Monday, July 16, 2012

Daily 5 Book Study Ch. 6 Questions/Musings on Word Work

We Read, We Blog, We Teach

I've been following the Daily 5 book study hosted by We Read, We Blog, We Teach, anxiously waiting for discussion about Chapter 6 and specifically about Word Work.

Word Work is the one component of Daily 5 that is causing me some concern.  I've always had issues with the typical spelling program (you know...the one where you give out the list of weekly spelling words to all students on Monday, assign some homework sheets for the week and then give the spelling test on Friday.)  And typically, I found that students promptly 'forgot' how to spell those words, as it didn't transfer to their writing, which is really why we do spelling in the first place, isn't it??

It didn't take me long after I started teaching (many moons ago) to realize that this type of spelling format didn't work for me OR my students and so, over the past 10 odd years I have played around with spelling/word study, searching for the structure that would work for me and more importantly work for ALL my students, not just the middle of the road students (which most spelling programs seem to target).

 A few years ago, I discovered Words Their Way and thought I had finally found a program that would work...well, it worked for the kids, but it didn't quite work for me...I had a heck of a time juggling the four different spelling groups and getting the kids to work independently while I was working with a spelling group.  I know now, in hindsight after reading the Daily 5, that we needed to do way MORE modeling of behaviour and expectations in the class.

Last year, I implemented what I call a 'compromise spelling program' which I based on Beth Newingham's word study program.  It followed the developmental phase outlined in Words Their Way, but all the students followed the same pattern of study, with the exception of challenge word lists for students who got 90% or better on the pretest.  I also made up games & activities to go along with every unit of study (a lot of work on my part!) which students rotated through on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, & Thursdays and created a word study homework packet for each unit that students took home on Monday and brought back on Friday.  It was a lot of work and although the kids (and the parents) liked the program, I was left feeling that:
  • a) I wasn't meeting all my students needs (my lowest students found the words too challenging and my highest students didn't find the challenge words challenging!)
  • b) I was working harder than my students (there was a lot of prep involved)
On a positive note, these were the things I liked about the program:
  • a)  They had a list of 5 high frequency words they needed to learn each week (based on where they were) and worked through the list, highlighting the words they spelled correctly
  • b) They got to work on their spelling pattern words through games and activities regularly through the week
  • c) It DID follow a developmental pattern
  • d) Parents liked the program (Let's face it...half the time we do spelling to appease the parents!)
So, here I am in the summer, stressing over thinking about how I can redo tweak word study in my classroom for next year, within the Daily 5 structure.

Here's what I'm wondering/thinking:
  1. Are teachers doing word work in addition to a more traditional spelling program?
  2.  How can I use Words Their Way (which I really like) within the Daily 5 structure?
  3. Do I really need to have a Friday spelling test and how do I justify NOT doing it to parents?
  4. If I don't do a weekly spelling test, what will I use to assess student spelling abilities?
  5. Can I/should I delegate some of the Words Their Way activities for homework thereby freeing up some time for other word study activities in class (knowing that there will be some students who will not get the support they need at home?)
  6. How can I use  Words Their Way within the Daily 5 structure (I know, I've already mentioned this one, but it's a biggy!LOL)
I will be reading all the comments related to Word Work from the book study, but if you have any suggestions or if you have managed to find a way to meld Words Their Way with Daily 5 I would LOVE to hear from you! Pretty please! :)


  1. Hi Monica, made my way here from the Daily 5 book study. I don't know much about the Words Their Way program, but I can comment on some of your questions. I stopped doing a weekly Spelling Test 3-4 years ago. My justification? We have a standards based report card and letter grades as well. Spelling was a Writing standard but not a letter grade so I didn't need the averaged scores that a spelling test would give me. How did I get the measure for the spelling standard? From their writing. I assess their spelling ability and skill development by looking at the writing they do every day. I worked this into the conferring piece of Writing Workshop. When I confer with my students and help with editing, I make note of just how many spelling errors there are. Yes, they are writing in a way that comes naturally to them, but isn't that what we want to measure anyway? I don't want to see that they can spell a list of words correctly after studying them for a week. I want to see how they are progressing with words in their daily writing. I don't expect perfection either. If most of the writing is without error students are scored with the highest mark for the standard. Students who have enough errors that it is a little distracting to someone reading their writing are scored one level down. If there are many errors that are difficult to decipher they are scored at the third level. If I have to ask them to tell me what it says, they are scored at the lowest or intervention level. I think it's reasonable and easy to explain to parents. You could also make a rubric that lends itself to such scoring. Good luck. I look forward to hearing your ideas on my suggestions.

