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Research-Based Spelling Worksheets

Years ago at the height of the whole language movement in California, a fourth grade teacher began his first year of teaching. Committed to teaching to the individual needs of his students, he consulted his mom for advice. Mom had recently retired after teaching 35 years as an intermediate and upper elementary teacher. She also had waded into the middle school environment for a few years before settling down in fifth grade for the last ten years of her career. Mom suggested that he assess his students and then assign targeted worksheets to address specific deficits indicated by the assessments. Her son had never heard this in his experiential learning teacher training program. He knew how to do role plays and simulations, but not much about teaching (even in his methods classes).

Mom climbed up into the attic and brought down her neatly packed boxes of teaching files. She dug out hundreds of grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and reading worksheets for her son to check out.

The rookie teacher was overwhelmed at the treasure trove of resources. Most of the worksheets fit the fourth grade age level and were quite good. As a veteran teacher, mom had carefully weeded out the “drill and kill” worksheets and had saved the ones that students learned from best. Every worksheet had been field tested and had Mom’s seal of approval. Some of the worksheets were from educational publishers long out of business or bought up by huge educational syndicates, but most of the worksheets were Mom’s own–no doubt revisions of store-bought products. Half of these worksheets were on old mimeograph (ditto) paper (Remember the smell?) Half of them were word processed documents after the advent of cheaper school copiers and duplo machines.

Mom warned her son not to share the worksheets with colleagues. No, she wasn’t worried about the copyright infringements; she was worried that her untenured son would be accused of not solely teaching the district adopted curriculum. She had heard that State Superintendent of Schools, Bill Honig, had removed workbooks from the approved supplemental resource list and was even reported as telling principals to confiscate any spelling workbooks at school sites. Those were the early days of the National Writing Project in which spelling (and punctuation, grammar, and word choice) were relegated to the editing-only stage of the writing process. Teachers regularly told students not to worry about spelling (or anything smacking of language conventions) during the rough draft stage of their writing because they could “clean up” the language for their final draft. If they chose to complete final drafts.

Of course spelling, grammar, usage, mechanics, and vocabulary scores plummeted during the late 1980s and early 1990s, sparking yet another “Back to Basics” movement. Mom had warned her son about the cyclical nature of educational movements and philosophies. “Been there; done that,” said Mom. “Remember that your first priority is to your students. You will learn what works best. But don’t be dumb. Wait until you’re tenured to share any of these worksheets with your colleagues. They’ll want them… even the ones that have said otherwise.”

In his fourth grade classroom the new teacher faithfully taught the district adopted curriculum, but he found time to “sneak in” worksheets targeted to individual assessment-based skills and concepts deficits. Students completed assigned worksheets, self-corrected and self-edited any errors from the Answer Book, and brought up the graded worksheet to their teacher for review. Each worksheet had a short test (a formative assessment) to see if the student had mastered the focus skill or concept. The test was a short written application to see if the student understood and could use what was learned correctly. Most of the time the student successfully masted the skill. Students loved completing the worksheets and placing the gold star next to their name on the wall poster.

The spring test results came in shortly after school started back up in September. The principal called in the now second-year teacher and asked him why his test scores were so much higher than those of his grade level team. “I just followed the district-adopted curriculum and I had great kids,” he replied.

That night he took Mom out the dinner.

The educational research provides insight as to what makes a spelling worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition.

In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” in which researchers distinguish between deliberate practice and “drill and kill” rote memorization: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”

“… several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993). Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction.”

As publisher of the grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs and the grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction (slices of the aforementioned programs), our company has applied the following research suggestions to create research-based spelling worksheets. Following will state the research suggestions listed as “Dos” in the above article and the specific worksheet applications of the research will follow with the worksheets from the programs listed above. A sample Spelling Patterns Worksheet is provided thereafter.

