Recently we held another teacher workshop on the “Words their Way” approach to spelling. I’ve talked about this approach before, which we have trialled in different year levels for some 18 months. All of our trial results have been positive with all classes recording an average student growth rate of between 6 – 24 months over the 6 month test period. We used Hattie’s formula to calculate the effect size between classes.
The consistent variables in the test results between classes include: teacher knowledge about the approach, frequency of spelling sessions over a fortnight, teacher commitment to the program, ability to structure or program sessions over a fortnight so that all students receive explicit instruction at their level and of course resources.
This year for the first time all classes (Prep – Year 6) were expected to implement the approach within their writing workshops. After the first 6 months we again experienced varying levels of growth rates with a general trend downwards as the students got into higher year levels. These results coincided in the upper level with the biannual staging of the senior musical (3 months in production), the usual weekly sporting commitments, a 10 session drama program over 10 weeks and weekly instrumental music lessons for 25% of students – all of these compete for space within the 25 instructional hours of a week. This is of course on top of our weekly specialist lessons in Visual Arts, Mandarin, Physical Education and Music.
It would be too easy to use these competing demands simply as an excuse for lower than desired results in spelling if we were not prepared to alter some things – and we are ,with some programs finishing in the second semester and some programs being deleted from the schedule for 2013.
What we do need to do is continue skilling up teachers in the program – hence the session a few weeks ago.
‘Words their Way’ as an approach that teaches students about the way language works as opposed to the simply drilling or wrote memorization of words we all did in school. I still think there is a place for the memorization of words preferring the ‘Look, Say, Name, Cover, Write and Check’ strategy – it’s just not as the only way people learn to spell correctly – simply there are too many words in the English Language to do this with – we need something more efficient – hence “Words Their Way’.
I’d be interested to hear from practicing teachers experiencing similar problems or effectively using this approach in their classrooms.