Excerpted from Super Spellers: Seven Steps to Transforming Your Spelling Instruction by Mark Weakland.
“In literature and lore, seven is a magic number. There are seven dwarfs, seven seals, seven deadly sins, Seven Wonders of the World, and so on. Although some might claim it takes magic to help our kids become better spellers, readers, and writers, I’ve found that it really just takes a bit of time and effort. But the results may seem magical! Thus, I present the overview of how to transform spelling instruction as seven ‘magical’ steps:
- Understanding Theory and Practice. The first step asks us to understand that spelling is developmental, that specific types of instruction lead to greater amounts of growth, and that teaching children how to spell includes teaching them to be strategy users. We must also understand that sounds, patterns, and meanings lie at the heart of spelling instruction, that poor spelling and poor reading are connected, and that because spelling is at the heart of the reading process, the most effective spelling instruction teaches children to read.
- Assess Spelling Knowledge. Assessing spelling knowledge starts at the beginning of the year with spelling inventories, writing sample analyses, and reading assessments. It continues through the year with weekly spelling quizzes and tests, notes on word study activities, and the regular examination of writing samples. Assessment is essential for understanding where students are developmentally as well as for differentiating instruction. When instruction and assessment work together, such as during test-study-test cycles, retrieval practice, and instant error correction, greater learning occurs.
- Focus Scope and Sequence. A focused scope and sequence helps students achieve spelling and reading mastery. To focus, slow the rate of movement through your spelling sequence, narrow the scope of what you teach, and reteach information as necessary, especially for students in the early stages of spelling development who must master the essential skill of matching letters to sounds. Focus also means creating word lists that support instruction by taking previously published lists and modifying them to create new ones.
- Bring More Words. To create more effective instruction, bring many words to your lessons. These words are built from the sounds, patterns, affixes, roots, or conventions that you picked for your refocused lessons and spelling lists. Bringing in more words enables you to teach a wider variety of word-study activities, use a wider variety of assessment techniques, and more easily differentiate for two or three groups of students.
- Teach Strategies. Spelling strategies are crucial if children are to learn how to spell rather than what to spell. Thus, teach children how to self-monitor and be metacognitive, as well as how to use strategies while writing, reading, and taking a test. The strategies you teach can include using sounds and letters, using mnemonics, using meaning, using visualizing, and using patterns (analogy), including the seven syllable types.
- Teach Activities. Teach spelling through activities that show how sound, pattern, and meaning are at the heart of spelling, as well as activities that can incorporate a variety of developmental stages, from sound-letter matching to etymology and morphology.
- Build Opportunities. Finally, build opportunities to connect spelling to reading, from presenting decodable sentences to giving students the chance to read in as many places and in as many ways as possible. Also, build opportunities to connect spelling to writing, especially in authentic writing situations, from journal writing to digital platforms, such as writing apps and online blogs.”
To learn more about how you can use your spelling instruction to lead your students to greater reading proficiency, pick up a copy of Super Spellers: Seven Steps to Transforming Your Spelling Instruction and the new classroom resource that helps you bring these ideas to life, Super Speller Starter Sets.