  1. Teachers should design practice tasks with students existing knowledge in mind. The Spelling Pattern Worksheets are assigned according to the results of the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (the link connects to the eight grade assessment). Each of the grades 4-8 assessments includes an audio file to make administration simple (great for make-ups as well). Here’s a link to the eighth grade audio file and to the recording matrix for progress monitoring. These whole class assessments perfectly correspond with the targeted worksheets so that students complete only those grade level spelling patterns which students have not yet mastered. When students succeed at practice problems, the benefits of practice are maximized. But when students become frustrated with unrealistic or poorly designed practice problems, they often lose motivation, will not receive the full benefits of the practice they have done, and will be less motivated to attempt future practice problems. Students are motivated to practice by mastering each unmastered concept or skill, marked with an “/” on the data matrix. Once a student has mastered a worksheet, points are assigned and the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix. Yes, gold stars work, too!
  2. Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria. Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies. Break complex problems into their constituent elements, and have students practice on these smaller elements before asking them to solve complex problems independently. Directions are concisely and clearly written so that students can complete the worksheets independently. Each worksheet has been field tested in grades 4-8 classrooms and revised to ensure student success. The applicable spelling rules and examples are provided before the practice section on every worksheet.
  3. Provide students with fully completed sample problems as well as partially completed sample problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own. The Spelling Pattern Worksheets provide samples (examples) of each focus spelling pattern.
  4. Students should have repeated opportunities to practice a task through practicing other tasks like it. Students complete a spelling sort to apply the focus spelling pattern. The practice section also includes rhyme, word search, and word jumble activities.
  5. Students receive the greatest benefits from practice when teachers provide them with timely and descriptive feedbackStudents complete the spelling sort and practice section and self-correct and self-edit from the Answers Booklet to gain immediate feedback and learn from their own mistakes.
  6. Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills. Next, students complete a short formative assessment (a brief written application of the focused spelling patterns) at the bottom of each worksheet and bring up the completed worksheet to the teacher for a mini-conference. The teacher evaluates the formative assessment to determine mastery and quickly checks the practice section to make sure that the student has completed and self-corrected. If mastered, the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix. If unmastered, the teacher briefly re-teaches and the student completes the formative assessment once more.
  7. Distribute practice over extended periods of time. Students work at their own pace, completing the Spelling Pattern Worksheets. The teacher provides points for each mastered worksheet.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Spelling-Worksheet.pdf”]

Check out the research-based grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and the research-based vocabulary worksheets.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes 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.

The program 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 the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.

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30 Spelling Questions, Answers and Resources

In the midst of the 1980s whole language movement, California State Superintendent of Schools Bill Honig strongly encouraged principals to confiscate spelling workbooks from their teachers. Even today, spelling instruction remains a contentious topic. No other literacy skill seems to run the complete gamut of instructional implementation from emphasis to de-emphasis. Following are the 30 spelling questions, answers, and resources to help teachers get a handle on what does and what does not work in spelling instruction.

Now, with my ambitious goal of providing 30 questions, answers, and resources, I’ve got to be concise. I won’t be going deep into orthographic research (much of which is contradictory and incomplete) or into detailed instructional strategies. Also, a disclaimer is certainly needed: I am a teacher-author of several spelling programs, some of which I will shamelessly promote at the end of the article. But, to be fair, I do have some relevant expertise and experience in spelling to share. I have my masters degree as a reading specialist (in fact I did my masters thesis on the instructional spelling and reading strategies used in the the 19th Century McGuffey Readers). More importantly, I have served as an elementary and secondary reading specialist and have taught spelling at the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels. So, enough for the credibility portion of the article and onto why you are reading and what you hope to learn, validate, invalidate, and apply in your classroom.

Why Teach Spelling?

1. Why is spelling such a big deal? If Einstein couldn’t spell, why does it matter? Won’t spell check the best way to solve spelling problems? Whether justified or not, others will judge our students by their spelling ability. Spelling accuracy is perceived as a key indicator of literacy. And spelling problems can inhibit writing coherency and reading facility. Spell check programs do not solve spelling issues. They  just takes too long to correct frequent misspellings and cannot account for homographs.

2. Can you teach spelling? Aren’t some people naturally good or bad spellers? Isn’t it learned through extensive reading and writing? Yes, poor spellers and good spellers can be taught to improve their spelling abilities. No brain research has demonstrated a genetic predisposition for good or bad spelling. There is no spelling gene. No, spelling isn’t learned through reading and writing, but there are positive correlations among the disciplines. They are each separate skills and thinking processes and need specific instruction and practice accordingly.

Whose Job Is It to Teach Spelling and to Whom Should We Teach It?

3. Isn’t spelling the job of primary teachers? Please, God, let this be so. Yes and no. Primary teachers are responsible for much of the decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling) foundations, but intermediate/upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers have plenty of morphological (word parts), etymological (silent letters, accent placements, schwa spellings, added and dropped connectives), and derivational (Greek, Latin, French, British, Spanish, Italian, German language influences) spelling patterns to justify teaching spelling patterns at their respective grade levels.

4. Should content teachers teach spelling? Yes. The Common Core State Standards emphasize cross-curricular literacy instruction. Upper elementary teachers in departmentalized structures, middle school, and high school teachers should certainly come to consensus regarding spelling instruction and expectations.

5. Should we teach spelling to special education students? Yes, even though spelling is primarily an auditory skill and many special educations have auditory processing challenges. These students require more practice, not less. Gone are the days when special education teachers said Johnny or Susie can’t learn spelling. however, some visual study strategies do make sense.

6. Should we teach spelling to English-language learners? Yes. We cripple our English-language learners when we solely focus on reading skills and vocabulary acquisition. Besides, Spanish has remarkably similar orthographic patterns as English.

