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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

No more Friday spelling tests!

October 13, 2008

I think I'll open a can of worms this week and declare that teachers should abandon the age-old practice of Friday spelling tests. You know the routine (because you went to elementary school, and it hasn't changed): students get new words on Monday, "practice" them during the week using various drills; they take a test on Friday, and then on Monday, misspell the words and all the other words that share that spelling feature.

I'm not the only one who advocates abandoning the practice; in fact this blog's title came from a similarly titled 2005 Council for Exceptional Children article. Loeffler, the author, describes how this approach of teaching spelling fails kids who struggle, particularly kids with LD who have poor memory skills. She recommends using a spelling rubric (found within the article) based on student writing as an alternative to Friday tests. I have a few issues with the approach she suggests, but I do think it's a step in the right direction.

Teaching spelling well is a huge topic, one that can't be covered here in a blog post. But it's clear that we need to teach kids to spell in a way that makes sense. We know that spelling supports reading and that accurate spelling of words supports fluent writing. We also know that methods like this just fail our kids.

Let's start a conversation about what we can do to teach spelling well. Is your child a good speller? Do you see the "Friday test, Monday miss" phenomena in your house? How can we make sure each child's spelling words are at the right level of challenge? How can we teach sounds, syllables, morphemes, and something about word origin?


Hi everyone...It has been interesting reading everyone's views on spelling in the classroom and how best to 'teach' it. Currently I am in a 5/6 class with really mixed abilities. I came from a 1/2 background where phonics were taught weekly, not so much actual words but the sounds were taught. We would focus on a sound a week, starting at short and long sounds and then moving onto vowels and blends. I find that the kids in 5/6 the moment do not have a basic understanding of sounds and blends. I found that when focusing on the sounds behind the spelling, the kids would pick up on spelling correctly better then focusing on spelling actual words by ROTE. Currently we are looking at re jigging the senior spelling program so any ideas would be appreciated. We are a school in Australia working off AUSvels. Thanks in advance.

@ Lindsay - maybe the reason your son is unable to spell is down to you as your spelling and grammar ae both atrocious.

Spelling tests in elementary school are not just to learn spell words! They are also to learn study habits! You are given this work on Monday to be done on Friday. Not a major task or inconvience. Unless you are a lazy parent and student!! I am seeking the only remedy I know of...private school!

Beware. The US isn't REALLY falling behind other countries ... statistics reveal what the reporter wants you to see. In the US, we teach ALL kids, we report on ALL kids. Many countries report only the numbers they want to, from excelling students.I dumped the list-study, list-test years ago. Students would study, drill, and practice words all week long, pass the test ... and then spell incorrectly in daily writing. I've noticed no difference in transfer of spelling knowledge in writing with and without the test. Kids need to learn spelling patterns and then transfer that knowledge to reading and writing.

Most of us here are either teachers, parents, or both ... so my question to you is how did you learn to spell? I learned by sitting in my room for hours (not on the computer/TV/video game/Ipod/etc.) copying the words over and over again until I got it. Incase you haven’t noticed, the US is falling behind in education. STOP giving these kids excuses and make them work for something. It seems to me we are focuses on the ESE student or the "under achiever" and not the average student. We are preparing these students for real life and in real life having poor spelling is the difference in a job. As I tell my kids, "Man up and do what you have to do!”

I really appreciate the ideas shared by Mary and Taryn. In our county, spelling is differentiated. The lower level reading students receive a basic list. Advanced readers are given a list that covers the same spelling rule- it's just with more difficult words. For example, there are more syllables, blends, and digraphs. The spelling test on Friday is dreaded, but it is a way to track their progress. Our reading program has a review week about every 4/5 weeks, so during that week we give a mix of review spelling words.

It's how you teach them that matters, and it's true what Jamie says, much complaining, when we all know that this skill will help our kids later on

@Christine - Actually, there are spelling standards. Here are NH's:• W-2--9.5a. Correctly spelling grade-appropriate, high-frequency words (Local)• W—2--9.5b. Correctly spelling most words with regularly spelled patterns (e.g., consonant-vowel con

We use the Sitton Spelling program in my district and I really like it. It's based on the same "list" as Dolch or Fry in that it is those words found most frequently in print. The entire program is geared towards making kids every day spellers, and not just Friday spellers. I like that the tests have three components: 1) a cloze test that assesses ability to use core words in context, 2) a skill test that focuses on being able to manipulate those core words, and 3) a proofreading test, that assesses if kids can recognize if others have manipulated the core words appropriately. It's a cyclical program in that the core words and skills are revisited again and again throughout the program. There are also three assessments for checking benchmarks on the core words at the beginning, middle, and end of the year. The kids love seeing how they have actually made progress over the year. I think spelling fluency leads to writing fluency and both help with decoding and reading fluency. They all go hand in hand.

