Helping a child improve their spelling

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volunteer
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Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by volunteer » Fri Aug 15, 2014 10:56 pm

This one is personal and I would appreciate any thoughts and advice on any issues this raises.

DD2 has just completed year 3. Her spelling is not as I would wish it to be. Over the last year various things have prevented me getting a grip on this.

She was a good early reader as I used a lot of RWI (the reading elements) at home with her prior to and during reception . In year 1 I was allowed to flexi-school her for half a day per week and I gave her a strong phonics input during that time as well as on a daily basis, within the limits of a normal day after school, other children etc. School was very mixed-methods and the reason I did these things was because I'd had some frustrations with DD1 learning to read at the same school. Also via volunteering I'd had an inside view of some issues re. the teaching of reading which I was wishing to circumvent with my own children. For various reasons I had DD2 ability tested by an Ed Psych in year 1 and she came out with an overall IQ score which placed her in top 1% of population; this did not match up at all with school's view of child or the groups in which she was placed ( average/marginally above average).

End of year 1 she scored full score in the phonics check, end of year 2 she was 3b in reading, 3c in maths and writing. End of year 3 she is 4c in reading and maths, 3a in writing. In the early stages of year 3 I noticed that she was starting to spell words that she had spelled correctly in the past incorrectly (e.g. bed as bead, almost as almoast, fly as fligh). I hoped it was a passing "experimental" phase but noticed in her exercise books at the October parents' evening that a max of 3 spellings were corrected in any one piece of work, DD was not always correcting even these three words "correctly", and a lot of errors were going completely by the board. Similar at the March parents' evening. I asked if they could be more pedantic with her about making sure that errors were correctly corrected by her as I felt that she was starting to learn incorrect spellings for words through repeatedly spelling them incorrectly.

In the past I have asked if I can view her literacy book regularly so that I can pick up on her personal misspellings and add them to the spelling homework that has to be done each week using the spelling list issued by the teacher. The answer always is (from the headteacher and the governors) that seeing the exercise books twice a year at parents' evening and receiving them to keep at home at the end of the summer term is quite sufficient.

Her end of year 3 report stated that she spells many common words incorrectly in her writing and this is her main area for improvement - clearly this was not a surprise to me although it was not mentioned by the teachers at the March parents' evening - it was actually me that raised her spelling. It says that although she does very well in the weekly spelling test she should "try harder" to spell common words correctly in her regular writing. We wrote to school (it was a supply teacher all year and next year's teacher is a new appointment that we can't meet until next term) to ask if next year it would be possible to see her exercise book regularly to pick up on her personal misspellings. We got the same response. We also pointed out that the "try harder" strategy is presumably not working as otherwise her spelling would not be an issue - her written report rates her efforts in school as excellent across the board. We received no response to this part of our communication.

This summer holiday I have had the pleasure of going through her literacy book. In her literacy book alone there are 430 words that she regularly misspells. A standardised spelling test shows that her spelling is not bad for her age (SWIST - places her as standardised score of 110 which is the upper edge of the average "bump" of the normal distribution) but to me this does not at all match the rest of her attainment / ability.

Not sure what to do next term to pursue this issue. Hoping that her literacy book will just be in her table drawer and that the new teacher will not jump on me if I go in and browse through it regularly. But this was not possible this year - the books were all hidden away in boxes and the supply teacher had clearly been told to make viewing of the books impossible.

If I had been able to work on her misspellings regularly throughout the year based on the fresh information her schoolwork provides I wouldn't have this big lump of work to try and do with her now. Incorrect spellings of particular words would not be so ingrained as I would have caught them earlier. I could see the problem coming a mile off. So it is frustrating.

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Re: Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sat Aug 16, 2014 10:58 am

I'm sorry to say this - but your daughter's teachers appear to know little or nothing about genuine 'working in partnership with parents' and they seem fearful of transparency and, from your description, they appear limited in their spelling teaching and marking for spelling.

It may well be that you need to raise this issue of 'working in partnership with parents' and that, surely, if you are willing to give extra support at home with something so challenging as spelling - then why would the school so actively stand in your way?

You need to come to an arrangement with the school, for example, that your daughter's literacy book comes home at the weekends so that you can support with spelling practice and take an interest in the ongoing themes.

Or, as you know which words your daughter is getting incorrect routinely, simply focus on those words - often the words which we use in general speech and writing.

