Sunday, January 24, 2016

Spelling Bees, Tests, Homework....why? why? why?

Spelling contests have gone on for hundreds of years, but from what I can find, the first documented case of an actual spelling bee called such was in 1825. The first National Spelling Bee was held in 1925 and the winning word was “gladiolus”, spelled by 11 year-old Frank Neuhauser. Wow. Nice job Frank.

Where has this gotten us? ESPN? TV? Commercials? Better Spellers?
Uhhhh, not sure about that.
As an Elementary School administrator, the idea of Spelling tests, spelling lists, spelling bees, spelling in alpha order, spelling word sorts and spelling homework drive me crazy. What is this doing for most students? Well, frustrating them, driving them to hate it, become anxious..the list goes on. It sure isn’t a #kidsfirst or #KidsDeservIt way of teaching.
As is the case with many things we see in education, it is hard to change our ways. Even our best teachers seem to rely on an “old trick” or a program that has been well outdated since before Truman was President.

Imagine this: 20 Spelling Words on Monday, Alphabetize them on Tuesday, Write a sentence with them on Wednesday and Thursday let’s mix them up and have the students unscramble them. All this leads up to the exciting pinnacle of Friday’s Spelling Test! yesss!
Monday rolls around and you see in BIG RED PEN -15, or -13. So, what about the kids that continue to get 5 out of 20 and have never improved? What is this doing for his/her confidence, ego, psyche, and self esteem? uhhh crushing it, destroying it and blowing it out of the water. At least change the grade to a +5...let’s show them there is hope.This practice MUST CHANGE!

Speaking to my school admin #PLN, teachers, students, and parents, I have concluded that there is no relevance for this practice anymore. It rewards only the Uber-memorizers!
What about our Dyslexics, struggling students, NON MEMORIZERS, and our most typical children? They all suffer.
I see it everyday; anxiety, frustration, lack of drive and confidence. Really? Is this what we need our students to feel?
How about some morphology, some Greek and Latin Roots, and some common spelling rules?
Let’s give them the rules, guidelines and tools to learn and understand spelling and you know what? Let them use a computer, Chromebook or iPad for the rest? Why not?

There is also a new tool that I just heard about. It's called Spell Check!
Ever heard of it? If not, try to Google it, I’m sure you’ll see plenty of information on it.

So, here: Let’s do this; make spelling homework something extra for the student that has already memorized the New Oxford Dictionary! Yes, let's keep pushing that kiddo, maybe he/she rocks at spelling and memorization and it will help drive them to places never seen before...we want that!
But for the rest of our kiddos?
Buh bye spelling words, tests, lists, sorts, bees, alpha all.  
Instead, let's let STUDENTS code, play, make, create, do robotics, chess, or just about anything that drives interest, is #kidsfirst, #eduepic. Why? because #KidsDeservIt!


  1. As a kid, I thought the division between the smart and the unsmart was spelling. The smart could spell. As an adult, I was a valued secretary because I could edit. Then I started typing Masters theses for my friends. Wait a minute. These poor spellers were definitely not the unsmart. A paradigm shift began. As a high school English teacher in 1990, I went against my department's grain and refused to include spelling lessons and tests, but we did work on morphology. Even then, I realized I find it fascinating and not everyone does. I think reading, lots of reading, helps with spelling; however, some reader's brains don't really care to pay attention to the spelling. Their focus is content. Spelling is one way to be smart, but it is not the apex of communication skills, especially now that technology is so supportive in that area. Right now, this computer is trying to help me correct "unsmart;" however, I like it as a descriptor of a category from long ago. In reality, there is no such thing as the unsmart. Just a million different ways to be smart. (In 6th grade, our spelling word was 'tanks'. When the teacher said it during the Spelling Test, I said, "You're welcome." Now, that's smart. Smart Aleck.)

  2. Dear Mr Pricipal, I admire the work you do here. I always try to look up to you. I like the fact that you are so concerned about the future of the students you teach. You try to do better with teaching the teachers too. I’m sure that they will follow your every advice. As a teacher with an innovative approach to learning I’d like to know your opinion on taking test online. This could save time and give the students an opportunity to figure out how they can use the Net for getting knowledge: for example using it to visit and start practicing their writing skills.