MTest results indicated that spelling was an area our students needed to make significant improvement in. As a faculty, we recognized that a renewed spelling focus in language arts would not be enough; spelling had to become a school-wide goal.
In a world of "wuz" and "IBilly" notes at school, teachers often struggle to help students understand the difference between shortcuts in notes between friends or in chat room conversations and language that is appropriate for written tests, papers, and other school assignments. Additionally, today's teens often seem to believe that they only need to use "formal language" and correct spelling on language arts or English papers. After all, aren't other teachers responsible only for the stuff like history, math, or science?
Test results and teacher comments supported the need for additional spelling instruction. I knew in my "" that that could not be only a language arts effort, so I brought the issue to the entire faculty. Making spelling a school-wide focus and responsibility was a pretty easy sell. As is the case with other important issues at this level -- from classroom behavior to dress codes -- teachers recognize that when the entire team expects a minimum standard of performance from every student, students come to respect the established boundaries and ground rules.
When our district adopted a new K-12 language arts curriculum, our middle/junior high teachers thought it appropriate to search for a spelling basal. I agreed that having a spelling program would be one more way we could show students how important spelling is to us. A committee of teachers was appointed to select a spelling textbook.
Teachers on the spelling-book committee examined different spelling programs and spelling research. We found much research that supported teaching spelling in context rather than with the traditional list of weekly spelling words; that research tied in nicely with our plan to make spelling a priority in all subjects -- in all contexts.
After consideration, we adopted the Rebecca Sitton Spelling Sourcebook K-8 Series as our school-wide model. Now every language arts classroom has spelling books, and every classroom sports a poster containing the 100 word most commonly misspelled words by middle/junior high school students. Those words have become our entire school's "no excuse" list. Every teacher expects students to correctly spell those words in written assignments.
While "wuz" and "IBilly" probably still appear in students' personal notes, they are almost non-existent in assignments and test answers. With our new emphasis on spelling firmly in place, the 100 commonly misspelled words are much more often than not "commonly spelled correctly."
We fully expect that our renewed emphasis on spelling in student work will be reflected in the students' state test results this spring.
The key to success with any initiative at this level is faculty commitment. It is not surprising that when a strategy is supported by research, and when expectations are consistent from classroom to classroom and from subject to subject, positive results are almost always realized.
About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled... series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. Six principals comprise our How I Handled team; two of them are elementary school principals, two work at the middle level, and two are high school principals. Team members remain anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.