It wasn't all that long ago when I was desperately memorizing another spelling test and another set of words just to forget them over the weekend. When I was in school, we were given an assortment of 15 or 20 random words that we were expected to simply know. The problem with spelling lists and weekly spelling tests is that the information is not assimilated into other subjects. We do not learn the correct spelling to use in our writing. Instead, we learn the spelling for the test and then immediately forget it.
While learning the intricacies of spelling in any language is challenging, we do have patterns in English (along with plenty of exceptions). But most words we can learn to spell with a rule. So throwing together a list of words with no rhyme or reason does not suit the person learning the words. And testing on the list of random words will not help anyone learn the words on a long-term basis.
Five Problems with Weekly Spelling Tests
1. The teaching often lacks a basic level of understanding. When a lesson is introduced on the basic level, we can build on that information. But throwing someone into the top level without the basics is going to leave them confused.
2. Spelling tests do not indicate spelling ability. For some students, a good score on a spelling test will reflect their ability to spell. But mostly, spelling tests indicate that someone can memorize words for 24 hours.
3. Learning should be meaningful. People learn best when they can attach meaning to information. A student who decides to investigate a new topic, such as the Apollo 11 space mission, may learn to spell new words like lunar module. The spelling of those words will probably stick with them because they are meaningful. However, if those words were placed on a spelling test without context or interest, learning to spell them would be considerably more difficult.
4. Rote memorization does not work. We know that rote memorization is not the best way to learn for most people. Items learned with rote memorization may enter short term memory, but rarely do they enter long term memory.
5. Isolated learning does not extend to other areas. When learning is isolated, or learned in only one context, the information does not always make its way to other areas. Learning to spell a word on a list does not mean that it will be spelled correctly when used in writing. The information was learned for the test itself and not for writing.
How to Teach Spelling Without Weekly Tests
1. Choose a spelling system that uses logical progression. A system that teaches spelling words in logical groups is a good place to start. Kids can start by learning how to spell cat (c-a-t) and then extrapolate that information to spell sat, bat, hat, mat, etc. By learning the rule, they've learned to spell more than five words instead of just one.
2. Investigate spelling in context. When your child develops an interest in a particular topic, place a bit of focus on new vocabulary and the spelling of those words. Interest will undoubtedly lead to learning. In this way, your spelling words can come from history lessons, science lessons, or read alouds.
3. Regularly assess spelling ability. It serves no purpose to let a student fall behind in their spelling ability. There are assessments that can be done to indicate where spelling abilities may be lacking. Unlike a test in which a word is expected to be memorized, an assessment will include many different word patterns to see where a student may lack understanding. At that point, future spelling lessons can target problem areas to adequately learn the rules.
4. Create a word wall, personal dictionary, or journal. Provide a space where words can be displayed or used for reference. New words may be added as they are learned and the entire book can be used during writing activities.
5. Games. Once you've decided on the best method to introduce new spelling words for your kids, you can practice with games. If they understand the rules behind the spelling, the games can help them cement that knowledge.
Spelling tests are not an efficient way to teach spelling. But we have tools at our disposal to make spelling successful. Like anything, it takes a lot of repetition and patience, but over the years, your children will learn how to spell!
About the Author
Erin blogs at RoyalBaloo.com where she inspires people to make learning fun! Through printables, games, activities, and unit studies, learning becomes an adventure worth having.