 6 words will be the true test of the spelling pattern.  I'll be giving them 6 nonsense words based on the weekly pattern.

We all have noticed that students with a good visual memory do well on spelling tests.  When they are given nonsense words, they are forced to separate their visual memory and use the true skill of spelling:  listening to sounds in words and applying the patterns they have learned.  This is a skill needed in decoding as well as encoding words.

I wanted to share my paperwork that I'll be sending home on Monday.  First, you'll see my letter to my parents about the new spelling test style. (Click the image to download.) You probably won't want to copy the letter as is, since it has my "class motto" on the top and my signature at the bottom.  Feel free to use the idea to try a letter of your own.  (Let me know if you decide to try!)

I've also included the form for the spelling test I'll be using this year.  Click the image to download, and feel free to use this, too!  (There's no logo or signature on this!  Just run off and split down the middle!)

27 comments:

  1. What a neat idea! Another one I've heard and liked is individualized spelling/vocabulary tests. Essentially you keep track of words each child commonly misspells and each child gets an individualized list of those words each week. I've heard of teachers quizzing both by pulling one or two students while the class is doing independent work and by having students quiz a partner. The advantage in the individualized lists is that a) the students commonly use the word anyway so will continue to practice it, and b) a given word can be put on one student's list as many times as he needs to really get it down. Also, if a word is overused (good, nice, etc.) you can put synonyms on the child's list. If the kids already have to do definitions/sentences, they will learn these vocabulary words too.

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    1. Joan,

      I know a lot of teachers who have done individual lists. Most of them have the students pair up to test each other.

      Sally

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  2. I use Words Their Way for spelling. This program is all word sorts. I like it because you give all the students a spelling assessment. This assessment is graded based on the spelling patterns. Once you have the results, students are grouped based on where they fall on the spectrum. Students are then given word sorts weekly to practice the differentiated skills they need. In my fifth grade class, I have 4 different groups ranging from working on long vowel spellings all the way through learning Greek and Latin roots. The program is completely differentiated which I love!

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    1. Katrina,

      Words Their Way is awesome! Those are exactly the order of skills for reading and writing words that is supported by the LETRS training I finished recently!

      Sally

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  3. Thank you for sharing this at TBA and linking up! I completely agree with "spelling patterns" for a more solid way to remember!!
    ~Fern
    Fern Smith’s Classroom Ideas!
    Fern Smith’s Pinterest Boards!

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    1. Fern,

      Thanks! With all the research I've read on how the brain works, focusing on patterns is definitely the way to go!

      Sally

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  4. Hi Sally,
    Thank you for sharing your ideas & materials on spelling patterns. I agree completely with the spelling patterns/memorizing. One question, since you mentioned you're on a 5 day spelling schedule, if there is a weird week where you only have 3-4 school days due to holidays etc, woolly the text carry over to the following week? Does that make sense? :-)
    Thanks,
    Jennifer

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    1. Jennifer,

      There are times we get off the Monday through Friday schedule because of the calendar. We try to keep it on the Monday through Friday when we can.

      Sally

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  5. This is a very intriguing idea. I have one question though. If they are practicing the nonsense words at home, won't that become a visual memory? Just curious of what you think. I really like this idea.

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  6. Angie,

    Good question! They don't actually practice the nonsense words. They practice the list words, and they practice the spelling pattern of the week. If they know the spelling pattern, they should be able to spell the nonsense words on the test. (They usually can!)

    Sally

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    1. Great! Oh my golly, now I have another question if you have the time (I'm that kid in class!! hee hee!). It appears that the nonsense words will go home on the spelling test page. How do you communicate this to the parents? I don't mean to take so much of your time but I really like this idea!

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    2. Angie,

      Other than my initial letter and sending home the individual Spelling tests each week, there's no additional communication. I really haven't had any other questions!

      I never mind answering questions! I think that's a teacher thing!

      Sally

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  7. This is exaclty what I have been thinkging about and doing this year. Thanks for sharing. I'm going to download your forms. Also,what activities do you do to teach the patterns? Do you do specific things each day and repeat every week or do you do random activities to help the students? Thanks for your input.

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  8. Melissa,

    I don't have any specific activities that I do each week. We do practice often on whiteboards, and play a lot of games to practice the skills. Each weekly pattern has its own style!

    Sally

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  9. Thanks for sharing Sally! Your research supports the coursework and that I have read too! Smiles :-)

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  10. Love this idea. I had stopped doing spelling tests a couple of years ago because the students only memorized the words for the test but couldn't apply it in their writing. I started spelling again this year but this time I do sentences with the words misspelled in it. They have to circle the wrong word and write it correctly on the line, but I still feel like it is memorization. I may add nonsense words to the back based on the pattern we are working on.

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    1. Courtney,

      I love the sentence idea!

      Sally

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  11. I've been looking for a spelling test that I could embrace that did not have memorization. Thanks so much for sharing what you do. I can't wait to try it. Have you ever tried this with differentiated levels?

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  12. I really like this idea a lot and wish my son had this. He has been doing Words Their Way since Kindergarten and made little progress, probably because it was not done correctly. He is in the fourth grade and has had many of the same lists more than once, meaning he is stagnant. The nonsense words are perfect for making sure the students know the spelling patterns! Thanks so much for sharing! I will have to share this with my staff as a new way to make sure the students are using those patterns!

    Andrea
    Reading Toward the Stars

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  13. This is a great explanation of why we give the spelling words we do!. We started with the Words Their Way spelling program last year and many parents and students complained the words were too easy, yet when they would be asked to sort the words according to the spelling pattern or rule, they had difficulty, because they were memorizing the words without any real knowledge of how to spell the words. Thank you!

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  14. Sally this is awesome and super timely! I actually am planning to incorporate some new pattern words in my spelling quizzes because I want to see if the students can generalize what they've learned not just memorize a list. I've been looking around for research to share with any parents to question this new method of spelling test. Your blog post came up in my Google search about it.

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    1. Thanks, Bex!

      I got my information from the instructor of our LETRS training, but don't have the actual research information or links. This has been working very well with my students for a couple of years. It does take some convincing for some of the parents, since it's different from what we've done for years in education, but when they see that their children can spell new words, they start to get it!

      I'll keep my eyes open for research links!

      Sally

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    2. Thanks so much ! I appreciate it! Maybe there is something in a back issue of Reading Teacher... Have a great rest of the week!
      Bex

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  15. Whoops I wasn't done typing. May I ask Do you remember any of the research or have any links you could share? I love to have stuff on hand because I do sometimes get some questions from parents when their changes like this

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  16. Yikes sorry my iPad is acting crazy and won't let me delete and edit text. Sorry for the typos! I think you get the gist though!
    Bex

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  17. Is there any way I could get a copy of your sample Spelling test? Thanks, Michelle

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