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Six Simple Steps to Teaching Spelling

Grades 4-8 spelling instruction was once relegated to editing stage of the writing process by some Writers Workshop purists. The Common Core authors would seem to concur. From grade 5 on up, the only Spelling Standards read as follows: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.2e ; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.2e Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.2b ; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.2b ; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.2b Spell correctly.

However, many veteran grades 4-8 teachers still teach spelling, especially in terms of spelling patterns, conventional spelling rules, derivational and etymological influences, accent placements and vowel shifts because they know how structural word analysis facilitates proper use of our language, better reading comprehension, and improved writing.

Plus, when you know your students still can’t spell the there, their, and they’re words, someone’s gotta teach ’em!

So, what’s the most efficient, research-based methodology to teach spelling in the fewest number of instructional minutes per week?

Six Simple Steps to Teaching Spelling:

Monday

1. Administer a weekly diagnostic pretest of 20 words based upon a focus spelling pattern: not a silly holidays, colors, or “ed” word themed list. Check out my grades 4-8 spelling patterns instructional scope and sequence for guidance. Briefly explain the weekly spelling pattern with examples. Display the spelling words and direct students to self-correct their spelling errors by circling the misspelled sound-spellings.

Tuesday

2. Have students create their own Personal Spelling List of 10 unknown words. Students complete the Personal Spelling List in this priority order:

  • Pretest Errors: Have students write the spelling words they missed on the diagnostic pretest.
  • Posttest Errors: Have students write the words they missed on the last posttest.
  • Writing Errors: Have students add on teacher-corrected spelling errors found in their own writing.
  • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students add on unknown words from non-phonetic outlaw words, commonly confused homonyms, spelling demons, and high frequency lists. I provide these in my spelling programs or teachers can simply do a web search to find appropriate lists for your students.

Wednesday

3. Create or purchase (Yes, my program has them) a spelling sort based upon the spelling pattern. Students complete the sort and self-correct to learn from their own mistakes.

Thursday

4. Individualize Spelling Instruction

  • Administer a spelling patterns diagnostic assessment, not a random sample spelling inventory. Feel free to use my 102 word Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and recording matrix for each student, post the matrix and print the number of Spelling Pattern Worksheets according to the results and amount of students in your class. Here’s an audio version to make you really love this assessment 🙂
  • Print the answers to these worksheets in a half-dozen Answer Booklets.
  • Students complete a worksheet, self-correct and edit the practice section, and then complete the formative assessment at the bottom of each worksheet. Want to see some samples? Download the following six Spelling Pattern Worksheets including short schwa, long schwa, “_able,” “_ible,” “_ant-ance-ancy,” and “_ent-ence-ency”  spelling patterns (with answers).

Get the Spelling Pattern Worksheets FREE Resource:

  • Students mini-conference about the spelling pattern focus of the worksheet. If the student has mastered the spelling pattern in the formative assessment, direct the student to X-out the slash on the matrix and assign points. If the formative assessment indicates that the student has not yet mastered the spelling pattern, re-teach the pattern and tell the student to re-do the formative assessment.
  • 5. Students study their Personal Spelling List(s) for the spelling formative posttest for homework.

    Friday

    6. Administer a weekly or bi-weekly posttest. Many teachers elect to give the spelling posttest at the end of the week; others choose to combine two spelling patterns lessons and include these as part of the bi-weekly unit test. I give a bi-weekly test of two Personal Spelling Lists to save class time. There is no law, nor research, saying that you have to test each Friday.To administer the weekly or bi-weekly posttest, direct students to take out a piece of binder paper, find a partner, and exchange dictation of their Personal Spelling List(s) words (10‒20 Minutes weekly or bi-weekly). Students then turn in their posttests for the teacher to grade. I know… you think they’ll cheat. In my experience, very few do. Also… this works with second graders (I’ve done it) on up.

