Differentiated Spelling

Over the last few weeks I have been working on a new spelling contract for my students. I firmly believe in differentiated spelling lists but I am tied to to my district’s spelling curriculum. It’s been an uphill battle as I try to come up with a compromise that I am happy with! I think I finally have it. This week I plan to give my students the Upper Level Inventory from Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (4th Edition) and then level them into 2-3 groups.

Each week I will give our normal spelling pretest on Monday, using the district curriculum. However, in a change from the past, there will no longer a “Get 100 on the pretest and you have no spelling test on Friday” rule. Each student will grade their pretest. Then, each word that they spell incorrectly will go on their spelling list for the week. Once they write those words on their personal list, they will then choose from a leveled list until they have 20 spelling words for the week (20 most weeks, though more or less in certain weeks, according to the curriculum). The students will then complete a spelling contract that will be due on Friday. Friday morning, students will give each other their spelling tests in pairs

I think this will be manageable for me while still serving the students best. As I use a points system for grading (e.g. a spelling test would be a 20/20 instead of a 100), this will allow for even more differentiation. Should a student have more or less words than the rest of the class one week, it will not upset my grading system. This format will also allow me to follow the same schedule that we have always used for formal spelling. I do not have enough hours in the day to cover all the subjects necessary for language arts. I hate devoting a good chunk of time to whole-class spelling instruction on a daily basis. This allows me to focus on spelling on Monday and Friday while the students continue to work on it at home Tuesday through Thursday. That lets me concentrate on grammar Tuesday-Thursday.

If you are interested in my weekly spelling contract, check it out. One of my new additions is requiring a semantics map each week (an idea I gleaned from Emily Kissner’s Differentiated Spelling Program). The semantics map will cover our core curriculum standards for increased use of the dictionary and thesaurus, something most students need. At the same time, the contract gives them a choice of various other activities to choose from in order to fulfill all the weekly requirements. It’s a combination and compromise that I am happy with.

What about you? Do you use a differentiated spelling program in your classroom? How does it work?


8 Responses

  1. I’m not a fan of spelling lists from the curriculum, because you’re right – there’s no differentiation. It sounds like you’ve come up with the perfect solution for making your district happy while still meeting your students needs!

  2. That sounds about exactly how I do my spelling. With only the difference that I do not give a pretest per say, but they do a Buddy Check test on Thursday before the Friday test, just to check themselves and see what needs a little final work. I love not being the main part of the spelling regime, but more the monitor. The students themselves are the teacher.

  3. great idea!!!!

  4. It is too early to comment on how it is going for me, but I am also using Words Their Way inventories. My school is dual immersion, so I gave them both the Spanish inventory and the elementary inventory. I have not been able to do the summary sheets on all students yet, but I am already seeing trends and it looks like it will be fairly easy to put them into groups. I am also going to use a lot of ideas from Word Play (http://www.amazon.com/Word-Play-Building-Vocabulary-Disciplines/dp/0325013721/ref=pd_bbs_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1220827412&sr=8-2)

  5. I am using this book as well. I gave the inventories today. They are so revealing! I am bucking the system in my school though b/c everyone is devoted to the spelling program. Not sure how it will go. One person is sort of trying to figure out what to do b/c she is loosing faith in the spelling workbooks, so I might be able to bring her over. 🙂

    This is the first year that I am going to really be serious about using the book. I really wish I could buy the games/activities pre-made!!

  6. I did something like you’re describing last year with my sixth graders (thankfully our corporation is using Words Their Way district wide this year). I don’t know if you’ve read the book, and you can take this for what it’s worth, but WTW is built upon the prinicples of students working with words at their developmental level and using the word sort to study one or two contrasting spelling patterns. So, here’s something to think about – how will students be able to study a spelling pattern when they are picking words from two different lists that may not correlate?

    Last year, I was also tied to a basal spelling program, so what I did was inventory my class. I basically had three groups. Two of the groups worked with words out of the word sort books that the authors of WTW developed because the spelling book did not fit their instructional levels. One of those groups was below and one was above. The third group used words from the basal spelling series, but we didn’t do every list. I went through the book and choose the lists that focused on a pattern that we would be able to do the word sorts with. I ran out of lists before the end of the year, so I used lists from the derivational patterns book from WTW. All of my students were very successful. Contact me if you have any questions. Best of luck!

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