How Does Spelling Connect to Other Literacy Skills?

7. How are spelling and phonemic awareness related? The National Reading Panel stressed the statistically significant correlation. Spelling is an auditory, not a visual skill, and so the connection between phonemic awareness, which is the ability to recognize and manipulate speech sounds is clear. Check out the author’s free phonemic awareness assessments.

8. How are spelling and reading related? Spelling (encoding) and reading (decoding) are both sides of the same coin. So many of our syllable pronunciations depend upon spelling rules. Check out this relationship in these teachable resources: Ten English Accent Rules, Twenty Advanced Syllable Rules, and How to Teach Syllabication: The Syllable Rules.

9. How are spelling and vocabulary related? Spelling is highly influenced by morphemes (meaning-based syllables) and language derivations. Read this article on How to Differentiate Spelling and Vocabulary Instruction for more.

How Should We Teach Spelling?

10. How much of a priority should spelling instruction take in terms of instructional minutes? I suggest 5 minutes for the spelling pretest (record on your phone to maintain an efficient pace and to use for make-ups); 5 minutes to create a personal spelling list; 10 minutes to complete and correct a spelling pattern sort; 10 minutes of spelling word study (perfect for homework); and 5 minutes for the spelling posttest (every other week for secondary students).

11. Should we teach spelling rules? Absolutely. Just because the English sound-spelling system works in only about 50% of spellings does not mean that there are not predictable spelling patterns to increase that percentage of spelling predictability and accuracy. Although the sound-spelling patterns are the first line of defense, the conventional spelling rules that work most all of the time are a necessary back-up. Check out the free Eight Great Spelling Rules, each with memorable mp3 songs and raps to help you and your students master the conventional spelling rules.

12. What about teaching “No Excuse” spelling words and using Word Walls? These can supplement, but not replace, a spelling patterns program. Teaching and posting the there-their-they’re words directly and emphasizing these common misspellings makes sense.

13. What about outlaw (non-decodable) spelling words? Using these words as a resource to supplement unknown words on the weekly spelling pretest is highly effective. I suggest you “kill two birds with one stone” by giving this multiple choice Outlaws Word Assessment for reading diagnosis and then the same list for spelling diagnosis.

14. What about using high frequency words to teach spelling? As a supplementary resource to the personal spelling list unknown high frequency words, such as the Dolch List, can certainly be included. But using high frequency words as weekly spelling lists involves learning in isolation. Plus these lists include both decodable and non-decodable words. Parents can certainly assess their own children and provide results to the teacher.

15. What about using commonly confused words (homonyms) to teach spelling? Some words look the same or nearly the same (homographs) or sound the same or nearly the same (homonyms) and so are easily confused by developing spellers and adult spellers alike. Check about this great list of Easily Confused or Misused Words.

16. What about teaching spelling through a Spelling Pattern Sort? Extremely valuable and a necessary instructional activity for any spelling patterns program. Closed spelling sorts based upon spelling patterns are certainly more effective than open sorts.

“Students can… spell words that they don’t think they know how to spell by comparing words through sorts. Knowing how to spell familiar words gives the students reference points for knowing how to begin spelling new words. Here are just a few of the sorts that students can experience:

  • Sort beginning sounds
  • Sort Digraphs from Blends
  • Sort long vowels from short vowels
  • Sort words with closed syllables from words with open syllables
  • Sort words that double the ending consonant before adding –ing with those that do not
  • Sort prefixes and suffixes
  • Sort base words and root words

Teachers can even combine a sound sort with a letter pattern sort. The list goes on and on.” Sandy Hoffman

17. How should learning styles inform spelling instruction? Good teachers always use multiple modalities instruction. But, the research and practical application of VAKT is dubious at best and has no application to spelling. Teachers gave up teaching students to trace letters years ago. Spelling is primarily an auditory skill, so if there are auditory processing challenges, special attention and additional practice will be necessary. Check out this article titled Don’t Teach to Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences for more.

18.Why aren’t the Common Core Standards more specific about spelling instruction? When establishing instructional priorities to address these spelling Standards, many teachers have placed spelling (Standard L. 2) on the back-burner. To wit, the intermediate elementary Standards: (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.2e) “Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.”) and middle school Standards: (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.2b “Spell correctly.”) However, the primary Standards are much more specific and the authors make a solid case in Appendix A for the importance of spelling instruction.

19. Is spelling a good subject for homework? Yes. Parents can certainly supervise spelling sorts practice, creation of the personal spelling list, and even assist the teacher with diagnostic spelling tests of supplementary spelling word lists.

What about Individualizing Spelling Instruction?

20. What about qualitative spelling inventories? Qualitative spelling inventories accurately reflect and diagnose developmental spelling stages or indicate broad spelling strengths and weaknesses; however, their lack of assessing specific sound-spelling patterns make specific teaching applications problematic.

