Search form

Ask Dr. Lynch: Say Goodbye to Spelling Tests?

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

This week, "Cooperative Learning 365," an EducationWorld Facebook fan, asks:

Should students be given weekly spelling tests?

ANSWER:  First of all, thank you for your question. Weekly spelling tests are a time-honored tradition in American elementary schools. For quite some time now, however, schools across the U.S. have elected to cut them out of their curriculum. Why? Because many education experts, like me, believe that they only test student’s short-term memory and do not assist students in gaining spelling mastery.

Over the last decade or so, many districts have elected to use a method called “word study,” which focuses on patterns instead of rote memorization. Word study is based on phonics, spelling and vocabulary and teaches students to examine, recognize and comprehend the patterns in words. An understanding of these patterns helps students master spelling more effectively.

Dr. Matthew Lynch

During word study instruction, students engage in challenging and motivational activities instead of simply memorizing a set of words. In order to become literate, students need hands-on practice with dissecting and rearranging word elements in a manner that permits them to generalize learning from remote, individual examples to entire clusters of words that are spelled the same way. In itself, word study is not a panacea, as there are exceptions to every rule. Students can, however, learn invaluable strategies that teach them how to read, write and spell words.

Word study also teaches students how to examine words so they can construct a deep understanding of how written words function.

Even though many educators and parents are totally against abandoning weekly spelling tests, it is my professional opinion that alternative methods of spelling instruction, such as word study, are more viable. If you are an educator who is still giving traditional spelling tests, I strongly urge you to give word study a try -- not because I said so, but because it will provide your students with balanced literacy instruction and exponentially increase their ability to read, write and spell.


About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.