More Work to Do
Yesterday, I found myself being frustrated at a social media post that expressed a less-than-favorable opinion of the EL Education curriculum, specific to the Modules. As I read the equally unfavorable comments that poured in after the original post, my heart sank. I felt like I was sitting on a cracking branch. The one thing that was abundantly clear is that we (as a nation) still have a lot of work to do around building an understanding around effective literacy instruction. A lot.
I didn’t respond to the post, as it was not posted on a reputable online community such as those hosted by EL Education or Open Up Resources, and I currently choose not to contribute to “pop-up” groups. For those who are fortunate to teach with the EL Education curriculum, keep doing the work. Keep learning right along with your students. Remember what Louisa Moats tells us: “Teaching Reading is Rocket Science.” It ain’t gonna’ be easy. Whether you are new to the curriculum or a veteran teacher of it, a great place to frame/reframe your thinking lies within this Open Up Resources Blogpost: Things I Wish I Had Known.
The Simple View of Reading
Much of the work (referred to in the first paragraph) has to do with the Language Comprehension side of the Simple View of Reading. Despite amazing efforts by so many structured literacy advocates, their is still a huge gap in the knowledge base that makes up the Science of Reading and the knowledge that our educators hold. It’s frightening, frustrating, and infuriating. But, we will keep doing the work. Day by day, minute by minute, second by second, we will keep doing the work.
The good news is that educators seem to be grasping an understanding of some elements of structured literacy, specifically the Decoding side of the Simple View of Reading equation. Although too many still see that decoding side as strictly Phonics instruction (it’s not just Phonics instruction – thank you, Right to Read Project!), many are still ignoring the Language Comprehension side of the equation. Thank you, Natalie Wexler, for your continued focus on the importance of knowledge building, an essential component of Language Comprehension! My post today focuses on spelling, which is addressed on both sides of the equation.
Yesterday’s frustration was alleviated as I listened to another amazing episode of Reading Horizon’s Literacy Talks (Season 2, Epidsode 4: “Spelling, It’s a Literacy Teaching Opportunity,”) hosted by Stacy Hurst, Lindsay Kemeny, and Donell Pons. By the end of the episode, these three had taken me completely out of my slump. Donell wrapped up the podcast with the following, “The more I continue to teach others, the more I learn, and that’s the beauty of it.” Stacey replied with: “Teaching and learning is [are] not exclusive to the teacher or the learner… A student is a teacher and a teacher is a student.” I’ve come to think of these three ladies as THE trifecta. They bring a wealth of knowledge to the table: straight from the elementary classroom, from the teacher preparation college classroom, and from the adult learner classroom.
So what did “The Trifecta” have to say about spelling and literacy? They had a TON of information to share! The following is my attempt at summarizing this episode with some key points that I pulled from the conversation. As always, this blog serves to support my own learning so that I can in turn support the learning of others. I do not want to represent anyone else’s thoughts incorrectly, so if my summary strays from their message, the error is entirely mine.
- We might consider using the terms “Temporary spelling,” or “Estimated spelling,” in place of “Invented spelling”
- We should model correct spelling pointing out phoneme-grapheme correspondences, as opposed to modeling “Invented Spelling”
- Incorrect spelling interferes with meaning and what we are trying to communicate: spelling matters!
- Analyzing students’ spelling is a chance to get a peek into their brains: the analysis tells us if they have phoneme-grapheme correspondence
- Spelling informs reading more than reading informs spelling
- We cannot rely on tools like spell check/auto-correct; it is a poor substitute for being able to spell ; it’s only correct 30 – 80% of the time
- It is a different task to spell than it is to read: spelling requires retrieval and the mechanics of writing, while reading requires only recognition
- Spelling really is the integrator!
Considering some of the key points above, what can this mean for our spelling instruction in the classroom?
- Move away from theme-based (ex: holidays) spelling words – they do not follow taught spelling patterns and serve to quickly eat-up students’ working memory
- Move to assessing taught spelling patterns each week
- Send words that match the spelling pattern(s) home at the beginning of the week, with an explanation to parents
- At the same time, do not depend on parents to teach their kids the spelling pattern; their work is reinforcing the teaching that has occurred in school
- Use a systematic, structured literacy program that builds on what students know – and we know what they know because of the scope and sequence and because we use data to determine if they know it!
- Use what Lindsay calls “spaced practice”: introduce the concept, practice it, and return to it frequently, even as new concepts are introduced
- If the majority of your students didn’t grasp the concept (using data from CFA’s to determine this), don’t hesitate to cover the concept again, even if this throws off the pacing calendar (my two cents: this is especially true if it is a concept from a priority standard, as deemed by teacher teams)
- Do not rely solely on words in isolation as you are practicing and assessing: dictate sentences that contain words with the taught spelling patterns
- Bring. In. Morphology.
- English is not crazy. “All words are spelled the way they are for a reason.” Lyn Stone
Thank you, Reading Horizons, Stacy Hurst, Lindsay Kemeny, and Donell Pons (what a Community!) for doing the work and talking about it in a way that all educators can benefit from! You are making it possible to address what I wrote about spelling in January of 2021: “I’m not confident that I fully understand the intricacies of orthographic mapping or how to seamlessly implement solid spelling instruction, but I am confident that I will continue to read and write about it.” And because of Reading Horizons and “The Trifecta,” I can add that I will continue to “listen” to add to my learning!