I am a teacher who uses weekly spelling lists in my classroom. I am well aware of the “memorize it and forget it” phenomenon with spelling tests. I work hard before and after my tests to support my students at transferring the list-learned words into their daily work. The lists are chosen to teach certain sounds or spelling rules, they are worked in context for meaning, they are sorted, practiced, acted out, seen around my classroom, written with and reviewed in subsequent weeks. I, like other teachers who have commented on this post, am always looking for better ways to teach spelling, but often just find a lot of complaining. Guidance is always welcome.

The solution is easy. Read Fountas and PInnell. They explain how to do personal (short!) lists for students, considering what words they need next and also classroom phonics instructionwith their "Buddy Study" framework. (You may know them from "Look, say, cover, write, check"). Spelling needs to be integrated with writing, reading, and word study to make any changes. Also, for research check out Dianne Snowball and Sandra Wilde. Studying these three researchers (and Marie Clay in Reading Recovery Training) altered my teaching.And don't even get me started about "spelling sentences" as homework!

One solution...if you must test spelling words is to test on Mondays, giving time over the suggested earlier. The line about, "They hold students accountable." What a crock. They make teachers lives easier on Friday. Accountable for what and to what. Which standards call for "accurate spelling"? What I want is for my child to know the words, recognize and use them in context and be able to decode them, beyond that week when they are in focus...spelling list do not do this. Make spelling fun...have contests, include past spelling words, test informally. As teachers we keep on blaming our students because of our inabilities or unwillingness to effectively use research-based strategies. Examine your real purpose for giving a spelling test and see if you are getting those results by giving the test.

I've been searching for ways to make the teaching of spelling effective and all I've noticed was a lot of complaining. Did anyone find a solution yet? Thanks! I LOVE spelling tests. They hold students accountable. :0)

It's 2009 and I just found this site - sight - syte!!! I am a teacher, mom, and spelling police at my home! I have a phonetic speller and a "memorize today and forgotten tomorrow" speller. I am not debunking phonics instruction. It has its place. I think homework is a good thing. However, must the spelling homework involve a nightly scene of "rainbow words", "telephone code", write your spelling words three times each, etc.? What has happened to pre testing and moving on? How about using the phonetic instruction as a tool to apply in your daily writing? Sadly, I can find little out there on this subject Pro or Con that makes any sense. Does anyone have research that explores NOT phonics instruction but HOW we should be applying it in the Elementary grades? Thanks! Thanx! Thankes!

btw, he gets a 100% on his test most of the time just from an index cards I keep in the car or have him go over the list twice a day. But I tell him not to memorizes them on the first day.. just look at it and spell the words aloud.

My 2nd grade son gets a spelling test every Friday. Personally, I think it should be monday because he spend all week studying for it (I keep an Index card around for him to study alittle bit here and there in the car) but forgotten how to spell them by Monday. I think if he got his mind off of school and study it over the weekend after studying them during the week, he might just remember them for good, but I don't know.

I an a first-grade teacher, and have just finished writing my newsletter about this topic ... and was feeling quite alone in my hatred for spelling tests. Is there any kind of research that proves that spelling tests are at all effective?

Sounds like the stress that builds up each week comes from home where the sister does well, and mom is not doing anything to say that 80-95% on a test is ok. The pressure comes from mom who is trying to get the sibling up to the first sister's performance level instead of making the sister who doesn't do so well feel ok with her performance. As a teacher 80-95% is good! Every student is different, and while we want all to meet the same standards, I encourage my students to do the best they can do. If they tried their hardest, and got an 80%, then we are proud of that accomplishment. Soon, without the added stress of trying to compete with all the others who earn 100% every time, the student with the 80% sometimes begins to perform better, and try even harder on their own without additional pressure.

I agree also, I have triplets and one of the three struggles w/ spelling and reading. This brings tears at our house constantly. It is hard to have her sister who "just gets it" and herself who struggles and basically memorizes each word and hope and pray that she remembers correctly for Friday spelling tests. And by Saturday has completely forgotten the correct spelling of the words. I had spoke to the teacher to reduce her spelling words and the teacher did not agree with my suggestion as she thought she was doing fine on her tests (averaging an 80-95%) on each test, but little does she know the stress that builds up each week and the dreadful tears on Thursday evenings. So I do agree also.

I agree! I have nothing to say from a teacher's perspective, (except that my mother is a first grade teacher and agrees that the tests make no difference)but as a parent I hate these! I have to spend the precious little time we have on practicing spelling, since their is a test, when I feel like other things I could be doing would be more productive for my child. He has never gotten 100%, despite our efforts, and it is going to start bothering him! :(

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Malala Yousafzei