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Teacher to Teacher: Helping Students Spell

by Lynne R. Dorfman

How many times have you observed writers in your classroom who do not seem to know what to do when they want to use a word in their writing but do not know immediately how to spell it?  Do some of your students just stop writing when they are stuck on spelling?  How often do your students substitute another word they know how to spell for a more difficult word that is not part of their spelling vocabulary?

Kindergarten students are often fearless about spelling. They learn to use the consonant sounds they hear in a word, especially the initial and final consonants. Vowels are tricky, and come much later in the kindergarten year or in the first grade. Invented spelling plays a big part in the work of a primary level writing workshop. Minilessons involve teaching students to stretch out words to hear all the sounds and blend them together, writing down the letters for the sounds they hear. Primary grade teachers often offer some strategies to help students spell tricky words.

Kindergarten teacher Shelly Keller celebrates students’ attempts to spell tricky words independently during writing workshop. As she circulates for roving conferences, she takes note of her students’ spelling attempts and sends one or two students each day to fill in the chart with their kid spelling. If it matches the adult spelling, the students fill in that column, too. If not, Shelly fills in the adult spelling. The students often will edit without being asked to do so. Friday is a time to celebrate these writers with a silent cheer at the end of writing workshop. Then, a new chart goes up for the next week. Shelly is celebrating risk-taking and using invented spelling to communicate ideas with words her students want to use without limiting their choice to words they are sure they know how to spell.

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