For Third-Graders, Learning to Read Means Learning to Spell

In this digital age, pencil and paper still proving to be vital in teaching kids to spell.

The students in Ingrid Corbett's third-grade class at Bellview Elementary School take out notebook paper and begin numbering it 1 through 17 with their pencils, skipping lines.

"Number one," Corbett said. "Cowboy."

The students bend over their papers and carefully spell out the word, making sure to keep their answers covered up.

"Number two — moist," she said. "The cake was moist and delicious."

It may be an iPad world, but local teachers and parents say the touch screen has not outshined the traditional pencil-and-paper spelling test as the best way to teach children how to spell.

While the Escambia County School District's reading series includes online games and exercises to help enhance spelling skills, the old-fashioned spelling test is still effective, Corbett said.

Third-graders take the reading and math portions of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test for the first time. If they are not deemed proficient in reading on the test, they may not be able to continue to the fourth grade.

Corbett said ensuring that children learn to spell correctly is important because it is connected to reading.

"It's a prerequisite to reading and writing," she said. "They need to know spelling and reading rules in order to be able to decode and sound out words."

District elementary school students focus on a list of words every week, memorizing them, learning their meanings and finally taking a test at the end of the week.

In Corbett's class, Monday homework includes writing the spelling words three times each. On Tuesday, students arrange the words in alphabetical order. On Wednesday, they write eight sentences with two spelling words used correctly in each. Thursday is study night and Friday is test day.

"Our spelling comes directly out of our reading stories," said Corbett, who has been teaching at Bellview for 25 years.

Most of Corbett's students make A's and B's on their spelling tests, but some still have trouble.

"They just need some more phonetic practice," she said. "A lot of times, they don't get a lot of help at home, especially when they're young."

Muscle memory

Madison Spradlin, 8, is one of the top spellers in Corbett's class. She has not brought home a spelling test grade lower than a 96.

"I like spelling words," she said. "I do my homework, but I don't need to practice."

Madison's mother, Wendy Spradlin, is a self-proclaimed stickler for spelling.

"I probably am the most critical person I know when it comes to spelling," she said. "I cannot stand bad spelling."

She said children should learn to spell correctly with paper and pencil, rather than with technology.

"It is important for them to do it with a pencil and piece of paper because there will come a point when they have to write something out," Spradlin said. "It's memory, like anything else. Your hand remembers doing it because you've done it so many times before."

At home, Spradlin makes sure Madison practices her spelling, even though she is a natural.

"I call the words out to her while we're driving to school in the morning. She verbally gives them back to me," Spradlin said. "It's important for them to hear themselves spell."

Additionally, Spradlin makes sure Madison knows what words mean, so she gets more exposure to them.

"When my children read a word and say 'Mom, I don't know what this is,' they get out the dictionary or go to," Spradlin said. "Looking at the word again puts it in their memory better."

Mixing in technology

Brian Spivey, a language arts specialist for the Escambia School District, said today's students need a good mix of traditional spelling instruction and technology.

"The traditional way has its merits, but you need to combine it with a multimedia approach," he said. "Technology brings a portability to spelling and vocabulary learning we didn't have before."

The key, whether you're using technology or a traditional approach, is making the words functional, Spivey said. And that's where parents can help.

"If children go through their words with parents at home and put those words into a useful context in their lives, the words are going to mean something to them," Spivey said.

A way parents can incorporate technology into practicing spelling is through the use of an iPad, iPhone, or Android device, he said.

"If you're driving in the car and you see a sign with a word in it, the parent could say, 'Look that word up and tell me what it means,' " Spivey said.

He said teaching spelling is essential for improving literacy.

"No matter what we do to improve test scores, students have to be able to know the words on the page," he said.

Bellview third-grader Skyler Bryant, 9, said he thinks he did well on last week's spelling test, which he studied for the night before.

"If I get one wrong, I spell it 20 times," he said.

Skyler said he understands how spelling is linked to reading.

"Spelling is actually like reading," he said. "If you don't know how to read, you don't know how to spell."

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Source: Pensacola News Journal -

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This entry was posted in Child Brain Development, Early Learning, Educational Games & Toys, Parenting & Education, Preschool & Kindergarten, School & Teaching.

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