    The author’s Differentiated Spelling Instruction provides quality spelling programs for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Following are the program components:

    Pennington Publishing's Differentiated Spelling Instruction

    Differentiated Spelling Instruction

    • Diagnostic Spelling Assessment: a comprehensive test of each previous grade level spelling pattern to determine what students know and what they don’t know with Spelling Assessment Mastery Matrix
    • 102 Remedial Sound-Spelling Worksheets Corresponding to the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (Grade 8… other grade levels have fewer to correspond with grade-level spellings. All grade levels use the same diagnostic assessment.)
    • Weekly Diagnostic Spelling Tests
    • Weekly Spelling Sort Worksheets for Each Spelling Pattern (with answers) formatted for classroom display. Students self-correct to learn from their own mistakes.
    • Syllable Transformers and Syllable Blending formatted for classroom display and interactive instruction
    • Syllable Worksheets (with answers) formatted for classroom display
    • Four Formative Assessments (given after 7 weeks of instruction)
    • Summative Assessment
    • Spelling Teaching Resources: How to Study Spelling Words, Spelling Proofreading Strategies for Stories and Essays, Syllable and Accent Rules, Outlaw Words, 450 Most Frequently Used Words, 100 Most Often Misspelled Words, 70 Most Commonly Confused Words, Eight Great Spelling Rules, Memory Songs and Raps (with Mp3 links), and Spelling Review Games

    Read one of our customer testimonials: “I work with a large ELL population at my school and was not happy with the weekly spelling tests, etc. Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important at this age group. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. We have just adopted RtI at my school and your spelling matrix is a great tool for documentation. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students.”

    Heidi

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    How to Use the Spelling Pretest

    The Monday spelling pretest: it’s as American as apple pie. Each of my three sons routinely scored 20/20 on the Monday spelling pretest. They were required to “study” and “practice” these words with an obligatory worksheet, crossword puzzle, or write-the-word-ten-times assignment. They were then tested on these same words on Friday. They learned zilch about spelling from this instructional practice.

    Differentiated Spelling Instruction

    Differentiated Spelling Instruction

    The first task of an informed teacher is to determine what students already know and don’t know. The second task of an

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

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

    informed teacher is to make use of the diagnostic data to differentiate and individualize instruction.

    Here’s how to make sense of the spelling pretest and teach according to the results: Simply follow these five steps:

    How to Use the Spelling Pretest

    1. Prepare
    Create Supplemental Spelling Lists for each student.
    A. First, administer a comprehensive diagnostic spelling assessment to determine individual mastery and gaps. (Avoid qualitative inventories which do not clearly identify spelling patterns.) Grade the assessment and print grade-level resource words for each of the spelling pattern gaps.
    B. Second, find and print these resources: For remedial spellers−Outlaw Words, Most Often Misspelled Words, Commonly Confused Words. And these: For grade level and accelerated spellers−Greek and Latinate spellings, Tier 2 words used in your current instructional unit. Of course, my curriculum referenced at the end of the article includes these resources.
    C. Third, have your students set up spelling notebooks to record the spelling words which they, their parents, or you have corrected in their daily writing.
    Now you’re ready to teach.

    2. Pretest
    Dictate the 15—20 words in the traditional word-sentence-word format to all of your students on Monday. Of course, the words do matter. Rather than selecting unrelated theme words such as colors, holidays, or the like, choose a spelling program which organizes instruction by specific spelling patterns. Here’s a nice  CCSS L.2 Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence for spelling.

    Have students self-correct from teacher dictation of letters in syllable chunks, marking dots below the correct letters, and marking an “X” through the numbers of any spelling errors. This is an instructional activity that can be performed by second graders. Don’t rob your students of this learning activity by correcting the pretest yourself.

    3. Personalize
    Students complete their own 15−20 word Personal Spelling List in the following order of priority:
    • Pretest Errors: Have the students copy up to ten of their pretest spelling errors onto a Personal Spelling List. Ten words are certainly enough to practice the grade-level spelling pattern.
    • Last Week’s Posttest Errors: Have students add up to three spelling errors from last week’s spelling posttest.
    • Writing Errors: Have students add up to three student, parent, or teacher-corrected spelling errors found in student writing.
    • Spelling Pattern Errors: Have students add on up to three words from one spelling pattern deficit as indicated by the comprehensive diagnostic spelling assessment. Of course, my curriculum referenced at the end of the article includes these resources: Spelling Pattern Worksheets with the spelling pattern/rule clearly explained, example words, spelling sorts, rhymes, word jumbles, writing application, and a short formative assessment.
    • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students select words from these resources to complete the list.

