A new spin in spelling lessons

Friday, October 21, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:20 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The Columbia School Board took a lesson in spelling Thursday morning.

Val Garton, language arts coordinator for the district, introduced a spelling program that aims to teach students to spell by using what they already know.

“I said the s-word,” — meaning ‘spelling,’” Superintendent Phyllis Chase said as she introduced Garton.

Garton gave board members two words to spell: “infinitesimal” and “anachronous.” She asked members to think about how they would spell the words and what knowledge they were bringing to the task.

“I didn’t worry about the meaning,” board member Don Ludwig said. “I just wrote it down.”

Garton said board members used their knowledge of spelling words correctly — that is, orthographic knowledge — to get the words right.

“So, that really is the foundation of this program,” she said.

The program, which begins this fall and will cover kindergarten through seventh grade, will feature 10 to 20 minute daily lessons, as well as weekly tests. Twice a week, a districtwide assessment will measure students’ progress.

Garton said the goal of the program is to teach children how to spell using the English language.

“Spelling just doesn’t happen,” she said. “To ensure our children are good spellers, we need to teach them.”

Garton said that until this point, the district hasn’t had a consistent way of teaching spelling, and that not every classroom had formal instruction. She found more than 15 approaches.

Garton said she thinks that spelling will improve with such a concentrated effort.

Systematic spelling instruction drives orthographic knowledge, she said. Such instruction also reveals a student’s spelling errors, which determine his or her orthographic stage.

Reaching orthographic knowledge is a five-stage process. The program gives teachers multiple methods of instruction so that students can get the appropriate level of teaching, Garton said.

“Every spelling error tells you something about the level (of orthographic knowledge) they bring to a word,” she said.

Garton said the program is supported with literature so that teachers and students can identify troublesome words. One goal of the program is to help students develop a “spelling consciousness” from which they might draw an awareness of misspelled words.

Board members said online chatting and abbreviations have led to a sense of spelling apathy among students.

Garton said it’s important to be aware of one’s audience when communicating, whether it’s through e-mail or a note.

Garton said there is still a place for memorization, in the form of 100 “no excuse” words teachers will expect students to learn.

“Not all words in the English language follow the rules, and we know that,” she said.

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