Michael Murpurgo once said that it is “really important that focusing on things such as spelling, punctuation, grammar and handwriting doesn’t inhibit the creative flow”. There won’t be many who disagree with this, but there is definitely a time and a place for structured work – especially when it comes to spelling. For a generation being brought up on predictive text and a Bill Gates’ spell checker, spelling is an exceptionally important part of a child’s school career. After all, accurate spelling helps develop fluency in writing and improves communication. Clamping down on spelling standards is also high on the political agenda and teachers will be expected to put more emphasis on spelling in the new national curriculum.
To help you teach and assess spelling, Schofield and Sims has just published a structured spelling programme designed for Years 1-6. It is made up of six pupil books and two books for teachers and will allow children with a grasp of letter-sound relationships to practise, consolidate and apply spellings.
The first book for teachers is the Teacher’s Guide, which contains plenty of detailed teaching notes. It begins with a clear introduction, followed by a very helpful chapter explaining the teaching model on which the programme is based. Further guidelines are then given for using the ‘Teach, Practise, Apply and Assess’ approach, including ideas for timetabling, differentiation, using spelling in writing, marking, tricky words and topic words, teaching strategies, and assessment.
The scope and sequence of the programme is impressive and there’s an overview of each area of focus to be taught. The notes detail what you need to cover and recommend ways of modelling the content. They aren’t too long either – just right, in fact.
To accompany this guide there is an equally helpful Teacher’s Resource Book. Part one contains extension and revision activities that are made up of photocopiable additional word lists, spelling logs, word sort copymasters, and word collector copymasters. Also in this section you will find reminders and prompts that can be used for recording spelling targets, learning and practising tricky words, spelling strategies and certificates.
I certainly look forward to using these, as I do the materials in part two, which includes all the assessment and record-keeping resources you’ll need to support your ongoing evaluations. Here you will find target and tracking sheets, dictation assessment sheets, and cloze-style ‘dictation tests’. On top of these, we also get materials for the analysis of spelling errors in independent writing. These are written to a very high standard and certainly provide a comfort blanket of reassurance.
My immediate concern was the new curriculum, so I was glad to see Schofield and Sims has downloads on its website that include national curriculum correlation charts, supplementary spelling logs, extra tricky words for Years 1 and 2, and alternative spellings.
Pupil books 1-3 are for Key Stage 1, while pupil books 4-6 are for Key Stage 2. Each pupil book follows the same recipe – they each have six sections of five pages and then a tricky words page.
Each main page has a ‘Remember’ introduction that explains the spelling pattern and a ‘Try it’ section where pupils fill in missing letters, complete words, read clues and write the words, look for letter patterns, use rules to spell words correctly, and complete word grids.
Pupil sheets finish with a ‘Read-cover-write’ section so children can practise spelling words in a sentence. All the answers are at the back of the book, which is interesting. Some might like to see this section in one of teachers’ books instead.
Now, I can’t criticise the content of the pupil books. They are just the job. They are full of rigour and will provide intensive practice. What I’m struggling to get excited about is the presentation. The books need some graphic input and child-friendly characters and pictures – there are some, but they are thin on the ground. The academic presentation would probably better suit upper Key Stage 2
We all know that Winnie the Pooh’s spelling wobbled, but as nice as he was I don’t recall him going on to study at medical school. His spelling strategies would never have coped with pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. That’s why I would recommend this structured, high-quality programme to all creative and wobbly spellers out there. Not only will it help with common high frequency words, but it will also help pupils avoid misspelling words such as ‘separate’, ‘definitely’, ‘manoeuvre’, ‘embarrass’ and ‘occurrence’.