Elementary schools run on schedules; they organize the days and help students operate. A typical week, in the mind of a fourth-grader, might be something like: Gym on Monday, mashed potatoes on Thursday and spelling test on Friday. It was a given; we’d receive our spelling lists on Monday – a collection of not-necessarily related words – take them home to study throughout the week, and be tested on Friday. Looking back, they were the one constant throughout years of schooling. But for lots of schools, this memorize-your-spelling-list ritual might be changing.
Some districts have done away with spelling tests entirely, suggesting that the rote memorization does little to help students really learn to spell. But some have opted for a middle ground, embracing a method called “word study.” The idea is to focus on the patterns and phonetic principles of spelling, rather than having students memorize words for Friday that they can’t spell correctly in context the next Monday. As one article explains, “A sample spelling test for a second-grader might include sixteen words that all start with ‘th,’ such as ‘through,’ ‘throw’ and ‘though.’ The students might be asked to put the words in alphabetical order, say them out loud or use them in sentences until they take a test on the words. Learning to recognize patterns helps students learn to spell unfamiliar words.” In short, students are expected to gain a better understanding of the way language works instead of practicing memorization.
Friday spelling tests have been so integral to elementary education in recent history that their evolution and/or extinction raises some interesting questions about the future of spelling. Responding to curriculum changes, some parents argue that memorization is important; others embrace the more holistic method; and some feel that spelling need not be a focus at all, since most writing is done electronically, with the help of spellcheckers. Should spelling be part of the curriculum? Is texting “shorthand” going to shape our language so much that official spellings are changed? Let us know what you think.