Eating the Chocolate Elephant

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My teaching goals this year as a public school reading specialist were two-fold: first, to use Real Spelling for teaching my caseload, struggling reading students from kindergarten to grade 5. Included in my caseload are RTI (Response to Intervention), Tier II to Tier III, and a few special education students.  Second, to plan (but most explorations are not planned!) and model lessons for word inquiry in all three 5th grade classrooms within my kg. to grade 5 building.

Results:  Goal one – use Real Spelling. We are a data driven district; growth must be assessed and reported. While I do not subscribe to the data fan club, I must admit that looking at the data was interesting. From fall to spring these students gained three times the average of students in my school: higher gains than the students and struggling readers in our two other district schools. My students learned to read, to spell, and to think. We had fun; their self-concepts soared (of course they soared, they learned to read and spell!) I am not brilliant, not in this for my ego, but I know what works; Real Spelling simply works. I strive to understand it, use it and educate myself by reading blogs like Dan Allen’s, Ann Whiting’s, and Skot Caldwell. I tap the professionals, Gina Cooke at LEX, Pete Bowers at wordworkskingston and the Old Grouch at Real Spelling. Thanks to all of you! My students had a fabulous year!

Goal two – model lessons in three fifth grade classes using structured word inquiry and Real Spelling. I was allowed one, thirty minute lesson per week in each classroom. Along with bring data driven, we are also schedule driven, switching classes and subjects, every 30 minutes. Still, within this limited time frame, the results were extraordinary. We began by defining terminology and learning to use the correct vocabulary. We then began discovering base elements and exploring their Latin and Greek origins. Our discoveries were phenomenal.  Exploring websites like Etymonline, LatDict, Word Searcher, helped anchor the basics. SKYPING lessons and working with Real Spelling was extremely valuable. The Real Spelling Gallery was also a valuable resource. The students and classroom teachers embraced their word studies, even outside the thirty minute lesson.

When talking about word inquiry, many teachers ask, “Where do I begin?”, “How much time does it take?” and “What do I need?” I am amazed at what fifth graders accomplished through word inquiry with such a short amount of time. Not that we are anywhere close to accomplishing what Ann Whiting’s or Dan Allen’s classes did this year, but we made huge strides. Given the time parameters, the constraints, the inability to conduct investigations in other subjects throughout the day, I am extremely satisfied. When I walked out after the thirty minutes, the students and the classroom teachers had the spark. They continued to explore and use our short lessons to learn more, go further, take risks, ask questions and think. They gained a deeper understand of our language and were able to work through the process that encourages critical thinking . The teachers and students were brilliant, inquisitive, and challenged. Thirty minutes of my week – a lifetime of new skills for students and teachers.

Where to begin? I can say, “You can only eat the chocolate elephant one bite at a time.” Start, anywhere, any word, just explore, inquiry, engage.

Here are some of the fifth graders comments at the end of this year:

“When we think of words, we think of how (word study) knowledge is in+dis+pens+able.”

“… per +sist + ent …..trying to make sure we understand the beauty of words.”

“Inquisitive. The most important thing….is that words are not special because of their spelling, but they are special because of their meaning…..seek new words, gain knowledge and ask questions.”

“Formidable…helped us learn the power of words.”

“Word study was <bene+fic+i+al> to us all!”