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
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.