I find that when it comes to spelling, most teachers have the students memorize the list, play a few games, do the workbook pages or a tic-tac-toe choice board and then give the test. I have to admit that when I was a classroom teacher, I did the same thing. Where in the schedule is there time for spelling? Truly, do we need to teach the skill of memorizing how to spell words, because really isn’t that what spelling is?
My son is a terrible speller (as am I!), but when he was diagnosed with dyslexia I realized how important the skill of spelling is! However, I also know that there is limited time in the school day and is spelling really one of those subjects that I am going to spend an enormous amount of time teaching? I think the best approach to spelling is one that incorporates spelling into reading and writing. We know that spelling, reading and writing are very closely tied together! Show me a student with spelling problems and I will show you a student with reading or writing problems. If a student cannot spell then that means the student is having trouble encoding words. If a student can’t encode words, then the student is going to experience extreme frustration with regards to writing. For my son, he can decode words fairly well, because he has had years of explicit instruction in phonics. HOWEVER, he cannot encode a word to save his life! Writing is extremely painful for him and he does not carry over his spelling words from his spelling list to his writing. I see this exact same model play out in the classroom over and over – I just didn’t realize the link until my son was diagnosed (I had already been teaching 6 years at that point!).
In order to really work on spelling for kids that have significant spelling issues I highly recommend the book, Words Their Way! It is a fabulous book, that is labor intensive in the classroom. This book gives explicit instruction in spelling patters. It lays out lessons based on the child’s needs. This is not a book that I would use in whole class instruction, rather I would use it to remediate students that need extra help. Additionally, on the Promethean Planet website their are a ton of flipcharts that have already been made that support this program! I love it when I can find resources already made!
Playing off of ideas in Words Their Way, there are many iPad resources that can be used to help students with spelling difficulties. One of my favorites is the app icardsort. I load my son’s words into this app and then have him sort the words based on the phonics of spelling rule that he is learning. We then have a discussion on why he thinks cards are sorted together. Adding new words is very easy and the decks can be emailed. So, you can create one deck for your class and send it to your students (if they have ipads) or you can load it onto a class cart of ipads. If you do not have ipads, create a center with flashcards.
Another tip for spelling, that really is just rote memorization, but makes the learning fun is to record a story with the spelling words that all follow a specific rule. For example, my son could NOT memorize the “le” , “el” list. He could just not remember which word had which ending. We talked to his Orton-Gillingham tutor about how he could learn these words! She suggested us making up a story with all of the “le” words and then a different story with the “el” words. This was AMAZING! All of the words were learned and he made a 100 on that test! WE use this strategy each week now. Also, his carryover to his writing is greatly increasing. He can remember the stories and will write some (not all) of his words correctly now in his writing. We use the app Voice Changer Plus to make it fun. The app allows my son to record his voice but, then change the recording into a bunch of different sounds like mice, or a guitar, or a choir!
Finally, to study spelling words and learn them in a semi-fun way we use the app SpellBoard. I LOVE this app. My son and I load his words in to the app together (you have to record the words). Then, my son can play games, study his words on his own and take a test (on his own) for the rest of the week. We have set benchmarks he must reach each day and he meets those goals every week. One of the things I love most about this app is the freedom it gives teachers to individualize spelling instruction in her class. A teacher could conceivable have MULTIPLE lists going on in her classroom based on her assessments of spelling skills in students. Students could load their own words (starting in 2nd grade) and then study and work at their own pace through the week. Finally, students could take the test and then send the results to the teacher! This would free up spelling time during the day for individualized, explicit instruction on both the high and the low end of the ability range in a classroom!