It all started with a tweet from Michelle Fawcett (@michellefawcett), a wonderful Grade 5/6 teacher from a neighbouring Ancaster School:
— Michelle Fawcett OCT (@michellefawcett) October 15, 2012
I had to jump in. As usual, I couldn’t stick to the 140 character limit, so my thoughts are actually spread over 3 tweets, all shared here:
From these three tweets, many others followed. Numerous educators chimed in on the need to teach or not to teach spelling. In a constant flow of tweets, we answered questions such as,
- Should we be giving weekly spelling tests?
- Our curriculum document has expectations for spelling, but does this mean, memorized spelling?
- In the age of computers, is spelling a dying skill? What happens to those students that can’t afford this technology?
- When considering equitable access, do the benefits of technology to assist with spelling really benefit all?
Some educators were sure that in the future, technology would be available for everyone at a reasonable price. Money would play even less of a role than it does now. I agree with Michelle, who voiced her concerns about this. As the two of us continued this conversation later in a shared GoogleDoc, Michelle made this point:
I would rather not think in terms of technology or lack of technology. While technology does change our approach to spelling – with underlined words and auto-correct – we cannot forget about the paper dictionary. I have a class set of dictionaries in my classroom, and even with all of the tools that my students use as well – from computers to mobile technology – many still consult the paper dictionary. This is a resource for them to use, and a valuable one at that.
I also may not assign weekly spelling tests, but students work with words daily. They learn about different parts of words, and experiment with breaking words apart, working with chunks of words, and adding prefixes and suffixes to change words. My concern with a spelling test is that students memorize the words, but are not using these words in their writing. I want to teach spelling in a meaningful context.
All students are also not misspelling the same words, so why must they all memorize the same words? Some students are also really strong spellers, so why do they need a spelling test to spell words that they already know? If I’m differentiating in my classroom, then I need to meet all of the unique needs of my students, and this includes when teaching spelling.
As I mentioned in one of my tweets during this conversation, texting has also changed the nature of spelling. People understand each other despite spelling mistakes, and maybe in some way, this perpetuates the spelling mistakes. I don’t want to encourage incorrect spelling of words, but I also don’t want to make writing all about spelling. In my experience, this is how we get even more reluctant writers.
As a Grade 1 teacher, a Grade 1/2 teacher, and now a Grade 6 teacher, I’ve noticed that students become more aware of spelling errors as they begin to blog more. They now have an audience for their work, and if the audience cannot understand what they’re writing, these people may not comment on their posts. Their drive to spell correctly is now fuelled by more than just the teacher telling them to check for spelling errors.
So, is there a perfect way to approach this spelling issue? No. But as students have more access to technology, more opportunities to collaborate with others that can assist them with spelling errors, and a more meaningful audience for their work through various blogging opportunities, writing definitely becomes about more than just spelling. This is the way I think it should be. What do you think?