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How to Evaluate Spelling Programs

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Properly evaluating spelling programs can save future headaches and money. One good guideline is to check whether spelling (encoding) is part of the screening and placement assessment for any reading intervention program. I take a look at the two most popular reading intervention programs with this in mind at Comparing READ 180 and Language! Live. Adopting spelling programs that teachers will not use simply makes no sense. With increasing attention on following Response to Intervention (RTI) guidelines, it makes sense to follow the criteria that orthographic research has established for quality spelling programs. Much of the following summarizes research study conclusions from the What Works Clearinghouse.
  • A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM use “themed” spelling word lists, grouping words by such themes as animals, months, or colors. A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM uses developmental spelling patterns for its word lists, providing sequential, research-based orthographic instruction.
  • A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM use practice worksheets that focus on rote memorization, such as word searches, fill-in-the-blanks, or crossword puzzles. A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM provides spelling sorts/word parts worksheets to help students practice recognition and application of the spelling patterns.
  • A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM de-emphasize structural analysis. A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM emphasizes word study: syllables, accents, morphemes, inflections, spelling rules, pronunciation, and derivational influences.
  • A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM do not integrate vocabulary instruction. A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM integrates homonyms, common Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes, and other linguistic influences.
  • A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM minimize the reading-spelling connection. A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM reinforces the decoding-encoding connection with an instructional scope and sequence aligned with systematic phonics instruction. The A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM program includes five years of seamless spelling instruction (Levels A, B, C, D, E)—perfect for grade-level classes, combination classes, and flexible homeschool instruction.
  • A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM ignore spelling irregularities. A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM includes “rule-breakers” throughout the program, providing problem-solving strategies that build student (and teacher) confidence in the English orthographic spelling system.
  • A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM use spelling tests solely as summative assessments. A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM uses spelling tests as diagnostic and formative instruments to help teachers differentiate instruction. Recording matrices enable teachers to keep track of mastered and un-mastered spelling patterns for each student—simple record-keeping and minimal paperwork.
  • A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM provide one-size fits all instruction. A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM provides the resources for true differentiated instruction from remedial to grade-level to accelerated spellers.
  • A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM use visual-only spelling strategies. A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM uses multi-sensory instructional practice, including songs, raps, games and phonological awareness activities—perfect for students with auditory processing deficits and a “must” for effective Response to Intervention (RTI) instruction.
  • A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM have no writing-spelling connection. A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM requires students to develop weekly Personal Spelling Lists that include commonly misspelled words from their own writing.
  • A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM provide no review activities for unit spelling tests. A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM provides ample review activities, including Word Jumbles for each sound-spelling pattern, web-based songs and raps, and entertaining games.
  • A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM take either inordinate teacher preparation or require too much class time. A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM is “teacher-friendly” and requires only minimal prep time. These flexible resources will not eat up instructional minutes.

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 Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components. Check out the entire instructional scope and sequence, aligned to the Grades 4-8 Common Core Standards.

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4-8

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

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  1. November 30th, 2011 at 08:56 | #1

    Hi,
    For a book that I am writing, tentatively titled “Essential Skills for the Common Core,” I would like to quote your good/bad spelling program list, above. My publisher is Eye on Education in Larchmont, New York. I am hereby asking your permission to quote you with full attribution.

  2. December 2nd, 2011 at 16:28 | #2

    You have my permission.
    Mark Pennington

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