    4. Practice
    Have students practice their own Personal Spelling Words list.
    A. Use direct instruction and example words to demonstrate the weekly spelling pattern.
    B. Have students create their own spelling sorts from their Personal Spelling List.
    C. Provide class time for paired practice. Spelling is primarily an auditory process.

    5. Posttest
    On Friday (or why not test every two weeks for older students?) tell students to take out a piece of binder paper and find a partner to exchange dictation of their Personal Spelling List words. Now, this makes instructional sense—actually using the posttest to measure what students have learned! But, you may be thinking…what if they cheat? For the few who cheat…It would be a shame to not differentiate instruction for the many to cater to a few. Truly, they are only cheating themselves.

    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.

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    Spelling Assessment Questions and Answers

    I love spelling instruction. Not the give the pretest on Monday; give ’em a crossword puzzle of the words on Tuesday; give ’em a word search on Wednesday; tell ’em to study on Thursday; and test ’em on the same words Friday kind of spelling instruction.

    I love the kind of grade-level spelling instruction that sticks with kids (and adults). The kind that makes use of our alphabetic code; the kind that uses spelling patterns and values “spelling rules” (which do work most of the time); the kind that uses a problem-solving approach to word analysis (yes… spelling sorts); the kind that does hold students accountable for spelling errors in their own writing; and the kind that makes use of the Monday pretest as a diagnostic instrument and the Friday posttest as a formative assessment.

    That said, as an author of numerous spelling programs and an often-used Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, I get two questions quite frequently: 1. Does a diagnostic spelling assessment make sense? and 2. How can we use the weekly pretest as a diagnostic assessment? But I’ll let teachers ask those questions in their own words…

    1. How can teachers address spelling needs for students who are spelling at a grade 1/2 level and are in grade 5/6? How would you give the diagnostic test to these low level students who cannot even spell “rag” or “top?”

    August 11, 2013 

    RESPONSE: Great question! An effective diagnostic spelling assessment has to isolate and test specific sound-spellings. The trick is to do so with words which assess specific student knowledge about that spelling pattern and nothing else.

    With most remedial spellers, such as your hypothetical 5/6 student, these students have had to develop a quite sophisticated set of coping mechanisms and survival skills to be able to read and/or spell anything at all. These students have become sight-word dependent, using word recognition skills, rather than word identification skills to memorize individual spelling words. In all likelihood the student has learned to read via “Dick and Jane” look-say methods or onset-rhyme techniques, rather than through explicit and systematic phonics instruction. But not necessarily. An effective diagnostic spelling assessment has to isolate that variable to really assess what needs to be assessed.

    In your question you refer to the short a, as in “rag,” and the short o as in “top.” Rather than use these words as test items (which most 5/6 students would know), a good assessment uses multisyllabic words to isolate and assess those sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight-spelling knowledge. That’s good internal and external validity in assessment-speak.

    The author of this article has such a comprehensive diagnostic assessment (See author tag below for links) to address this issue. For example, the first spelling word on the assessment is “bumper.” The word “bumper” is used, rather than “bump” or “bun” to assess the short u because most remedial spellers, such as your 5/6 student will not know this word as a sight-spelling.

    In correcting that item, the teacher is instructed only to correct the short vowel u. So if the student spells “bumpr,” than it is correct. Another spelling test item will catch the “er” spelling deficit.

    2. What’s the use of giving a spelling pretest if the posttest is the same list of words?

    June 3, 2012

    RESPONSE: I agree with your sentiments. The pretest is a waste of time, unless we make use of it as a diagnostic assessment. Furthermore (I’ve always wanted to use that transition), giving a posttest of the same words is just silly. Why should students have to practice and study, then be re-tested on words they already know? Here’s how to make sense of both the spelling pretest and spelling posttest:

    1. Administer the weekly pretest.

    2. After completing this diagnostic pretest, display the spelling words and direct students to self-correct their spelling errors by circling the misspelled sound-spellings.