21. Is there a comprehensive diagnostic spelling assessment? Check out the author’s free diagnostic spelling assessment. This 64 word assessment with recording matrix is comprehensive and based upon the sound-spelling patterns to be mastered in K-3rd grade.

22. How should teachers individualize spelling instruction? Give a spelling patterns diagnostic assessment. Teach to the indicated individual unmastered spelling patterns. Targeted Spelling Pattern Worksheets with formative assessments help focus instruction on diagnostically determined spelling deficits for each student. Students catch up while they keep up with grade level spelling patterns. Having students create personal spelling lists from the weekly spelling pretest is also excellent individualized instruction. Check out the author’s eighth grade Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and Diagnostic Spelling Assessment Matrix. Now, if you just had the corresponding spelling pattern worksheets to teach to these deficits…

When Should We Teach What Spelling?

23. Can spelling instruction be defined by grade levels? Grade levels may not be easily divisible by grade levels, but we do need an instructional scope and sequence for spelling instruction. Here’s a For those grades 4−8 teachers who don’t wish to re-invent the wheel, here is the comprehensive TLS Instructional Scope and Sequence Grades 4-8 of the entire Language Strand (grammar and usage, mechanics, knowledge of use, spelling, and vocabulary)., which includes spelling patterns for grades 4-8

What is the Best Way to Study Spelling?

24. What spelling review games are most effective and fun? Check out these Spelling Review Games based upon spelling patterns.

25. What about writing spelling words over and over again? No. No. No.

Does the Weekly Spelling Test Make Sense?

26. Does the weekly spelling test help students learn spelling words? Yes. The research is clear on this one: the test-study-test instructional approach results in spelling achievement. But, the weekly posttest is probably not efficient for upper elementary and older students. Biweekly posttests work well, but only if the teacher adopts a personal spelling list approach based upon weekly diagnostic assessments.

27. What kinds of spelling tests make the most sense? A Weekly Spelling Test based upon a focused spelling pattern allows the teacher to teach the spelling pattern and provide practice opportunities to their students to apply these patterns in spelling sorts.

28. Can the weekly spelling pretest be used as a diagnostic assessment to differentiate instruction? Yes. Dictate 15-20 spelling pattern words in the traditional word-sentence-word format to all of your students. After the dictations, have students self-correct from teacher dictation (primary) or display (older students) of the correct spellings.

Students create personal spelling list in this priority order.

  • Pretest Errors: Have the students copy up to ten of their pretest spelling errors.
  • Posttest Errors: Have students add on up to five spelling errors from last week’s spelling posttest.
  • Writing Errors: Have students add on up to five teacher-corrected spelling errors found in student writing.
  • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students select and use words from other resources linked in this article.

What Criteria Should Teachers Use to Pick a Good Spelling Program?

29. Here’s a nice set of criteria based upon “A BAD SPELLING PROGRAM” and “A GOOD SPELLING PROGRAM.”

30. Give me an example of a good one!

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

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

DSI-C

Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and includes 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 the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

As slices of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs, Differentiated Spelling Instruction provides quality spelling programs for grades 4-8.

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Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

As an MA Reading Specialist and author of quite a few spelling curricula (eight at last count), I’m often asked about spelling word lists by grade levels. Which words are right for which grade levels? Is blank (substitute any word) a third or fourth grade word? Which spelling words are the most important ones to practice?

We Americans are fixated with lists. From Letterman’s Late Show Top Ten to Blackwell’s Ten Worst Dressed List, we pay attention to them all. Lists influence big money. For example, universities invest millions of dollars to adjust staffing, course offerings, and campus improvements to better their annual U.S. News and World Report rankings.

We American are also fixated with grades. We sort and categorize anything of value by grade. From diamonds to education, we esteem these divisions even when the placement criteria overlap or have dubious or arbitrary merit. In education, we divide our new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) into grade levels, although many standards are simply repeated in each grade level. See the CCSS spelling standards in the Language Strand as a prime example.

Of course, educational publishers promote and encourage our list and grade fixations. Lists and grade levels, such as with spelling instruction, sell more books. For example, no publishers in their right minds would offer a one-volume comprehensive spelling program, when separate grade level programs with separate spelling lists would sell more. Publishers of spelling curricula have been doing the latter for years. A brief history is illuminating:

American English Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels

As early as 1783, Noah Webster published his first edition of what became widely known as The Blue-backed Speller. He began “with the alphabet and moving systematically through the different sounds of vowels and consonants, then syllables, then simple words, then more complex words, then sentences.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_Webster His grade level lists were used by teachers in multi-grade, one-room school houses and these divisions were further solidified with spelling bees. Webster’s 1806 dictionary sold poorly but served as the foundation for subsequent dictionaries bearing the Webster name.

