Sunday, August 31, 2008
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Skipping over the cute example of why spell check doesn't work for every situation- you've probably already seen it- how is spelling taught in your corner of the world?
You know the little vignette, so often dragged out to illustrate how schools are bastions of a time gone by, where the person wakes up after 100-year nap and doesn't recognize anything until he steps into a school? I'm sure the napper in the story walked in on a "spelling lesson."
When I first started teaching, I taught spelling the way I had been taught spelling in school. I devised lists of words I thought my students should know how to spell, gave assignments based on the words and then a Friday spelling test. My students generally did pretty well on the tests, but their spelling in their written work never reflected the fact that they had supposedly learned how to spell the words. It didn't take me too long to come to the conclusion that memorizing a list of words did not equal learning.
So, two questions.
1. What is the best way to teach spelling?
2. How come I learned how to spell? Remember, this is how I was taught spelling...I'm a pretty good speller. Did this approach work for me? If so, why?
I'll answer #2 first. I think that I became a good speller because I was (and still am) an avid reader. I was the kid who always had a book in front of my face. My favorite outing was the library (my idea of heaven on earth) or the bookstore (my parents would drop me off at the bookstore and go shopping, coming back an hour or so later to pick me up). I think that looking at so many words spelled correctly built my visual memory for correct spelling. I am the type who writes the word to look at it to see if it is spelled correctly. Of course, this was only one gift that being a reader gave me.
As for #1: There is a program I like called "Words Their Way" that approaches spelling from a developmental standpoint. It uses the term "word study" rather than spelling or phonics. This appeals to me because I think it is appropriate for students to spend some time deconstructing words to find patterns. It uses various centers and activities and is differentiated, based on stages of spelling development. Of course, it takes a lot of work, on the part of the teacher, to implement a program like this in the classroom. It is much easier to follow a spelling book or use a workbook, have students memorize and give weekly tests.
When I first did away with spelling tests, I found that parents were understanding once I explained my reasoning and approach. It was colleagues that were stunned. "You don't give spelling tests?" It was said with disbelief, even anger, as if I was depriving my students.
Ok? So what...I guess I should get to "the point." Now that I'm a parent, I find myself battling against the tide as my child comes home with homework to memorize a list of words and use them in sentences or occasionally in a story. My daughter is only 7 and yet she already claims to "hate school" and "doesn't like reading." This is extremely painful for me to hear, as you can imagine. My daughter spends 7.5 hours a day in school and often comes home with 30 minutes or more of homework consisting of math worksheets and the aforementioned spelling. I am a strong believer that children need down-time, time for playing and relaxing, time to play sports, time to eat dinner as a family, time to go to sleep early, TIME TO READ FOR PLEASURE. I really believe that the best homework, especially for the early elementary grades, is to read for 30 minutes a night. That's it. I could cite a bunch of research, too, to back me up, but this is just my opinion piece...so take it for that.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008
When thinking of a name for my blog, I almost chose As Real as Gravity from a favorite quote about positive energy being as real as gravity. Positive energy spreads and builds and creates more positive energy. Nowhere is this truer than in schools (ok, well, maybe it is truer elsewhere, but how would I know?).
Just reading that, I know that I would like to be one of Mr. Ruark's 5th grade students.
Here was my own daughter's first day of 2nd grade homework: the students were each given a paper bag filled with a few, little items and the following instructions:
Opening, reading and sharing this bag of goodies with your parents is part of your first homework assignment.
1. The toothpick is to remind you to "pick out" the good qualities in your classmates and in yourself.
2. The gold thread is to remind you that friendship ties our hearts together.
3. The chocolate kiss reminds you that you can always come to me if you need someone to talk to.
4. The star is to remind you to shine and always do your best.
5. The penny is to remind you that you are valuable and special.
6. The band-aid is to remind you to heal hurt feelings in your friends and in yourself.
7. The rubber band is to remind you to hug someone.
8. The eraser is to remind you that everyone makes mistakes and that is ok.
9. The tissue is to remind you to help dry someone's tears.
10. The sticker is to remind you that we all stick together and help each other.
Now I would like for you to think of something that you could add to this bag. Write 3-4 sentences explaining why the item you chose would be useful and why it is important for us to remember to use all of the other items that are in the bag.
My daughter's other teacher kept telling us, at back to school "Meet and Greet" that she does this or that because "the kid's love it, it makes them happy, it makes them feel good, that she just wants them to love learning, to love the subject she teaches." I can't tell you how happy that made me as a parent. If my child loves learning and feels positive about herself as a person, a friend and a learner...I know it will take her the distance and allow her to learn what she needs and wants to learn, to attack challenging problems with confidence, to make a contribution to the world.
For our pre-planning in-service this year, we participated in a workshop from Operation Respect. At the start of the workshop, the facilitator asked us this question, "If you had one last class to teach, and that day you were given magic powers that would guarantee that the students would truly, deeply learn one lesson from you, what would you teach?"
Are you surprised to know that not one person answered with a concept from math or science, grammar or spelling? All of the answers had to do with self-awareness and awareness of others, being a good person. Those are the lessons that truly matter.
Graphic from "The North Star" gallery, from the book "The North Star" by Peter H. Reynolds.