If you read any official DfE guidance for schools, just about everything refers to working in partnership with parents, seeking their views and their support and cooperation - or at least informing parents - so this is about the school's defence-mechanism - not any higher-than-that ethos.

Good luck - as ever.

Do you provide a place at home, or a book at home to refer to, with larger-font common spellings spelt correctly - so that there is lots of visual support around?

Do you use an Alphabetic Code Chart and the language of 'Which spelling alternative?' as a quick way of focusing on individual words?

Do you build up spelling word banks in an exercise book - along with tricky words when they arise?

Spelling in the English language is so challenging that I think far more importance to the teaching and support needs to be given to spelling - but I believe that it is still 'chance' how well children are taught at school.

Do you routinely attribute the challenges of English spelling to the history of the English language (spoken and written) and to the fact we have the most complex Alphabetic Code in the world?

This is important so that children do not think that their errors are 'about them' but that they understand them in the context of the 'history' and 'written code' of the language.

kenm
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Re: Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by kenm » Sat Aug 16, 2014 11:07 am

Does she have access to a dictionary?

The school has not identified her as having outstanding potential but probably wouldn't know what to do if it had. Could you educate her at home full-time? My youngest granddaughter (now 10) was home-educated until last year and has just completed Y5 at school. The transition caused no serious problems, though her maths needed some catching up, and she is happy to be going back in the autumn.
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

volunteer
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Re: Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by volunteer » Sat Aug 16, 2014 12:01 pm

Ken, my daughter said there were dictionaries one per table for the first day of the school year and the teacher told them they should look up meanings and spellings in them during the year. After that, she tells me that the dictionaries were on the class bookshelf and that in most lessons where a dictionary might have been needed they were not allowed out of their seats. She says also you couldn't speak to the teacher as she was working with the lower groups and it was expected that the top group got on with things by themselves e.g. Schofield and Sims written comprehension workbooks etc.

Dictionary use is not really encouraged. I think there is so much pressure on writing "enough" that children don't feel there is time to try and find a word in the dictionary ( a lengthy process for many different reasons including the fact that they are not used to looking things up alphabetically so it involves a lot of reciting of the alphabet).

I don't want to home educate as there are a lot of reasons why it would not be practical for us. Flexi-school would be fine - but this has been made impractical by DfE guidance last year. It would have to be recorded as unauthorised absence which is undesirable for school attendance statistics and is expensive for parents if the school chooses to use the fining route. I might go down this route again though if necessary. My child doesn't particularly adapt well to the changes in routine during the week though. The home part works extremely well but she is stressed about missing something at school e.g. if they start writing something or do something in art while she's not there she doesn't like being out of synch with the others.

Debbie, yes the partnership working with parents is completely missing - certainly for me. Always has been unless you strike lucky with a particular teacher which has happened to me once for two terms only.

I'll try again - how many times have I said that to myself - next term. There are going to be some new faces at the top so there's a chance that the wind will blow in a different direction. I do hope so. It would be so enjoyable to have a good working relationship with school where both sides had the child's best interests at heart.

And I've seen an education lawyer online who looks as though their name at the end of a letter could be "inspiring" shall we say. Let's hope that is not needed as it's not normally a good way to develop a balanced home-school relationship ....... but maybe in this particular instance it would actually bring some balance as the school has been very "heavy-handed", shall we say, in the past.

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Susan Godsland
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Re: Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by Susan Godsland » Sat Aug 16, 2014 12:20 pm

For students with spelling difficulties, it might be more useful to download Spelfabet's free Spelling Sorted book rather than use a dictionary.

http://www.spelfabet.com.au/2014/03/fre ... more-11596

and then help them build their own Spelling Dictionary

http://www.spelfabet.com.au/materials/s ... collection

http://www.phonicbooks.co.uk/additional ... -8-ref-26/

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Re: Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sat Aug 16, 2014 10:38 pm

That's a good idea Susan - there's also a 'Phonics Spelling Dictionary' enabling the build-up of spelling word banks in the 'Extras' section at the bottom of the PI index for anyone who uses PI. :grin:

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Re: Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by yvonne meyer » Sun Aug 17, 2014 12:06 am

MULTILIT (in Australia) publish a brilliant 'phonics-based' dictionary, see link below. It cost about A$25 and can be ordered on-line.
My Spelling Dictionary

My Spelling Dictionary is a new addition to MultiLit’s range of high quality literacy publications. It has been carefully designed to link the teaching of Australian English spelling and vocabulary.