By the 1840s, Webster had lost market share to the works of William Holmes McGuffey. McGuffey’s 1836 publication of his Eclectic Reader became wildly popular and McGuffey spun off his success with his 1846 Eclectic Spelling Book. McGuffey set out to standardize American spellings along the lines of Noah Webster’s 1806 dictionary and used Webster’s diacritical marks, as well as his “orthography, pronunciation, and syllabication (Preface).” Interestingly, McGuffey keyed his early spelling lists to the alphabet and not to the sound-spelling system. For example, his alphabet card for W has a picture of a wren and the spelling wren. Of course, the wr_ has the /r/, not the /w/. His lists are organized along the same lines.  Lesson 16 is titled “The Various Sounds of U” and has 44 words which include short /u/, long /u/, r-controlled /ur/, and others.

So, grade level spelling programs and word lists have been around for all of U.S. history. Educational movements to the contrary have proven to be short-lived. California removed grade level spelling books from its state adoption lists at the height of the whole-language movement in the 1980s. Principals were instructed by school district personnel to direct teachers not to use grade level spelling workbooks, and in some documented cases principals were even told to confiscate grade level spelling programs. More eclectic approaches such as Rebecca Sitton’s No Excuse Spelling Words program (more lists) replaced the grade level spelling programs. However, with the return to phonics-based instruction in the 1990s, grade level spelling programs and word lists returned.

Spelling Word Lists by Grade Levels: What Makes Sense

Ideally, spelling instruction would be tailored to individual student needs. However, our “factory system” of American education, which divides students into grade level instruction by age with accompanying grade-level standards is not likely to change.

Accepting this reality, it does make sense to establish a scope and sequence based upon research-based spelling patterns. Although there are no “set in stone” fourth grade words or fourth grade spelling patterns, there are spelling patterns that build upon previously mastered spelling patterns. The developmental nature of spelling has been well-established in orthographic research. Additionally, there is simply no doubt that good spelling instruction dovetails with good vocabulary instruction. As the reading-spelling connection is well-established for the primary grades, so is the vocabulary-spelling connection thereafter.

Of course, most grade level spelling programs and word lists are predicated upon the specious notion that spelling instruction equals spelling learning. Teach it and move on. Or add on a simplistic review before moving on. No attention is paid to whether the spelling patterns have actually been mastered or not. However, a spelling-vocabulary program for intermediate and upper elementary, as well as middle school students based upon diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments is certainly possible. A spelling-vocabulary program of “grade-level” spelling patterns and word lists organized in a meaningful instructional scope and sequence combined with individualized remediation of previous foundational spelling patterns is certainly possible.

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. The 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.

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).

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How to Teach Grammar

Within the field of English-language arts, there is probably no more contentious curricular issue than that of how to teach grammar. The “Reading Wars” and “Writing Wars” get all the press, but teachers are much more unified in their teaching philosophy and instructional practice in those areas, than they are with respect to “The Great Grammar Debate.”

Even those who have decried the direct instruction of grammar believe that the subject needs to be learned.

Some say grammar is best learned through reading. Dr.  Stephen Krashen finds that students learn grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary most efficiently through free voluntary reading. However, Dr. Krashen does see the value of teaching some usage issues and grammatical terminology, especially at the high school level. And he advocates teaching students how to use language resources, such as language handbooks, to correct errors and improve writing style.

Some say grammar is best learned through writing. Even those who still trot out forty-year-old research studies to argue that explicit, direct instruction in grammar has no statistically significant effect on writing maturity such as the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Writing Project, Six Traits, or the Writers Workshop folks trot out their own grammar mini-lessons to fill the gaps when students have egregious errors in the editing state of process papers. I have previously written about why teachers avoid teaching grammar, but plan to boldly advocate how to teach grammar in this article. However, some consensus-building is necessary before I do so.

Definitions

Grammar has come to mean a catch-all term that refers to everything English teachers would prefer to avoid teaching. Essentially, grammar includes the part of a sentence, the function of these parts (such as the parts of speech), the arrangement of words with the sentence, word choice, punctuation, and capitalization. Grammar is the study of how our language is used and how it can be manipulated to achieve meaning.

Most of us would agree with these… 21 Curricular Assumptions

1. Good grammar is important. Whether grammar is chiefly taught or caught is beside the point. When it is simply caught by students, “They dint always catched it very good.” Grammar as it is caught must be complemented by a grammar that is taught.

2. Grammar should, as much as is practical, be integrated with authentic writing instruction. Students learn best when instruction is perceived and practiced as being relevant to their needs.

3. Not all students have the same grammatical skill-set. Simply teaching grade-level standards is not enough. We teach content, but we also teach students. We need to both “keep them up” and “catch them up.” It makes sense to develop and administer diagnostic assessments to determine who does and does not need extra instruction and in what skill areas. Yes, we need to differentiate our grammar instruction.

