Using Fluency to Improve Spelling Automaticity
A Little Background
I’m a big believer in rules based spelling programs. Those that teach students “why” a word is spelled a certain way rather than those that ask students to rely solely on memory to spell new words. (And especially those that assign random words that fit a weekly “theme.”)
Over 90% of the English language can be spelled correctly using five principles*, such as understanding sound-letter relationships, knowing its origin, and understanding its meaning. So it makes sense that students would be most successful in spelling if they understood the rules of the language. However, any successful spelling program should also contain a component that helps students master those words that either break rules or words that follow rules they haven’t yet learned but encounter often.
I was introduced to Spelling Fluency first while teaching in a school that used the Orton Gillingham approach to reading and spelling. Spelling Fluency was a way to teach rule breakers, or what we would call “Red Words.” These words break patterns students know, appear frequently in students’ reading and writing, and therefore need to be memorized.
Why it works
Of all the methods I tried throughout the years, Spelling Fluency was the only avenue through which my students achieved spelling success on those words commonly misspelled in their writing. Coupled with Personal Spelling Dictionaries, students took ownership of the words they “mastered” and no longer relied on me to spell frequently used words.
Spelling Fluency works by incorporating personalized spelling lists with multi-sensory practices. Students work on just those words they haven’t yet mastered rather than having to “learn” words they already know or those that are inappropriate for their level. Practices incorporate visual, auditory, and kinesthetic activities, which strengthens connections in the brain more so than typical memorization techniques.
The words used in Spelling Fluency practices are those often found on classroom Words Walls. For many teachers, these are district or building selected words. For others, it is a list of words used with one particular class during a year. In my classroom, “Red Words” were those pulled from both of the popular sight words lists as well the Dolch nouns. Not all of them are rule breakers, but many of them break the rules that students have learned so far or rules they haven’t yet learned. This is especially true if the students are very young.
After obtaining a baseline, students receive a list of words to master that is specific to them. They work with a partner who is at a similar level of spelling ability and perhaps one who has a similar list. After mastering each word, it is entered in their Personal Spelling Dictionaries and become “No Excuse Words.” This follow-up step is extremely important to ensuring that students remain the keepers of knowledge – not you.
Using Spelling Fluency in the Classroom
If you’re interested in learning more about how to use Spelling Fluency in the classroom, you’ll find detailed steps in my next post. In an ideal world, students would complete 3-4 rounds of practice per week. The post will include suggestions for making Spelling Fluency a successful component of any spelling program.
I would love to know – what type of spelling program are you using now and what are your thoughts about it?
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*Hanna, P.R., Hanna, J.S., Hodges, R.E., and Rudorf, E.H., Jr. (1966). Phoneme-grapheme correspondences as cues to spelling improvement (USDOE Publication No. 32008). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.