Sometimes when you want to write a word, it is hard to remember how to spell it. Although you know what the word sounds like, it isn’t always easy to remember what it looks like. It can also be difficult to look up the spelling of the word in a dictionary if you don’t know which letter it starts with.

My Spelling Dictionary is organised differently to conventional dictionaries to help solve this where the words are grouped according to their beginning sound not their beginning letter.

For example, if a student wanted to spell the word ‘wrist’, the student would look up the word under the sound /r/, rather than the letter ‘w’. If they wanted to look up the word ‘queue’, they would look the word up under the sound /k/, not the letter ‘q’

This helps students appreciate that spelling is often about representing sounds in a number of different ways and it enables students to more easily find a word when they are not sure of the spelling. In the My Spelling Dictionary students can also record and define the words they want to remember by writing them on the page of the sound they start with....

http://www.multilit.com/programs/my-spe ... ictionary/
As for dealing with the school, in my opinion, you have two choices. Either treat the school as free babysitting, ignore everything that happens at school and focus on getting the right education for your child outside of school. Have sick days when it is convenient for you and brush off anything the school has to say about it,

or, treat incompentent bullies as they should be treated. Stand up to the Head Teacher by making written complaints and send copies to everyone up the chain of command. Keep making written complaints until the Head Teacher backs down. This won't result in more effective teaching practices while the existing Head Teacher & teachers remain at the school, and they won't be fired, but I found that putting pressure on them makes them eventually look elsewhere for employment.

In my case, I took legal action but I didn't use a lawyer. I used the Trade Practices Act and the Small Claims Court to make my point.

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Re: Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by kenm » Sun Aug 17, 2014 9:47 am

volunteer wrote:Ken, my daughter said there were dictionaries one per table for the first day of the school year and the teacher told them they should look up meanings and spellings in them during the year. After that, she tells me that the dictionaries were on the class bookshelf and that in most lessons where a dictionary might have been needed they were not allowed out of their seats. She says also you couldn't speak to the teacher as she was working with the lower groups and it was expected that the top group got on with things by themselves e.g. Schofield and Sims written comprehension workbooks etc.
This is what one would expect from a school whose head is obsessed with test and exam statistics: the top set don't need teaching, work with the middle set to improve their performance. How does the bottom set get on?
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

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Re: Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by volunteer » Mon Aug 18, 2014 8:07 am

It could be a factor. When my children have long term supply teachers, newly qualified teachers and teachers who eventually disappear without a good bye from the school the general learning situation seems to deteriorate. One feels that a conversation with the class teacher is not very productive, through no fault of their own, because they are having to follow a recipe which is not chosen by them.

Thank you for everyone's suggestions. I have an Ace spelling dictionary which runs on the principles you all suggest. I have never used it with my own children but I will give it a go this summer and then see if the new class teacher is amenable to her using it in class. I was also thinking of providing her with an electronic thesaurus and dictionary for class for looking up equivalent words and meanings.

There are also some recommendations from an Occupational therapist I have never really managed to get school to incorporate e.g. Using a writing slope and posture cushion both of which I would provide.

Maybe if I try again with all these things now there is a new head and senco I will have more luck and I can ask about digging out personal spellings from her exercise books at the same time.

Asking for her literacy book to be allowed home one night a week has always been a no no. I have only ever asked to be able to sit somewhere at the end of the day and leaf through her book to pick out the personal spellings. I have always hoped that asking for something that takes no teacher time would not be a problem but, to date, it has been.

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Re: Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by volunteer » Mon Sep 15, 2014 6:15 pm

OK, tried today with the new teacher. She showed me "medium frequency word lists from the new national curriculum" which they are working on. ???????

"You get to see the books at parents' evening." I asked if I could see them in between at all. No. I asked if this was school policy. "Yes. Probably. I've taught at lots of schools and it is like that at them all."

She tried to tell me the approach to teaching spelling for the year. I couldn't really follow a word of it. They are learning spelling rules. Which rules? The ones they are supposed to learn this year. Which ones are they? In the national curriculum spelling appendix for years 3 and 4? Yes. But then shows me a list of spellings without any "rule" on it which is to come home this week. I asked what the rule was. She said it was that words which end CVC need the final C doubling before a suffix is added. Oh. I asked if parents would be given a set of the rules the children were working on this year. She said no. She didn't want parents jumping ahead. She said the children didn't know what "constanants" and vowels were so she had had to teach them this today.