    1. Hi Ms. Turnage, thanks for sharing your suggestions about the weekly spelling test. I'm wondering - how did your parents react to the lack of a weekly spelling test?...was it an issue? . . .I'm thinking that maybe I'm making more out of potential parent negative reaction than there might be?!? Spelling is also a Writing standard in our province, so creating a rubric for spelling errors within daily writing would definitely work. If I chose a sample of their writing each month to assess, it would give me (and parents)a nice picture of how students are progressing. :)

  2. Hi, Monica.

    I really appreciate your thoughts and concerns about word work. I have been tweaking mine for the last couple of years, and have been very upfront with parents about it. I have had a good response.

    I am using Words Their Way, and I am continue to work on juggling spelling groups within my Daily 5. I do not give spelling homework, although kids are usually expected to complete some kind of word work activity each week during Daily 5 time. I only assess their list of words every 2 weeks, and I do this through 5 dictation sentences where they receive a grade for the grammar of the sentence as well as the correct spelling of about 10 of their words. I give the tests to all of the students simultaneously, and they do a good job.

    I continue to feel that my lowest spellers still struggle with retention of the correct spelling patterns, but my higher end spellers grow dramatically in their increased knowledge of language, spelling patterns, and new vocabulary.

    I asked parents if they were okay with how our system worked, and they were. At the beginning of the year, I explained to them the thought process behind WtW, and my philosophy behind spelling, and they all seem to be okay with it. I offer the bi-weekly spelling tests as a way to help them with the transition. (Parents seem to like that spelling is something easy to help their child with)

    I give the WtW inventory at the beginning of the year, again around Thanksgiving, and again around spring break. I have found that many of my students continue to move up through the stages.

    I hope that this has been some help. Let me know if you have any questions...

    Lifelong Learning

  3. I had been thinking about doing Beth Newingham's program this year, so it is interesting to hear another perspective - I had done Words Their Way before and ended up with 5 groups and never really felt effective in teaching it that way - and it was WAY too much work. I was hoping her system would be easier, but it sounds like it might not be... I am your newest follower, so I am looking forward to seeing if you come up with any solutions :)

    1. Hi Kelly! I felt EXACTLY like you when I discovered Beth Newingham's program. I thought it would be a good compromise but I'm still not happy with the word study. I like how she included the High Frequency words but I had about 5 or 6 students who were working at a much lower level than the unit we would be working on and about 2-3 students who could have been working at a much higher level (that's 7-9 students out of of the class...yikes!)

      I will definitely be musing and reflecting on Word Work, so stay tuned and thanks for being my newest follower :)

  4. Hi Monica!

    I've done WTW for four years now, and while it can be a lot of work, I definitely feel it's the way to go. A few things that have helped us are:

    Switching students with another teacher so you only have 2-3 groups to teach as opposed to 4-6.

    Make your highest group as independent as possible. Writing out directions for them ahead of time seems to help.

    Usually, I'll meet with a group, while the other group is cutting out their word sorts and working with partners to figure out the patterns. Then I leave my first group to work on their sort, go to the next group, go over their sort, and let them glue them down. Ideally, my independent group has been working away at this point, and I can go over to check in.

    For homework, we do spelling tic-tact-toe: a grid of activities the students choose 4 in a row to do from. If they finish their sort, they may begin their tic tac toe activities.

    I only do 1 day of guided instruction. The rest of their practice is during Daily 5-working with spelling task cards-, during homework, or during writing conferences.

    I have found WTW can be too much for my lowest guys. If I feel like they aren't progressing, I usually will switch to a program called "signs for sounds" which seems to help them.

    My program is not perfect by any means, but I have found it manageable! Hope that helps a little bit!!!


    1. Thanks for sharing, Megan. I like the idea of making the highest group more independent. I've been thinking of staggering the guided instruction over a few days (lowest group meets on Mon., next group on Tues., etc.) I'm curious as to how long you spend with each group on Monday? Having another teacher come in and take a group is not an option for me :( I know in the past, I have had 4 groups.

    2. I usually try to meet with each group 10-15 minutes. Would a parent volunteer be an option for you??