These wonderings about Word Work, just like with behavior management, are all theoretical. I don't have any kids to try this with. Some of these things I've done in the past, and I'll be bringing them back out of the bag come September, but a lot of this is brand new to me- so we'll see. Because I have a lot of ideas here, and I also get nervous about making my posts too long- I'm going to break this up a bit. This post will just be the getting ready part. I'll handle centers in the next post.
I don't have a problem coming up with word lists. I'm a big fan of the Ganske assessment, and have my own personal way of interpreting the data to decide on which features for how long a student gets. Are you familiar with Ganske at all? It's a 25 word test for four different developmental stages. The younger your students, the fewer stages you have to worry about- but you do occasionally end up with a couple of super clever kids who get up there to the last stage. In each of the 25 word lists there are five words for a specific feature. For example, in the first stage, there is a feature for short vowel sounds.
When I look over the data, any feature getting less than 5 points tells me how many weeks to work with that student on that feature. Student gets a four, then one week of work. Three equals two weeks, etc. And I start at the first feature and progress forward. Every sixth week I retest and see what progress they've made. Yeah, sometimes I have seven different lists. But eventually, over the year, they all seem to catch up to each other except for a couple of quirks and I might only have 4 lists going in any particular week. The time consuming part is talking over the words with the kids and giving the tests, but making stations for word work not so much. I generally rely on the same tried and true activities each week. But I'd like to switch that up more this year to incorporate some other elements.
The thing is- there's more to word work than just phonics/spelling features. I really need to be better at getting the kids to practice sight words, and also I need to incorporate language arts vocabulary like synonyms and compound words and the like. And then there's handwriting- which really comes down to fine motor skills, when you think about it. My plan is to only make the spelling part of the word work ten or twelve words. 2 features, five words each. Three features four words. I rarely do the four feature sort. It just seems inappropriate for my grade level. But if I had to- I would make the list up to sixteen words and still keep four words per feature. Three words only in a group feels silly to me. I'm going to split up my sight word lists into groups of five, and then there will be five additional language arts related words to whatever grammar deal we've got going that week. This grammar component will have to be flexible in the amount of words, because I don't want more than twenty words per week.
Ok- let's talk time management. Assessment wise, I keep this on a six week plan (even though I teach by the quarter). Spelling itself is not anywhere on my report cards, nor are sight words. So as far as grading goes, I'd link it pretty much as a participation grade and then see how it affects their overall reading and revision of writing. So in the first week of school, I've given the Ganske assessment- just one a day (usually I can stop after two days). I use the data to plan out my class word lists for the next five weeks. So one weekend of deep word strategy and I'm good for five weeks- lesson plans written for that time block, kapow! Looking good.
I use the Dolch lists for sight words, and there are five levels. There are some lists with nearly forty words on them- 220 words all said. If I do a simple 20 a day it will take me 11 days to get their initial data. I will therefore spend the first three weeks teaching word work center behaviors using their individual names before they get their own individual list. And that works out fine that the first six week spelling rotation will end with the quarter.
Lists are given from Monday to Monday. My reasoning for this has to do with my literacy block schedule. Monday's are morning meeting days, which means the only guided reading groups that get met with that day are the below grade level ones. This, in general, frees up at least two reading rotation blocks for me. So that will be the time that I meet with word groups and give out new words. But what about giving the test? Aha! I have a new plan for this. In my room, there is an old cassette recorder, and a good twenty or so unused still-in-their-plastic-wrap cassettes. Why do I need to give anybody a spelling test? All I have to do, is record myself saying the word, the sentence, and the word again. They listen to the tape, they can rewind it as much as they please to hear it again, and I'm free to just talk words in small groups, as opposed to droning out a test. And that is their listening center rotation for the day.
Since the first three weeks are assessment and routines and regulations and all- I've found that a great way to get them acclimated to word work is to use the names of my students as the word list. These will also be the first words that go on the word wall. And I'll save my word wall thoughts for another post as well- since I've never done this justice either. In the past, I thought up five or six different spelling activities and they did them all year and only the list changed. And yeah- they got bored. So did I. But here they are:
1) Write your sort - blarty blar. It was meant for them to always have a list to look back on whenever they sorted their words for a self check.
2) Word Shapes - long guys, tall guys, short guys (which I like, but it needs revamping) The idea of it is to see the word form in another way to give their brain an extra way of seeing if the word "looks" correct or not.
4) Create a Word Find - gave them a square grid and had them put in their words, fill in the extra spaces with the alphabet randomly, and then switch with a friend to solve. They actually liked this one pretty well.
5) Comic Fill-In - I'd take comics from the paper, blow them up a little, white out the speech bubbles, and then copy them for the kids to use to write their own sentences in using their words for the week. Probably broke tons of laws doing that- but I never sold them or shared them, so maybe I'm o.k. in the eyes of the law. This, you'd think the kids would like, but they didn't really go for it. And many times the sentences they wrote didn't make any sense, so I'm not so sure I was doing anybody a favor.
6) Scavenger Hunt - whilst reading any book of their choice, be on the look-out for words from their list, or words that matched the feature on their list. I found that most of the kids would willingly sit there with a book, but very few would ever notice that they found one of their words, and they rarely - if ever- noticed a feature.
7) Definitions - now this, I like, because they need the skill of how to properly use a dictionary- but the kids hated it. They had to look up two words a day and write down the definition. I really don't know how to make the dictionary exciting outside of the realm of finding a kick-ass word for Scrabble in order to defeat my Dad. And that's sort of a very specific and individualized motivation right there. Hard to pass that on.
*sigh* And then, in the end, they turned in their word work folders and I was supposed to grade them. Time consuming. And on top of it, spelling isn't even on our report cards. So what am I taking a grade for anyhow? So- the mission- that I have chosen to accept- is to create word work that 1) doesn't have to be graded and 2) actually provides legitimate practice that the kids should likely find enjoyable. Fingers crossed that this message does not self-destruct...