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It's worth taking a look at Spelling Inquiry, by the Mapleton Teacher-Research Group (pdf file of the first chapter, Stones in Our Shoes: How We Came to Study Spelling, here). Who or what is the Mapleton Teacher-Research Group, you ask? Answer:
Members of the Mapleton Teacher-Research Group teach grades K-5 at Mapleton Elementary School in northern Maine. They have been conducting research on literacy teaching and learning in their own classrooms since 1996. Kelly Chandler is an assistant professor of reading and language arts education at Syracuse University. She attended Mapleton Elementary from 1975-1981.
The jist of the book appears to be that Mapleton students couldn't spell, while students at the four other local schools, all of which used 'traditional' direct instruction, could. That was a problem. So the teachers at Mapleton formed a teacher research group to figure out some way to get their kids to spell correctly without giving in to tradition and actually teaching them how:
For years, we avoided discussing spelling much. We didn't know how to talk about spelling instruction in a way that reflected our progressive philosophy of teaching yet still honored students' and parents' more traditional views of what spelling instruction should be.
So they researched and researched, and SPELLING INQUIRY is the result. Here's the first paragraph of a review:
Readers who open Spelling Inquiry looking for specific recommendations of how to effectively teach spelling will be disappointed—while interested in updating teaching techniques for spelling, the authors do not focus on instructional methods. Instead, they present a very different, and perhaps, ultimately, more useful, approach to instruction. In Spelling Inquiry, they describe whole (and holistic) strategies for creating an environment that is "student-centered and inquiry based," and thus more conducive to effective learning and teaching of spelling.
Since our approach to literacy learning is very different from what most parents experienced when they were in school, we needed to reassure them that basic skills such as spelling were still being addressed.
So are these the most pretentious people on the planet, or what? Basic skills were still being addressed--do these people work for the U.N.? And again with the public relations. These gals set out to Research Spelling, they tell us, mainly to keep parents on board for the changes we had made in our practice over the past ten years. [Our practice!] Oh, and also, as an afterthought, to encourage . . . development of what Richard Gentry (1997) calls 'spelling consciousness': "a habit of caring about expert spelling when spelling is important."(48) Spelling consciousness? A habit of caring about expert spelling when spelling is important? Come on. This is spelling, people. Your job is to teach kids how to spell. That's S . . . P . . . E . . . L . . . L. Get a grip.
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Am I reading that right? Are those people just logic-challenged or what? This is like the Singapore vs. the US story. I, too, have been disappointed with my son's spelling instruction at the school. I can't get anyone to explain the logistics behind it (of course it's all a part of this new curriculum), so I just started collecting up all of his written work at the end of the week and compiling a spelling list from his missed words (which were plentiful.) I not only had him do the standard write it several times and use it in a sentence, but I also had him orally spell it out just like he was in his own little spelling bee. Of course, the school doesn't do that due to his fragile self- esteem and all. It is very interesting to take a child who is quite confident writing a word out for you and then watch him pause to spell it aloud. Their eyes seem to go looking inside their head for it. Like some other part of the brain has to be activated or something. After I'm through subjecting the kid to all of this unholistic torture, I'm positive he'll need a special bank account for future therapy sessions. Well, at least he'll be able to spell. -- SusanS - 14 Jun 2005
Well, you're in luck, because it just so happens I have Thoroughly Researched the subject of spelling (OK, not as thoroughly as the Mapleton Teacher-Research Group researched spelling, I admit). And I came up with THE perfect spelling curriculum, for school or home use: Megawords There are 8 books altogether, with Book 1 starting in 4th grade. You should probably start with Book 1 no matter what age your child is, because each book builds on the earlier books. The authors spent years teaching kids with learning disabilities, and they know their stuff. -- CatherineJohnson - 14 Jun 2005
Susan--I just wrote up our experiences with Megawords at MoreSpelling. -- CatherineJohnson - 14 Jun 2005
"Great Kids Spelling". That's what our lowest grades called it. My son got that on his attempts at writing - with no corrections. They also didn't even teach him how to hold a pencil correctly. They start the kids writing in a journal in Kindergarten. (drawing pictures plus a word here or there) Wall words. This is Whole Language applied to spelling. Why do they all have this hangup about not directly teaching kids anything? Actually, my son has an amazing memory and would be the poster child for wall words. However, I prefer that he learns phonics, spelling rules, syllables, root words, grammar rules, and punctuation rules. Has anyone read "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves"? It's a great book on punctuation. I will look at Megawords. I would also be interested in finding any web site(s) that might be comparable to KTM for English Language Arts. I will have to brush up a little to be able to teach my son how to parse sentences. I can't imagine they do that anymore. -- SteveH - 15 Jun 2005
Steve, My son had that invented spelling stuff in the early grades also. Lots of "journaling" too. They didn't want to impede his creative juices by letting him know he was spelling or creating any of the letters wrong. He became an expert at such sentences as, "I like to play," and "I had fun." I was concerned enough that I looked up various homschooling ways of teaching early writing skills. One of the books suggested having your child copy sentences (as we all did back in the day), out of quality children's books. I used a lot of E.B. White (Trumpet of the Swan is a fave,) along with Harry Potter and many of the other more recent books out there. It gives them more practice and exposure to how sentences can be put together. It also takes the pressure off having to create an expressive thought and then having to write it down. Taking just one aspect of it seemed to help and he actually enjoyed it. I did roughly a sentence a day. I wrote it out myself very neatly on first grade lined paper and had them copy. Very old school but both kids improved greatly over the year. Which brings me to another complaint. What happened to lined paper? Over and over again the kids were expected to pick up handwriting skills through osmosis and then to write them on white paper whether it was a test or worksheet. Drove me nuts. -- SusanS - 15 Jun 2005
They do a lot of journaling, with few or no expectations, comments, or corrections. The comments in my son's 3rd grade journal are things like: "It sounds like you had fun at Harry's birthday party." Not: "You need to explain a little more here because I don't understand what you are saying." Their reading is progressing far beyond their writing skills. When asked to do a book report for a 100 page book (not often enough), they provide maybe 10 lines (actual lined paper!) to write the report. It can be longer, but it's a struggle. Basically, the school says; "Just do it." It is very difficult to write a 10 line book report on a 100 page book. (My son is catching on by looking at the back cover.) To do a longer book report is a struggle. They just don't have the practice with expository writing. Does anyone else see this domination of "creative" writing over expository writing? -- SteveH - 15 Jun 2005
Yup, we did mondo-journaling. I love the idea of having the kids copy a sentence from good children's literature. This reminds me of the classic way of training artists (in the 19th century?), which was to have them copy the Masters. -- CatherineJohnson - 15 Jun 2005