4. Both part to whole and whole to part instruction will work. We learn grammar from writing, but we also learn writing from grammar.

5. Grammatical instruction is necessarily “recursive.” Students need both the review and the new. Solid foundations require maintenance as much as does any new construction. You know the teacher(s) before you taught those parts of speech, even though some of your students still don’t know them. I’ll let the writers of the Common Core State Standards make these points regarding the recursive nature of instruction in grammar and usage:

“Grammar and usage development in children and in adults rarely follows a linear path.”

“Native speakers and language learners often begin making new errors and seem to lose their mastery of particular grammatical structures or print conventions as they learn new, more complex grammatical structures or new usages of English.”

(Bardovi-Harlig, 2000; Bartholomae, 1980; DeVilliers & DeVilliers, 1973; Shaughnessy, 1979).

“These errors are often signs of language development as learners synthesize new grammatical and usage knowledge with their current knowledge. Thus, students will often need to return to the same grammar topic in greater complexity as they move through K–12 schooling and as they increase the range and complexity of the texts and communicative contexts in which they read and write.”

“The Standards account for the recursive, ongoing nature of grammatical knowledge in two ways. First, the Standards return to certain important language topics in higher grades at greater levels of sophistication… Second, the Standards identify with an asterisk (*) certain skills and understandings that students are to be introduced to in basic ways at lower grades but that are likely in need of being retaught and relearned in subsequent grades as students’ writing and speaking matures and grows more complex.”

http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_A.pdf

6. Layered, sequenced instruction makes sense. An establish scope and sequence makes more sense than a “shotgun” approach. Students need to understand the function of an adverb before they can write adverbial clauses. Check out the instructional scope and sequence from the author’s Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

7. Teaching grammar is more than test prep. In fact, too much of most teachers’ grammar instruction (not you, of course) is testing, rather than teaching. However, we live in the real world. Consider the timing of your standardized test when planning your instructional scope and sequence.

8. Grammatical instruction is more than just error analysis or correction. Grammar and mechanics instruction cannot exclusively be relegated to end of writing process as mere editing skills. Jeff Anderson, author of Everyday Editing, calls such activities “error-filled fix-a-thons.” Most of us who have tried Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review would agree that this hodgepodge instructional approach does not transfer to student speaking or writing.

9. The fancy names for grammatical constructions are less important than knowing how to use these constructions in one’s own writing. However, memorization of the key terminology and definitions of grammar provides a common language of instruction. Of course, use of the verbage needs to be age appropriate. A fourth-grade teacher should be able to say, “Notice how the author’s use of the adverb at the start of the verse helps us see how the old woman walks.” A high school teacher should be able to say, “Notice how the author’s use of the past perfect progressive indicates a continuous action completed at some time in the past.”

10. Analyzing both good and bad writing is instructive. Sentence modeling and error analysis in the context of real writing, both by published authors and your own students, can work hand-in-hand to provide inspiration and perspiration.

11. Writers manipulate grammar in different ways and at different points of the writing process. Sentence variety is a component of mature writing. Check out these grammatical sentence openers.

12. One’s knowledge and experience with grammar helps shape one’s writing style and voice.

13. Degree of oral proficiency in grammar impacts writing ability.

14. Direct instruction is not enough—coaching is necessary to teach students how to write. The “sage on the stage” has to be complemented with the “guide on the side.”

15. Identification of grammatical constructions can help students apply these in their own writing, but exclusive practice in identification will not magically translate to correct application. If students can readily identify discrete elements of language, say prepositional phrases, they will more likely be able to replicate and manipulate these grammatical constructions in their own writing. However, students need to practice writing prepositional phrases in the context of real writing to solidify the connection between identification and application.

16.  There are certain grammar rules worth teaching.  If students understand and practice the grammatical rules and their exceptions, they will more likely be able to write with fewer errors. Knowing the rule that a subject case pronoun follows a “to-be” verb will help a student avoid saying or writing “It is me,” instead of the correct construction “It is I.”

17.  Some grammar instruction gets better “bang for the buck” than other. Teaching the most common errors certainly makes sense.

18. The notion that grammar can’t be learned by students with auditory or visual processing disorders or by students with certain learning styles is a myth. While it may be true that students learn language differently, at different rates, and vary in proficiency, there has been no research to show that some students cannot learn grammar.

19. What we say shouldn’t always be the way that we write. Students need to learn to distrust one’s own oral language as a grammatical filter. “Whoever John gives the ring to will complain” sounds correct, but “To whomever John gives the ring, he or she will complain” is correct. Knowing pronoun case and the proper use of prepositions will override the colloquialisms of oral language.

20. English grammar can be learned by second language learners. Some teachers think that students who speak other languages get confused between the primary language and English grammars. The research proves otherwise. Intuitively, many of us have significantly increased our own knowledge of English grammar by taking a foreign language. However, teaching English-language learners requires special consideration.

