By Christmas break, I realized students were not increasing their spelling levels simply by studying words without the pressure of a weekly spelling test. My research showed that students were actually beginning to LOSE spelling skills that they had previously mastered- misspelling words they had previously gotten right. Something needed to change. I did not want to continue my research, or lack of spelling tests, as I began to feel this was detrimental to the students' learning.
At the same time, I was beginning to lose faith in the Words Their Way Spelling program. I like the concept overall of sorting words and teaching students spelling patterns. However, I think when I grouped students according to their spelling ability, I was putting the students who were my most struggling spellers at a disadvantage, because I was not exposing them to grade-level words. Instead, this "smacked of tracking." The students who came in low would continue to be lower than their counterparts, even if they were exposed to spelling patterns and even if they improved their personal best score.
I decided to implement Spelling pre-tests and post-tests using lists provided in the Storytown curriculum. One thing I like about the Storytown curriculum is that it does group the words by pattern, and includes a sorting activity each week. For about a month now, I have been doing the pre-tests and post-tests, but I have not been doing the sorting activity. I have been integrating the use of Spelling City for about half an hour each week as well.
Already, I can see an increase in my students' spelling abilities, between the pre-test and post-test each week. The first week I implemented a pre-test, one of my students came up to me crying because she missed 22 words, out of 25. I encouraged her and said that if she studied, by the end of the week, she would get the words all right. It's been almost two months now, and that same student just got 24 out of 25 words right on the recent post-test. She is invested in studying the words for homework, and it is paying off in her spelling in context as well.
A few of the parents were really excited when I said I was not doing weekly spelling tests. Others were wary of the idea and had their children take spelling tests at home as part of their homework assignment. My biggest revelation is that students who consistently do their homework and have supportive parents pushing them, achieve better spelling scores and perform better in school overall.
Alas, not all of our students come from supportive homes, therefore we must push them as teachers.
That is another change I have implemented in the last two months- students who do not complete their spelling homework for the previous week must stay in from recess and write the NEW spelling words 3 times each. Holding students accountable is a priority in helping them succeed.