    3. Have students create their own Personal Spelling List of 15 words and have a parent sign the list. Students complete the Personal Spelling List in this priority order:

    • Pretest Errors: Have students write the spelling words they missed on the pretest.
    • Posttest Errors: Have students write the words they missed on the last posttest.
    • Writing Errors: Have students add on teacher-corrected spelling errors found in their own writing.
    • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students add on unknown words from non-phonetic outlaw words, commonly confused homonyms, spelling demons, and high frequency lists.

    4. On the next class day briefly explain the spelling pattern focus of the pretest. My bias (and that of the Common Core authors in the appendices) is that we should be teaching grade-level spelling patterns, not silly themed word lists. If using a spelling patterns pretest, help students learn and problem-solve the patterns through a spelling sort. Avoid useless crossword puzzles, word searches, and write each word ten times approaches. Please.

    5. Students study their Personal Spelling List(s) for the spelling formative posttest. Many teachers elect to give the spelling posttest at the end of the week; others choose to combine two spelling patterns lessons and include these as part of the bi-weekly unit test. I give a bi-weekly test of two Personal Spelling Lists to save class time. There is no law saying that you have to test each Friday.

    6. To administer the weekly or bi-weekly posttest, direct students to take out a piece of binder paper, find a partner, and exchange dictation of their Personal Spelling List(s) words (10‒20 Minutes weekly or bi-weekly). Students then turn in their posttests for the teacher to grade. I know… you think they’ll cheat. In my experience, very few do. Also… this works with second graders (I’ve done it) on up.

    Those teachers who want to take spelling instruction beyond just grade-level instruction and begin individualizing instruction based upon a comprehensive diagnostic spelling assessment (not a simple qualitative spelling inventory) will appreciate the author’s Remedial Spelling Patterns Instruction training video.

    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.

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    Free ELA/Reading Assessments

    As an MA reading specialist and English-language Arts teacher, I know the value of diagnostic assessments. No two students are exactly alike. Each has different instructional needs. Each student deserves instruction adjusted to those needs. But how can elementary, middle, and high school teachers assess and teach to a class or classes full of individuals? Simple. With whole-class assessments. These assessments must be quick and easy to administer, grade, and record. Less time assessing leads to more time teaching.

    Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding ELA/Reading Assessments from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

    ELA/Reading Assessments

    Free Whole Class Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

    http://penningtonpublishing.com/

    Download free phonemic awareness, vowel sound phonics, consonant sound phonics, sight word, rimes, sight syllables, fluency, grammar, mechanics, and spelling assessments. All with answers and recording matrices. A true gold mine for the teacher committed to individualized instruction! Go to the QUICK LINKS resources at the bottom of our homepage to select the assessments you want. Absolutely free and all include recording matrices.

    Eliminating the Trust Factor with Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

    http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/eliminating-the-trust-factor-with-diagnostic-elareading-assessments/

    In summary, trust the science of comprehensive, diagnostic ELA/reading assessments to inform your instruction. Using this objective data will eliminate the “trust factor” and guess work and enable effective ELA and reading teachers to differentiate instruction.

    Ten Criteria for Effective ELA/Reading Diagnostic Assessments

    http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/ten-criteria-for-effective-elareading-diagnostic-assessments/

    Diagnostic assessments are essential instructional tools for effective English-language Arts and reading teachers. However, many teachers resist using these tools because they can be time-consuming to administer, grade, record, and analyze. Here are the criteria for effective diagnostic assessments.

    What’s the Value of Individual Reading Assessments?

    http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/whats-the-value-of-individual-reading-assessments/

    Individual reading assessments are time-consuming and inefficient. Effective reading assessments are 1. comprehensive 2. diagnostic and 3. They must be easy to give, easy to grade, and easy to record. Essentially, effective reading assessments can be delivered whole class as accurate screening tools.

