Nuts & Bolts: Julia Peattie's Spelling Program

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Spelling Program

by Julia Peattie

On October 11th, 1996 Julia Peattie posted on a multiage listserve a description of the spelling program she uses in her 2/3 multiage classroom. Her program is "testless," using spelling books to communicate student progress to the parents. It is another excellent way for students to learn how to spell in a multiage setting. With her permission I have reposted it here.

You don't have to do lists and tests to teach spelling! From what I have seen of the list/test methods, the kids learn the words temporarily and then forget them. They can get a word right on their test and then spell it wrong a week later, because the spelling program is focused on words, not strategies. The kids with great visual discrim do well on the list/test, others do not. I DO teach spelling. I teach strategies and spelling patterns all over the place.

This year I am putting some of the spelling work into spelling books so that I can SHOW parents that we are really working on it. (They are nervous enough about the fact that I don't give tests, I felt I had to show them something).

I got the basic idea for these books from someone on the Multiage Listserv and added to their idea... so thank you, whoever it was that suggested this to me.

Each child has a book that's full of pages which I made. The pages are each divided into four columns. Each column from left to right has a heading:

A Word from My Writing ** Second Attempt ** Check it Out ** I See a Pattern

As part of the editing process in writing, they go through their writing and look for words which they are pretty sure are not spelled "dictionary spelling." They write the word as it is in their story in the first column. In the second column they try it another way, focusing in more on what they have learned about spelling patterns. For the third column, "check it out", they are to either come to me or get out a dictionary and look up their words. If they come to me, I take their best attempt and show them what they still need to think about again. (sometimes their second try is right and in that case I just circle it and they're done with that word). For example the word "bought," they might have spelled "bot" in their story and "bout" in their second try column. I then write in their check it out column, "bou_ _ t" and they know there are two letters missing. We talk about it together and I might remind them of other words like thought. Then they fill in the missing letters. In the fourth column I help them think of another word or other words that fit the same pattern... thought, ought, might etc.

I have never given tests but in the past felt pressured to *show* parents that their children were working on spelling. I am really happy with these individualized spelling books so far. Why test? You can see their spelling progress in their writing.

The other thing I am doing this year that I **love** (thanks to my friend Jill Ostrow for the idea) is daily group practice in revision and editing. Each day one of the kids volunteers to have the class revise and edit their work. There are always plenty of volunteers...(and I was afraid they'd be shy about having their very rough drafts up for all to see!) I take 3-5 sentences from the student's work (as is) and write it up on the board. As a class we read it and then we do two parts: revision and editing. We do these same things in an indididual conference when they want to publish a story. Revision always comes first and I make a point of seperating it from editing for spelling and punctuation. Again thanks to Jill Ostrow, I learned a lot from her essay "Learning to Sit Still and Listen." My number one rule in individual conferences is that I do not even LOOK at their paper until after I have heard them read their story. If I have to close my eyes to stop myself from focusing on their developmental spelling and punctuation, then I close my eyes while they read. I think that my students recognize that when I close my eyes to listen, I am really paying attention to what they are trying to say rather than what they spelled wrong or whether they have caps at the beginning of each sentence.

Anyway... back to revision and editing practice... in the revision part we talk about word choice, and kids make lots of suggestions to the writer for how they could make their story more clear, more interesting, more detailed... they say things like, "Well you wrote that they got into the car, but what kind of car was it? what color?" or.. "Gee, Once upon a time has kind of been overused as a story beginning, can you think of a more exciting lead?" or, "You say it was cold, but how cold was it? Could you see your breath? Was everything crunchy?" etc, etc. In this way the writer (and everyone) gets a lot of great ideas for adjectives to add, details, etc. The kids are really good at gentle but instructive critique of each other's writing.

After we have revised the "chunk of story" as a group, we edit it for spelling and punctuation. This is another place where I teach a lot of spelling strategies, I show them where commas and apostrophes go, etc. I just started doing this this year and I LOVE it. I feel like so much is learned in doing this for 10-15 minutes every day.

Julia Peattie

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