21. Teaching grammar shouldn’t take up an entire English-language arts course. Most of us would say about 20% or less of our instructional time.

How to Teach Grammar in Four Simple Steps

1. Develop a Plan

Establish a coherent scope and sequence of instruction with your colleagues, including those who precede and those who follow you. Base your plan on your more general state standards, but get as specific as possible. I suggest integrating grammar, usage, mechanics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction into the plan. Include both “review” and “new” layered skills. Here’s a very workable model: the instructional scope and sequence from the author’s Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4-8 programs.

2. Do Direct Instruction “Sage on the Stage”

The skills detailed in the above instructional scope and sequence can be taught, modeled, practiced, and assessed in 25 minutes, 2 days per week. Daily Oral Language will not get this done. Grammar instruction need not take up a teacher’s entire class.

3. Individualize Instruction “Guide on the Side”

Use an effective diagnostic assessment to identify grammatical and mechanical skills that your students should already know. Chart their deficits and find brief, targeted instruction that students can independently practice. Develop brief formative assessments for each skill. Allocate 15 minutes, 2 days per week, of teacher-student mini-conferences to review their practice and grade their formative assessments, say on Wednesdays and Fridays. Have students keep track of their own mastery of these skills on progress monitoring charts. Re-teach and re-assess skills not-yet-mastered.

4. Do Independent Practice

Require students to practice the grammatical skills introduced in your direct instruction in their writing that very week. For example, if teaching adverbs, on Monday, students can be required to write three adverb sentence openers in the story, letter, essay, or poem they compose on Tuesday.

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 and 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 the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

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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Ten Components of a Successful Spelling Program

Developing a weekly spelling-vocabulary plan that differentiates instruction for all of your students is a challenging task for even the best veteran teacher. Teachers truly want to differentiate spelling instruction, but the materials, testing, instruction, and management can prove overwhelming to even the most conscientious professional. Using this Spelling Program Checklist can help teachers re-focus  to improve their spelling instruction.

Spelling Program Checklist

1. Instructional Challenge-Diagnostic Spelling Assessments

“Each year it’s always the same. I have good spellers and bad spellers. It takes a few weeks to find out who they are. Sometimes students will get 100%s on their Friday spelling tests, but they can’t spell anything in their writing. Unlike some of my colleagues, I do teach spelling, but I just use word lists I borrowed from a few old spelling workbooks, the Rebecca Sitton ‘No-Excuse Words,’ and words from our grade level spelling bee that we have to do in the spring. I assign spelling homework, because for some reason, spelling is about the only curricular area that parents ever ask about.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I administer, score, analyze, and differentiate spelling instruction according to a comprehensive assessment which diagnoses sound-spelling strengths and weaknesses.

□ I administer, score, analyze, and differentiate spelling instruction according to a comprehensive assessment which diagnoses sight-syllable strengths and weaknesses.

□ I administer, score, analyze, and differentiate spelling instruction according to a comprehensive assessment which diagnoses non-phonetic “outlaw word” strengths and weaknesses.

□ I administer, score, analyze, and differentiate spelling instruction according to a comprehensive assessment which diagnoses high frequency words strengths and weaknesses.

2. Instructional Challenge-Remedial Spelling Students

“Rafael is one of my brightest students, but poor spelling inhibits his writing. He just can’t get down on paper what he wants to say. Rafael continually makes the same spelling mistakes in his writing, now matter how many times I red-mark them. Memorizing the list of weekly spelling words has never helped Rafael improve his spelling; year after year, he has lagged further and further behind his classmates.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I know exactly what Rafael’s spelling deficits are, according to diagnostic data.

□ I have an instructional plan in place to remediate Rafael’s deficits.

□ I pull aside groups of remedial spellers that share a common spelling deficit for practice and spelling dictations regarding that spelling deficit at least twice per week.

□ I have formative assessments in place to analyze Rafael’s progress.

3. Instructional Challenge-Accelerated Spelling Students

“Kenny is a precocious student who clearly has a knack for spelling. On his Monday pretest, Kenny rarely misses any words. I give him the challenge words from the spelling workbook, but Kenny usually knows how to spell these too. Kenny rarely makes spelling mistakes in his writing because he selectively avoids using difficult spelling words.”

Instructional Strategies

□ Beyond the grade level spelling curricula, I know exactly what Kenny’s spelling deficits are, according to diagnostic data.

□ I have an instructional plan in place to remediate Kenny’s deficits.

□ I assign advanced spelling practice for accelerated spellers like Kenny.

□ I have formative assessments in place to analyze Kenny’s progress.

4. Instructional Challenge-Spelling Tests

“On Monday’s spelling pretest, one-third of my students get most all of the words right; one-third of my students get most all of the words wrong; and one-third of my students get about half of the words correct. I give the same test on Friday. Those who study, get an easy A; those who don’t wind up getting about the same score as on their pretest.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I use the spelling pretest as a diagnostic test and differentiate instruction from that data.

□ My spelling pretest has clear sound-spelling or syllable-spelling patterns and I analyze diagnostic data according to these patterns.

□ My spelling posttests are all individualized because they are designed according to the diagnostic data of the spelling pretest and other diagnostic assessments.

□ My spelling posttest includes words that students have misspelled in their own writing.

□ My spelling posttest includes words that student have misspelled on their last spelling posttest.

□ My spelling posttest includes non-phonetic “outlaw words” that are unknown to the students according to diagnostic data.

□ My spelling posttest includes conventional spelling rules.

5. Instructional Challenge-Spelling Practice

“I use a few workbook pages that I’ve found that go with the word lists. Sometimes I use “Puzzlemaker” to create a word search. Sometimes I have the students quiz each other on their word lists. I’ve tried spelling sorts, but they don’t work with the random word lists that I use. I assign spelling practice for homework because the parents like it, and because I can save time in class for other instructional activities.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I give my students different spelling practice, according to their diagnostic strengths and deficits.

□ I teach parents (elementary school) how to help their students practice their spelling.

□ I have students practice their spelling deficits in the context of real writing.

□ I teach students how to memorize spelling words for the spelling posttest.

□ I teach students how to use mnemonic devices to memorize difficult spelling words.

6. Instructional Challenge-Spelling Rules

“The only spelling rule my students know is the ‘i before e’ rule and the one about ‘change the y to i and add “es”,’ although they get the rules mixed up a bit. Oh, and they also know some of the plural spelling rules. Frankly, I’m not sure I could name any others. I don’t know which ones are worth teaching and which ones are not.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I teach students the most-useful eight conventional spelling rules.

□ I have students memorize the most-useful eight conventional spelling rules.

□ I have students practice the most-useful eight conventional spelling rules.

□ I hold students accountable for correctly spelling words in their own writing that follow already-introduced spelling rules.

7. Instructional Challenge-Writing

“I was taught not to red-mark any spelling mistakes because this would irreparably damage a student’s self-esteem. I’ve also heard that spelling is just an editing skill that should be reserved until the last step of the Writing Process, if there’s time. Sometimes, I do make the students write out their spelling words in complete sentences. I’ve also make them write out each word twenty times. Practice does make perfect.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I have a plan in place to hold students accountable for correctly spelling already tested words in their daily writing.

□ I mark spelling errors in student writing, according to the abilities of the individual student and hold students accountable for correcting, practicing, and applying words that I mark.

□ Students keep track of unknown or challenging spelling words that they use in their writing.

□ I teach spelling editing skills in the context of authentic writing tasks.

8. Instructional Challenge-Integrated Spelling and Vocabulary

“I usually have students define their spelling words or put the vocabulary words that I pre-teach before each short story on their weekly spelling test. Sometimes I use “Puzzlemaker” to create a crossword puzzle.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I integrate spelling and vocabulary by using derivational spellings.

□ I integrate spelling and vocabulary by using etymological spellings.

□ I integrate spelling and vocabulary by using homophone (sounds the same, but spelled differently) spellings.

□ I integrate spelling and vocabulary by using homograph (spelled the same, but sounded differently) spellings.

□ I integrate spelling and vocabulary by using Greek and Latin prefixes, suffixes, and roots.

9. Instructional Challenge-Integrated Spelling and Reading

“Most of my good readers are good spellers, but this isn’t always so. Some of my students say that they learned to read with phonics instruction; some of them say that they just memorized a lot of the words; others can’t remember how they learned to read. Maybe by being exposed to lot of correctly spelled words in reading, students will pick up spelling skills by this modeling.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I show how the phonics rules and help inform spelling decisions.

□ I teach students that spelling is an auditory skill, and not a visual one.

□ I teach phonics rules to those who demonstrate diagnostic deficits.

□ I teach structural analysis skills, including syllable rules and accent placement.

10. Instructional Challenge-Instructional Time

Elementary: “My administrator says we all have to teach spelling, but we have to have two hours of reading, one hour of math, one hour of social studies and science, and a few minutes of physical education. There just isn’t room for spelling-not to mention art, music, or critical thinking skills.”

Secondary: “My administrator says that spelling is a state and district standard and so we all have to teach it in our ELA classes to prepare for the high school exit exams. I didn’t become an English teacher just to teach spelling. There’s not enough time for novels as it is. Something just has to go and, frequently, it’s spelling. ”

Instructional Strategies

□ I spend at least one hour on spelling-vocabulary word study per week, in addition to vocabulary-in-context reading activities.

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 and 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 the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

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

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).

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