    More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

    ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

    Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

    Teaching Reading Strategies

    abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

    Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

    Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

    Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

    Eliminating the Trust Factor with Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

    As teachers, we pride ourselves on our intuitive judgments. Elementary, middle, high school, and college teachers learn the developmental characteristics and behaviors of our students through professional development and experience. As much as we preach not to “judge the book by its cover,” we do so on a daily basis in our classrooms. We have to. Teaching is informed decision-making and we face a myriad of decisions each day. We think “on our feet” all day long and learn to make quick decisions: When to be a “hard-nose” and when to show mercy; when to challenge and when to coddle; when to “tighten up” and when to “lighten up.”

    The subjective decision-making described above is certainly a refined skill. We teachers do make mistakes. But, over time, we learn to trust our judgments and decision-making regarding the behavioral/affective management of the class and the interpersonal relationships and dynamics of the individuals in our classes. We learn to trust ourselves in the art of teaching.

    Don’t Trust Yourself

    However, we should be wary about being tempted to similarly trust ourselves regarding the science of teaching ELA and reading content and skills. Making instructional decisions based upon “what the students know and what they don’t know” requires objective data to inform our judgments. There are just too many variables to trust even the best teacher intuition: family situations, language, culture, school experience, just to name a few factors that limit our abilities to “go with our guts.” If we are honest, even veteran teachers are often fooled by sophisticated student coping mechanisms and cultural stereotypes. A gregarious boy with excellent oral language skills may be compensating for poor reading skills. A quiet Asian girl with good organizational skills who pays attention well may struggle with the academic vocabulary of the teacher. Only diagnostic ELA/reading assessments can eliminate subjectivity and objectively inform the science of teaching.

    Don’t Trust Your Colleagues

    Teaching is an independent practice. No matter how many years we have eaten lunch with our teacher peers, no matter how many conferences, department or grade-level meetings we have attended together, no matter how many of the same teaching resources we share, and no matter how specific our scope and sequences of instruction align, we cannot assume that the students of our colleagues have mastered the skills we are to build upon. Whether you are a fifth grade teacher, inheriting Ms. Nathan’s fourth grade class (along with all of her summative assessment data), or you are a high school English teacher picking up where a colleague left off at the end of the semester (with comprehensive writing portfolios), there is no substitute for doing your own diagnostic ELA/reading assessments.

    Don’t Trust the Standardized Test Data

    The content of the standardized ELA/reading test just can’t be trusted to help the teacher make  informed instructional decisions. The results of standardized tests provide “macro” data that can assess program quality or overall level of a student by using random sample questions to assess student proficiency or achievement. The data does not pinpoint the “micro” data of student strengths and weaknesses in the skills and content that teachers need to assess. Standardized tests are not designed for this purpose.

    For example, the standards-based ELA/reading assessment in California lumps together data to classify individual students as Proficient, Advanced, Basic, Below Basic, or Far Below Basic. These classifications do little to inform teacher instruction. Even using  item analyses of the data can only identify percentiles in such areas of “vocabulary in context.” Hardly helpful to specifically address individual student needs… Standardized tests do not provide  ELA/reading teachers with the data that they need to affect instructional change or differentiation. Diagnostic ELA/Reading assessments are designed for those tasks.

    In summary, trust the science of comprehensive, diagnostic ELA/reading assessments to inform your instruction. Using this objective data will eliminate the “trust factor” and guess work and enable ELA and reading teachers to effectively differentiate instruction. Check out these free diagnostic ELA and reading assessments.

    Over the years I have created, field-tested, and revised a battery of ELA/reading assessments that meet the criteria described above. You are welcome to download a comprehensive consonant and vowel phonics assessment, three sight word assessments, a spelling-pattern assessment, a multi-level fluency assessment, six phonemic awareness assessments, a grammar assessment, and a mechanics assessment free of charge from my website. Most of these assessments are multiple choice and are administered “whole class.” All have recording matrices to help the teacher plan for individual and small group instruction. Once, teachers administer these assessments and analyze the data, many will wish to purchase my teaching resources Teaching Grammar and MechanicsTeaching Essay Strategies, and Teaching Reading Strategies to differentiate instruction precisely according to the data of these diagnostic assessments. Why re-invent the wheel?

    Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Study Skills , , , , , ,