She said if she let me see the books then I would be giving my daughter extra spelling work at home and I shouldn't be doing that and it was her job to get it all done in class. I said that was very kind and I'm sure she would do her best but my DD's spelling had not progressed as it should have done last year and I was hoping that something extra over and above could be done either at school or at home to make up for lost ground. This fell on deaf ears.

I'm not feeling inspired about this year nor my child's eleven plus test in two years time which depends on being able to spell reliably in both the verbal reasoning and English elements of the test.

She's teaching them to use a dictionary to look up words to find spellings. I said my DD didn't know if she needed to look up a word or not and that finding a word in a dictionary was difficult if you couldn't spell it already. She said they could do it from the first three letters. Oh.

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Re: Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by kenm » Mon Sep 15, 2014 8:10 pm

volunteer wrote:I asked what the rule was. She said it was that words which end CVC need the final C doubling before a suffix is added.
"Focused", "trafficking", "foxed", "hippopotamuses" are all in my dictionary.
She said the children didn't know what "constanants" and vowels were so she had had to teach them this today.
Does she know how incompetent she is?
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

chew8
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Re: Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by chew8 » Tue Sep 16, 2014 8:02 am

kenm wrote:volunteer wrote:
I asked what the rule was. She said it was that words which end CVC need the final C doubling before a suffix is added.

"Focused", "trafficking", "foxed", "hippopotamuses" are all in my dictionary.
'Focused', 'foxed' and 'hippopotamuses' are all covered by the 'Rules and guidelines' as stated in the new National Curriculum. It's stated (Year 2) that 'x' is never doubled and (Y3/4) that a final consonant is not doubled if it's at the end of an unstressed syllable. The 'trafficking' type of word is not covered, but perhaps that's understandable.

Jenny C.

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Re: Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Tue Sep 16, 2014 9:23 am

I find this a very strange attitude because, in my view, it is great to work in partnership with parents especially if they're willing to liaise with whatever spelling is going on in school.

She said if she let me see the books then I would be giving my daughter extra spelling work at home and I shouldn't be doing that and it was her job to get it all done in class.
In fact, I design core resources and guidance for both Phonics International and Floppy's Phonics Sounds and Letters which is about informing parents as a minimum and aiming to work in partnership with them as an aspiration.

When it comes to spelling, I suggest that all teachers must be teachers of spelling as a continuum with a strong message that children need to be very attentive to the detail of spelling as all words need to go into long term memory as much as possible.

Further, the phonics programmes really progress to be spelling-word-bank programmes where there are illustrations (in both programmes) and (in Phonics International's case) texts and various resources to help link and embed in memory words with the same letter/s-sound correspondences.

As people on here know, I also promote heavily the use of Alphabetic Code Charts to promote the notion of spelling alternatives for the sounds and to provide a very quick, handy, permanent reference chart - for use in classrooms and also in people's homes.

Training includes encouragement, with specific techniques and phrases for teachers to support/teach spelling all the time throughout the curriculum whenever children are required to write. Teachers may well have been trained NOT to mark for spelling - whereas I am suggesting that they can 'teach' and 'support' with spelling all the time - because that is how tricky English spelling is.

Volunteer - it is just unfortunate that you are encountering teachers with views, practice and attitude as above.

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Re: Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by volunteer » Tue Sep 16, 2014 11:27 am

Thank you everyone. I see the new head sometime soon. Wish me luck!

I like your phrase, Debbie, about "informing parents as a minimum and aiming to work in partnership with them as an aspiration."

When I have worked one to one as a volunteer with children with literacy difficulties I have always felt the thing that would make the biggest difference would be working in partnership with their parents and a clear two-way, regular avenue of communication. This unfortunately is rarely achievable. The thing that I am hoping for is so undemanding - to look at her written work from time to time by myself - that it's barely even entering the sphere of partnership working. However, saying no to it and offering no alternative routes which take my daughter's spelling needs and best interests into account, gives a clear message that there is no aspiration for partnership working on the teacher's part.

chew8
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Re: Helping a child improve their spelling

Post by chew8 » Tue Sep 16, 2014 12:13 pm

Do your materials cover guidelines about such things as consonant-doubling when suffixes are added, Debbie?

Jenny C.

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