I received an email from a teacher this week who wrote:
I work with a great group of 2nd grade students who love to write. However, their spelling needs improvement. Do you have any suggestions?
Formal programs help students to see spelling patterns and to learn spelling rules and for this reason are invaluable (up to a certain age). But as we all know, the real challenge isn’t getting kids to pass the Friday test, it’s getting them to apply what they are learning about spelling to their writing.
It’s tricky. We have to be careful not to put too much emphasis on correct spelling (especially when students are working on first drafts) or students will limit their word choice to words they know how to spell correctly. Risk taking is essential for fine writing and this means taking risks with spelling too.
It’s also helpful to remember that the very best way to learn to spell is to approximate the spelling and then compare the misspelled word to the correctly spelled word. (There are simply more hooks then for remembering the correct spelling.)
So how do we help? Here is a list of suggestions to consider:
· In addition to word walls, and including a frequently used word list in student folders (or adhered to the outside), keep a classroom computer open to a blank page in Microsoft Word. Students can type in their approximated spelling and then use spell check to choose the correct spelling.
· Instead of circling errors on student work, place a dot at the beginning of the line that contains an error. (More than one error? Use more than one dot.) Students need to consult resources or friends to determine the error and correct it. This helps to place the responsibilty for correct spelling on them. Students will strive to have fewer dots placed on their writing.
· Publish student writing on a regular basis, but please don’t ask young children to copy over their work! This teaches them two things: write short and don’t take risks. Instead, conduct an editing conference before publication: a time when you and the student focus on conventions. Here you can offer differentiated instruction which is far more effective than circling errors. Work with the student on two or three important skills. Then type up (or better yet, have a volunteer type up) the student’s writing with all of the correct spellings.
· Use an editor’s checklist. Are your students constantly confusing their, there and they’re? Ask that they double check the spelling of these words before coming to a writing conference or handing writing in.
· Conduct spelling mini-lessons using graphic organizers. Two resources for lively lessons are Word Work & Spelling: Graphic Organizers and Mini-Lessons by Dottie Raymer (Scholastic,2008), and my own Easy Spelling Lessons for the Overhead (Scholastic, 2003).
I hope these suggestions are useful. I’d love to hear your ideas for helping students to think about spelling. And if you see a spelling error in this blog post, please let me know.