Common Core Spelling Standards
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts provide instructional challenges for all conscientious upper elementary and middle school teachers. In addition to the Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening Strands, teachers are expected to teach the grammar, mechanics, language application, spelling, and vocabulary Standards of the CCSS Language Strand (Standards L. 1-6). When establishing instructional priorities to address these Standards, many teachers have placed spelling (Standard L. 2) on the back-burner.
It’s not that teachers devalue spelling instruction. Instructional time and the diverse instructional needs of our students are the key instructional concerns. Teaching is reductive-spending time on this takes away from that. Instructional decision-making is largely about establishing priorities. So, curricular materials must afford teachers the choices to reflect those priorities.
Recently I attended an all-day introduction to the Common Core State Standards sponsored by my school district. As expected, the changes in the reading standards assumed the vast amount of instructional attention. Writing standards were allotted an hour and listening and speaking standards a mere ten minutes. A passing reference was given to the language standards of grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary. However, spelling (Language Standard 2.0) was not mentioned.
Perhaps our trainers were taking their cues from the minimal references to spelling in the Language Strand of the Common Core State Standards. Following are the spelling standards from Grades 4−8:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.2e Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.2e Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.2b Spell correctly.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.2b Spell correctly.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.2b Spell correctly.
Hardly the specificity or attention that most parents, teachers, and administrators would desire, especially given the heavy focus on phonics, syllabication, and word analysis in the primary grades and the sound-spelling emphases of CCSS contributors to the appendices.
Indeed, those same authors would readily acknowledge that teaching explicit spelling patterns in conjunction with reading has a solid research base. The spelling-reading (encoding-decoding) connection is well-established at every stage of word study—from sound-spelling relationships in the primary grades to derivational and etymological influences from elementary through high school.
Perhaps their assumption is that all students have mastered the sound-spelling relationships, derivational, and etymological underpinnings of our language by the end of third grade. Our new standards are rigorous, but even so…
So what about students who clearly have not mastered the basic sound-spellings by, say, eighth grade? The Common Core State Standards shy away from this all-too-often reality in many schools. Here is the advice:
“The Standards set grade-specific standards but do not define the intervention methods or materials necessary to support students who are well below or well above grade-level expectations.”
My take is that teachers are going to have to flesh out meaningful spelling instruction beyond the third grade level to benefit our students. Additionally, students who have not mastered those primary grade sound-spelling patterns and sight words deserve our addition in the upper elementary, middle school, high school, and community college settings. We can help students “keep up” with grade-level instruction and “catch up” on spelling pattern deficits.
The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the
Common Core grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction. Mark has also written five separate slices of the program: the grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs.