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Spelling Tests and Instruction

Spelling Tests

Spelling Assessments

Years ago I attended a four-day training by Dr. Shane Templeton, an author of a new program titled Words Their Way®. Dr. Templeton drove down to Elk Grove to in-service our cadre of 18 reading specialists. An entertaining presenter, he demonstrated the theory of five developmental spelling stages and introduced the Qualitative Spelling Inventory (later reworked and published as the Primary Spelling Inventory, Elementary Spelling Inventory, and Upper-level Spelling Inventory.

From Dr. Templeton’s training, I developed numerous district and site level in-services for teachers interested in word study, primarily spelling. For each training, principals provided Words Their Way® for each teacher, and our district adopted the spelling inventory as one of our elementary literacy placement assessments. Teachers dutifully engaged their students in exploratory word sorts and other activities recommended for each spelling stage. After a two-year investment in the Words Their Way® approach, here’s what our reading specialist team and teachers found:

Virtually no gains on both standardized tests and our other writing, reading, fluency, spelling, syllabication, and phonics posttests. Our elementary students’ reading scores were mired in the 40th percentiles. The inductive Words Their Way® approach to word study and other similar approaches to spelling, phonics, and vocabulary acquisition were not paying off. Teachers rightfully complained that the Words Their Way® instructional activities took up inordinate amounts of their literacy block time.

Fortunately, our district chose to change direction and adopt a direct instruction, explicit and systematic phonics program: Open Court for kinder-third grade. Within two years our scores improved to the 70th percentiles. Grades 4-6 students improved as well upon later adoption of the program and because students coming out of primary had such a solid foundation. An interesting anecdotal sidebar: In our highly transient and growing district, our reading specialist team found that new transfer students in grades 4-8 were woefully unprepared for the rigors of multisyllabic expository text. As a result, our literacy leadership team created diagnostic assessments and instructional activities for site-level literacy intervention classes.

One of these diagnostic assessments, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, was my primary contribution. The test grew out of the Words Their Way® spelling inventories, which indicated a need for different levels of spelling instruction. However, unlike the inventories, we reading specialists and our district teachers wanted teachable data, not just placement test data. Rather than discover that a fourth grader was scoring in the “Within Word” developmental spelling stage, we wanted to know precisely which spelling patterns had and had not been mastered to target instruction for our grade level and reading intervention students, rather than spend inordinate amounts of class time with exploratory word study and word games.

My reading specialist colleagues were ruthless revisers. We argued over many test items, but finally achieved consensus on a comprehensive assessment that mirrored the Open Court phonics program sound-spellings and added the conventional spelling rules which applied to the “Syllable Juncture” and “Derivational” spelling stages of Words Their Way®. We field tested the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment in grades 4-8 and teachers found that this comprehensive assessment provided much more teachable data than did the old spelling inventories.

To compare the more popular Words Their Way® spelling inventories to the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, I’ve put together a four-minute video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aczs81Jhcz8 to compare test items and determine which assessment provides the most teachable data. I’ve also included the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (with audio file), recording matrices, and sample spelling worksheets as a free download in case the video convinces you to do so. Just click the link in the YouTube description.

Unfortunately, the Open Court® program, which did such an admirable job with decoding and comprehension had no systematic spelling instruction. As you know, decoding (phonics) is the one side of the words coin and encoding (spelling) is the other. Our spelling scores remained far below our phonics scores. Principals, who tend to always be about test results, demanded spelling curriculum. However, publishers remained reticent to invest monies and resources in outlier states, such as California, because just a few years back at the height of the whole language movement, State Superintendent of Instruction, Bill Honig, refused to adopt spelling workbooks for the state and directed principals to squash direct spelling instruction.

I was tasked by a school principal from the highest performing elementary school (out of 33) in our district to develop curriculum to “get my spelling scores up.” For that entire school year, two days a week, I continued to refine the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and write targeted spelling pattern worksheets to correspond to each test item. Students benefited from my hyper-focus in the reading intervention class I taught after school and grade-level teachers snatched up my targeted worksheets to use in their classrooms. Yes, our spelling scores shot up through the roof on the spring standardized tests.

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Programs

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

The next year I published (with district permission) my own spelling workbook for reading intervention. Over the next few years, I wrote five grade-level spelling programs (grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8), using the best of the Words Their Way® instructional components (word sorts, book searches, games, etc.), but using a much more efficient deductive approach. Each program retained the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and the corresponding spelling pattern worksheets, each with a formative assessment, that teachers found so valuable to pinpoint spelling instruction. The result? The Grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs, designed to help students catch up while they keep up with grade-level spelling instruction.

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Words Their Way® Spelling Inventories v. the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

Spelling Assessments

Diagnostic Spelling Tests

Teachers who are committed to differentiated and individualized spelling to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction believe that spelling assessment should inform their instruction. The relevant question for this presentation is which spelling inventory or assessment provides the most teachable data for grades 4–post secondary students who struggle with spelling.

We’ll take a look at the two most popular spelling diagnostic tests, the Words Their Way® Elementary Spelling Inventory (ESI) and the Upper-Level Spelling Inventory (USI) and compare these to the Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (DSA).

What’s the Same?

The ESI is designed for kindergarten–sixth grade; the USI is designed for upper elementary, middle school, high school, and post secondary students. The DSA is designed for grades 4–post secondary students. Note that Words Their Way® also provides another spelling inventory which will be excluded from our comparisons: the Primary Spelling Inventory, which is designed for kindergarten–third grade

The ESI, USI, and DSA  tests are administered in the traditional word–example sentence–word format, and the focus spelling appears at the beginning, middle, and end of words. Only the focus spelling is corrected. For example, if the focus spelling is short /o/, the misspelling of the double consonant “gg” would not be marked incorrect for the test item foggy. Thus, “fogy” would be marked correct, but “fuggy” would be marked incorrect. All 3 spelling tests include features analysis on recording matrices. Each of the 3 tests diagnostically points to areas which need spelling remediation and practice for individual students.

What’s Different?

However, the purpose of the ESI and USI inventories differs from that of the DSA. The ESI and USI have been designed to identify which of the 5 Words Their Way® developmental spelling stages matches the spelling competencies of the assessed students. In contrast, the DSA has been designed to identify which specific spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules have and have not yet been mastered by the assessed students.

The test administration differs in that the ESI and USI administrator may stop an individual’s test when the student has missed 8 items in succession because the test is in order of difficulty. Students taking the DSA take the entire allotted amount of test items assigned to each grade level. Note that the DSA includes a recommended audio file for test administration.

Finally, the composition of the ESI and USI differs from that of the DSA. The ESI and USI test sample words for each of the program’s 5 developmental spelling stages. The ESI includes 10 single syllable words and 10 multisyllabic words; the USI includes 6 single syllable words and 19 multisyllabic words. The ESI has 25 test items with 62 measurable features, and the USI has 31 test items with 68 features. Both assessments use some words to assess more than one orthographic feature. For example, the test item,  float, assesses knowledge of the “fl” consonant blend, the “oa” long /o/, and the “t” consonant.

In contrast, the DSA assesses all common spelling patterns introduced in previous grade-level spelling programs and reading. Fourth grade students complete the first 64 test items to assess kindergarten–third grade spelling patterns; Fifth grade students complete 79 test items to assess assess kindergarten–fourth grade spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules; Sixth grade students complete 89 test items to assess assess kindergarten–fifth grade spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules; Seventh grade students complete 98 test items to assess assess kindergarten–sixth grade spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules; and eighth grade, high school, and adult students complete 102 test items to assess assess kindergarten–seventh grade spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules. Unlike the ESI and USI inventories, all test words are multisyllabic to attempt to isolate the sight word variable, and only one spelling feature is assessed per test item.

Which Test Provides the Most Teachable Data?

Now, let’s get down to comparing the specific test items for each of these three spelling tests to determine which test provides the most teachable data to help teachers remediate the spelling deficits of their students. To see all kindergarten–third grade spelling pattern test item comparisons, check out the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aczs81Jhcz8 

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

Which Test Data Would You Prefer?

Most teachers prefer comprehensive spelling assessment data, rather than sample spelling features. Rather than learning that a child is spelling in the “Within Word” developmental stage, most teachers would prefer knowing which specific “Within Word” spelling patterns have and have not yet been mastered.

In our example chart, both Words Their Way® inventories provide minimal test items for the Silent Final e. To be fair, remember that the purpose of these inventories is to determine students’ developmental spelling stages. These test items in conjunction with other vowels, consonants, blends, and digraphs do accomplish their purpose. However, learning students’ spelling stages does not indicate what students know and what students do not know within those spelling stages. 

For example, the Silent Final e test items on the Words Their Way® inventories only show whether students know the “a_e” and “i_e” spellings. Teachers have no data on the “u_e” long /u/ and long /oo/, “o_e”, “le”, “i_e” as in motive and as in submarine. Students may have mastered some of these spellings, but teachers do not know, so students are forced to study all Silent Final e spelling patterns, as well as all vowel, consonant, blends, and digraphs. Hardly efficient assessment and instruction.

In contrast, because the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment tests all common spelling patterns, teachers will learn which of the 9 Final Silent spellings their students know and do not know (plus all the other common spelling patterns in the “Within Word” stage as demonstrated in the video link above). As a result, teachers can target spelling instruction to what students need and avoid teaching what students already know. Effective spelling instruction need not take up too many instructional minutes. In fact, many teachers have abandoned the Words Their Way® programs because of time constraints.

Additionally, although the Words Their Way® authors claim that their instructional approach is word study, including spelling, syllabication, phonics, writing, and vocabulary, other instructional approaches simply work better and are more efficient.

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Programs

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Compare the Words Their Way Spelling Inventories and their plethora of word study resources to the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and the resources in the Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction. Each of the latter’s full-year spelling programs include weekly grade-level spelling pattern tests and spelling sorts, summative spelling assessments, and remedial spelling worksheets corresponding to each test item on the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment with sorts, rhymes, book searches, jumbles, and a writing application which serves as a formative assessment. Also get supplementary word lists, spelling songs, and spelling review games. These no prep, minimal correction programs take much less class time than Words Their Way® and other programs. Plus, at $29.99 and the 10% discount (enter code 3716 at checkout), every teacher can afford the spelling program designed to help students catch up while they keep up with grade-level spelling standards.

The Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs are easy to teach. We even provide two quick YouTube training videos to ensure your success!

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Mastery Matrix, and Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

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Individualized Spelling Patterns Instruction

In this article, teachers will learn how to how to diagnose and remediate the spelling pattern deficits of their individual students to help them “catch up while they keep up” with grade-level spelling instruction. To read my article about how to differentiate and individualize grade-level spelling instruction, click How to Teach Spelling. First, let’s forget what we have heard about older students who are poor spellers:

“Once a bad speller, always a bad speller”; “You can’t teach an old dog new spelling tricks”; “Einstein was a horrible speller”; “Spelling is only an editing skill”; “Now that we have spellcheck, spelling doesn’t matter.”

Reading research demonstrates that your students can learn what they’ve missed while they learn grade-level spelling rules and patterns. But, first you need to determine specifically what your students do and don’t know and how to fill any gaps in their spelling knowledge. Let’s not waste valuable instructional time re-teaching what they already know. Instead, use the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment to pinpoint exactly what they need to learn. I’ll provide a FREE download at the end of the article.

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

FREE Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

But, wait. Most of the teachers in my school use the Elementary Spelling Inventory found in Words Their Way. Isn’t that just as good?

In a word, “No.” The Elementary Spelling Inventory includes 25 words. The test is designed to indicate which developmental spelling stage each of your students has and has not yet mastered. Laying aside the theory of developmental spelling for our purposes (many notable spelling researchers including Louisa Moats and Richard Gentry dispute this theory), the individual test results only narrow down the spelling deficits to general stages. Knowing a student’s developmental spelling stage does not tell the teacher what to teach and what not to teach within that spelling stage.

In contrast, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment provides that specificity. Reference the graphic to see examples of how much more teachable data is provided by the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment than that provided by the Elementary Spelling Inventory.

Yes, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment takes a bit longer to administer and correct, because it tests all of the common spelling patterns. However, the included audio file makes administration simple. Total test administration time is less than 25 minutes.

  • Grade 8 students complete words #s 1–102 to assess all kindergarten–seventh grade common spelling patterns. 
  • Grade 7 students complete words #s 1–98 to assess all kindergarten–sixth grade common spelling patterns. 
  • Grade 6 students complete words #s 1–89 to assess all kindergarten–fifth grade common spelling patterns. 
  • Grade 5 students complete words #s 1–79 to assess all kindergarten–fourth grade common spelling patterns. 
  • Grade 4 students complete words #s 1–64 to assess all kindergarten–third grade common spelling patterns. 

The Diagnostic Spelling Assessment uses multisyllabic words to isolate the variable of sight word knowledge. The test is ordered according to the research-based instructional phonics sequences of instruction. After all, encoding (spelling) is the opposite side of the same coin as decoding (reading). Spelling and reading are mutually dependent and research is clear that good spellers and good readers tend to be good writers (Adams, 2011; Gentry & Graham, 2010; Moats, 2005; Reed, 2012).

How to Administer the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

Preparation

Pass out binder paper and pencils. Model how to number the test items on the board and tell students to number accordingly.

Administration

I recommend using the audio file, which includes the test directions, spelling words, and example sentences. The test pacing is exactly timed to ensure proper and controlled testing. Additionally, make-up tests for absent or newly enrolled students is a simple task with the audio file.

However, some teachers prefer to read the directions and dictate the words and example sentences themselves.

Introduce the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment to students. Say—

“This is a test to see if you can accurately spell the words I say out loud. I will first say the spelling word; then repeat it; then use it in a sentence; and then repeat the spelling word once more. Listen carefully because I won’t repeat the words after the test is finished. Please print the spelling words.”

Don’t elongate the vowel or consonant sounds to emphasize spellings. Keep a consistent pace of about seven seconds per test item. Any longer and students will lose their place or begin daydreaming. Since this is a long test, teachers may elect to take a short stretch break in the middle of the test administration.

Grading

Grade the assessment, marking only the specified sound-spelling pattern for each word.  In other words don’t mark the word wrong because of other spelling errors in the word. For example, if the sound-spelling pattern is Long /a/ “__ay” and the word is “payment,” the student spelling of “paiment” would be wrong, but “paymunt” would be right. This selective grading isolates the sound-spelling pattern problem areas for each student. I’ve found that instructional aides and parents are quite capable of accurately grading and recording the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment with minimal training.

Recording

The teacher, instructional aide, or parent charts the individual skills that your students have not yet mastered on the mastery matrices. Yes, these recording matrices are provided in your FREE download. Record a slash (/) for un-mastered skills, and leave the box blank for mastered skills. Make two copies of the matrices: one for student reference and one for teacher reference.

Post one set of the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment Mastery Matrices on a wall at the rear of the classroom for student reference. Note that teachers may choose to list students by identification number rather than by name on these matrices. Keep the teacher copy in a binder at your desk.

How to Remediate Spelling Pattern Deficits through Individualized Instruction

Each of the spelling test words corresponds to the Spelling Patterns Worksheets. Count and total the slashes (/) for each of the spelling patterns on the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment Mastery Matrices to determine how many of each Spelling Pattern Worksheets you will need to copy. Copy these worksheets and group them in separate numbered  file folders.

The Spelling Pattern Worksheets are designed to help students master the previous grade-level Common Core Language Spelling Standards. Each worksheet lists the sound-spelling pattern focus, example words, a spelling sort, a rhyme or word search activity, word jumbles, a short writing application, and a sentence dictation formative assessment. Students progress at their own rates to master previous grade-level spelling patterns. Yes, sample Spelling Pattern Worksheets are included in your FREE download.

Let’s look at the individual instructional components. The format of the Spelling Patterns Worksheets is intentionally similar to promote independent student work. The spelling pattern  is listed first and connects the sound to the spelling. For example, Spelling Pattern Worksheet #47 (numbers vary per program) lists: oo Sound as in woodpecker “_u_” and provides the FOCUS: The oo sound heard in woodpecker can b spelled “_u_” as in put. Notice that blanks are included in the spelling pattern. Each represents a missing sound-spelling. In this case, the “_u_” spelling is missing both beginning and ending consonant sounds. No syllable can be written as a consonant–u (oo sound). No syllable can be written as a u (oo sound)–consonant. Both consonants must be included to write a syllable. For example, put could be written as put to show the spelling pattern.

The next instructional component is the SORT section. Students use pronunciation, analogous spelling patterns, and the spelling marks and blanks to categorize the spelling pattern words. Notice how the Spelling Pattern Worksheet #47 sort provides the key components of the /ion/ spelling rule. Students are told the rule up front and apply the rule with the spelling variations. Unlike “other discovery sorts” in which the spelling rule must be learned inductively, don’t leave your students guessing! Teach and apply the explicit rule. Here a teacher might opt to have the student(s) listen to, practice, and memorize the /ion/ spelling rule with a little help from the “Ending /ion/ Rule” spelling song. The author’s grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs include conventional spelling rule songs and raps.

Students also complete a RHYME or BOOK SEARCH activity. For spelling patterns conducive to rhyming, such as the “aw” spelling pattern, four rhyming words which apply the /aw/ spelling are provided. For other non-rhyming spelling patterns, students use their sustained silent reading book or a class novel to write example words which use the focus spelling pattern with their corresponding page numbers.

Additionally, students complete four JUMBLE words, which include the focus spelling patterns. Students quickly discover that using the spelling pattern clues helps them unravel the jumbled words A multisyllabic Bonus JUMBLE is included. For example, in Spelling Worksheet #48, knowing the “al” spelling pattern helps students identify also; the “awl” spelling patterns helps identify drawl; the “aw” helps with pawn; and also helps with the Bonus jawbone.

Finally, the WRITE section requires students to apply the spelling patterns to additional words, not listed on the Spelling Pattern Worksheet. This spelling pattern application serves as the formative assessment to determine whether students have or have not yet mastered the individual spelling pattern.

Correction and Formative Assessment

After completing a Spelling Pattern Worksheet, the student self-corrects and self-edits with a different color pen or pencil from one of the Spelling Patterns Worksheets Answer Binders. I suggest making several of these binders and storing them in different parts of the classroom for student access. Tell students that they receive the same credit for completing a worksheet with errors and different color revisions with the correct answers as they do for completing a worksheet without errors. It’s the practice that’s important. This procedure eliminates the incentive to cheat. Note that no answers are provided for the WRITE formative assessment.

When finished correcting the worksheet, the student comes up to the teacher’s desk to mini-conference. If the student has self-corrected and self-edited the practice section and “passed” the WRITE formative assessment, change the slash (/) into an “X” for mastery on the appropriate box on the mastery matrix and record an A on the student’s worksheet. Convert the A to points, if you use a point system for grading. For example, 10 points for an A. Note that the teacher determines the level of mastery for each WRITE formative assessment.

If the student has not yet mastered the spelling pattern or patterns, you have two instructional options:

1. If the student understands the spelling pattern after the mini-conference, direct the student to re-do the WRITE formative assessment and return for re-correction.

2. Record a a instead of an A and direct the student to move on to the next worksheet. The student will have the chance to re-do the worksheet after completing the rest of their assigned worksheets. Award half-credit, say 5 points, for a .

Here are a few Helpful Hints to ensure instructional success. 

Tell students to begin with the lower numbered Spelling Pattern Worksheets and to complete only those worksheets indicated by slashes (/). Tell them that they won’t receive credit for completing worksheets without slashes because they have already mastered those spelling patterns.

After a student has mastered a Spelling Pattern Worksheet, direct him or her to change the slash (/) into an X for mastery on the appropriate box on the matrix. Using pencil of course. Filling in the X gives students a sense of accomplishment and motivates students to complete additional work. Don’t forget to mark the X in your teacher binder, as well.

Set an expectation as to how many Spelling Pattern Worksheets must be completed per week. Teachers may choose to have students and/or parents set specific goals. Monitor student progress and adjust expectations as needed. Worksheets may be completed in class or for homework.

Maintain a productive work environment by managing time. Limit the mini-conference to no more than 30 seconds. The focus should be on the WRITE formative assessment, not the rest of the worksheet. Also, manage crowd control by limiting the length of your mini-conference line to three students. Waiting students can sign up for their places in line on the board and then work on their next worksheet until their turn arrives to conference. Finally, establish group norms regarding talking, helping peers, and work ethic.

Want to see how to use the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and Spelling Pattern Worksheets? Check out this four-minute video!

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Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Grades 4-8 Spelling Programs

Differentiated Spelling Instruction is a complete grade level spelling program built upon conventional spelling rules and developmental spelling patterns. Five programs are available: Grade 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. This digital download (eBook) program includes all resources teachers need to individualize instruction. Developing a weekly spelling plan that differentiates instruction for all of your students is a challenging task for even the best veteran teacher, but help has arrived! There is no better spelling program for your grade level students, GATE students, special ed, ESL/ELD, and below grade level students. Perfect for RtI.

Plus, get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment and the targeted spelling pattern worksheets you need to remediate previous grade level spelling deficits for all your students. Now that’s effective differentiated and individualized instruction! Your students can catch up, while they keep up with grade level spelling instruction. You’ll also appreciate the helpful resources in the appendix, including how to study spelling tips, spelling proofreading, word lists, spelling rule memory songs (Mp3s), and spelling review games.

The program is easy to teach. We even provide two quick YouTube training videos to ensure your success!

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Mastery Matrix, and Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

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