Why does the study of traditional spelling lists fail to produce spelling growth in authentic writing for most students? In contrast, what does effective spelling instruction look and sound like in the Personalized Mastery Learning (PML) elementary classroom?
A key component of a PML classroom is Identifying Learning Expectations, specifically what needs to be learned and when. For spelling instruction, the primary assessment to determine which spelling patterns and features need to be learned next is the Spelling Inventories developed by Dr. Bear and others from the book Words Their Way.
Aveson PML advisors, such as first and second grade literacy advisor David Clark, use this assessment data to create individualized spelling plans for every student based on which spelling patterns he or she needs to master. Unlike traditional grade level spelling lists, individual spelling plans assure that students are working within their Zone of Proximal Development, or ZPD, when learning spelling patterns and features.
For example, first grader, Jack, is working on a long ‘o’ short ‘o’ sort with the focus pattern ‘o-e.’ Another first grader, Lilly, has already mastered all of the long vowel patterns, so she is working on more complex patterns such as the -ew pattern in the word chewed. One reason word lists memorized for a spelling test are quickly forgotten rather than internalized, is that the spelling patterns included were beyond the student’s ZPD for spelling. Individualized spelling plans based on individual student need inform high quality targeted spelling instruction and when paired with frequent assessment to determine growth and mastery, this leads to consistent spelling growth especially for struggling spellers.
Additionally, students working beyond grade level spelling skills such as Lilly, can be appropriately challenged in their spelling instruction rather than wasting instructional time on practice and assessment of patterns mastered long ago.
Spelling instruction can be easily personalized by following a few components in the Personalized Mastery Learning continuum:
Identify Learning Expectations:
Assess: Use the spelling inventories from the book Words Their Way (see below).
Create Individualized Spelling Plans: List 5-6 spelling patterns on each student’s plan based on the spelling patterns needed from the assessment. (see sample)
Define a Learning Path:
Target spelling instruction by explicitly teaching one of the focus patterns listed on the child’s Individualized Spelling Plan. Use a variety of strategies, including sorts, which feature that pattern. Align online practice on sites such as Spellingcity.com to spelling patterns listed on the student’s spelling plan. The learning path can be more student driven by offering a variety of ways for students to practice and learn a focus spelling pattern.
Determine Mastery: Reassess every 6-7 weeks using a spelling inventory and teacher observation. Record which patterns have been mastered and which need additional instruction.
Advisors, as our teachers are called here at Aveson, initially question the time needed to take an individual and personalized approach to spelling. And it’s true, creating individual spelling plans does take an investment of 2-3 hours. However, advisors soon find that the instructional time saved by giving elementary students targeted spelling instruction within their ZPD ultimately produces better sustained spelling development in less time overall.
When spelling instruction is personalized in the PML elementary classroom, spelling development is both accelerated and more likely to be demonstrated where it matters most, in authentic student writing.
Resource: Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (6th Edition) (Words Their Way Series) 6th Edition by Donald R. Bear, Marcia Invernizzi, Shane Templeton, Francine Johnston.