Sunday, September 22, 2013


This year David has some choice around his dictee (spelling test). He gets to chose one of two "words of the week" lists - the easy list or the more challenging list. Both lists contain high-frequency words we may want to use in stories.

During the week his job is to use the words in the stories he writes. His teacher said that the first draft of the story can have lots of spelling errors. She doesn't care. She would rather you use a word like "enormous" and spell it wrong, than stick with a word like "big" because you know you can spell it correctly.

Last week, I didn't practice the words with him. I didn't have him study, cover, write, and then check. I didn't have him write stories. I avoided it. He finds it excruciating. I find it painful. I dread it. He dreads it. I stuck my head in the sand and hoped spelling would magically become easy without practice.

I found out there is something worse than doing spelling work at home with your child. It is listening to them apologize for something that you don't feel is within their control yet.

He brought home his spelling test at the end of the week. He got 6/12 correct. He apologized for "doing bad" on so many words. My stomach sank. I felt like I was the one who should be doing an apology.

I smiled. I pointed out that if you get 3/4 letters right in a word, that is actually pretty awesome. I am not sure he bought my spin.

I pointed out that three of the words had accent grave, and asked if he knew how to do that on his keyboard. He wasn't sure.

So I got out his home keyboard, and discovered that not only do neither of us know how to do that accent, I discovered that they keyboard is broken. Luckily his school keyboard is working.

So now I have two jobs this week:
1. Fix keyboard.
2. Support spelling learning.
Anyone out there with tips on how to help your seven-year-old learn to spell?


  1. I went with Duncan to his dyslexia tutoring which is about spelling, in a way. It was an hour of hard work for Duncan where she showed him words and they talked about them. Sometimes the two of them iinterrupted the lesson to remember rules about spelling. I had forgotten that there were so many tips to help a person become a better speller.

    "Remember, when two vowels go walking the first one does the talking." But the tutor was giving him harder rules to remember, or reminding him that he knew the rule and they they should use it in this instance.

    She must have either reminded him or given him ideas about new word formations about seven times during the lesson.

    I was amazed at how patient the teacher was. A fifty minute session all about spelling once a week seemed like a lot of work for Duncan. I was bowing to him, as well, for persisting in all of that hard work. I was also in awe of the preparation she had done in advance of beginning the lesson. I could see that her pedagogy was working -- he knew the general shape of the lesson, how they would warm up, what they would do during the body of the lesson, and how they would wrap up.

    The wrap up was as important as any part of the lesson and it was not a winding-down where he could rest. That last part of the lesson was tying all of the ends together and Duncan was working hard until he walked out the door.

    Your post about spelling reminded me of all of that.

    And yes, as a writer, I like spell-check. In this post it caught pedagogy and help me get the right spelling on it..

  2. It sounds like David has a wonderful teacher. I loved your previous post about coaching the students on how to introduce people. She sounds wickedly funny, and uses humour to help teach her students and look how well it worked for David!

  3. I was out blogging and thought of this Dictee post and especially about using big words -- about how difficult it is to use the 40,000 or more words available to us in English, since some of them are so long and hard to spell. And sometimes they slip out of my mouth and I wonder if I used the word right, or even where it came from. I don't like it when I have to be suspicious of words that come out of my mouth when I don't know their meanings.

    When I am blogging, and I want to use a big picture, sometimes the word that ends up going down the left hand side of the picture has so many letters it won't work beside the image and the text slips down to the bottom. So I go in and try to find words with four letters or less to use beside the picture. Hard to know when to use the large words that pin down meaning and when to use the small words that make the blog better, visually.