In Grade One spelling tests are not a list of words to be memorized.  Instead they are practise with letters and their sounds.  Students complete a pretest on Monday with four words and one Most Common Word (sight word).  The post test is given on Friday using a different set of words but these test words are based on the same targeted letter group.  The Most Common Word remains the same.  During the week the students practise a variety of words that use only the same letters from the target letter group.  For example, to review the special vowel combination -LL the schedule would look something like this:

Monday Pretest: hill, well, call, droll
MCW: they
Dictation sentence:  The mall will be dull.

Tuesday: they, tall, will, dwell, toll
Wednesday: they, wall, spill, quell, lull
Thursday: they, all, drill, spell, quill

Friday Post test:  mill, dull, smell, troll
MCW:  they
Dictation Sentence:  Can a ball roll up a hill?

Students do their pretest and practise words in class with a notebook.  Friday’s post-test is done on the testing worksheet pictured below.  Your child’s teacher may administer the Post test on Thursday so that it can be corrected Thursday after school and then sent home to you on Friday.  If your child’s teacher administers the test on Friday you will receive it after the weekend on Monday. 

Marking System

The scoring of the spelling post test is laid out below. 

The four Skill Words receive 2 points each for a total of 8 marks.

The Most Common Word (sight word) receives 2 points.

In Grade One, students learn how to phonetically prove words.  For example, they practise marking an “X” under the vowel and an arc under blends and digraphs.  1 point is given for each correctly marked Skill Word.  Most Common Words are not marked because many of them do not follow phonetic rules. (More examples of markings for proving words can be found on the Word Recognition page of this blog.)

In the sentence 1 point is given for each correctly spelled word.

1 point is given for correct capitalization. This point is all or nothing; if there is more than one word that requires a capital the students will need to capitalize each word to earn the point. Additionally, if capital letters are printed in the middle of words or on words that do not require them no point will be awarded. 

1 point is given for correct punctuation. Like capitalization this point is all or nothing. If a sentence requires more than one punctuation mark students will need to include each punctuation mark to earn the point. 

Spelling Sequence

The instructional sequence for the spelling program follows the same order as the phonics taught to students through the Reading Horizons program (see the Word Recognition page of this blog).  Tests do not begin until January. This gives students almost half of the school year to master the letters and sounds taught before demonstrating their knowledge in a testing situation. 

The goal of phonics and spelling programming is mastery of the material.  Teachers will stay with a concept as long as the students show it is necessary.  Do not be surprised if spelling tests cover the same material for more than one week or if a spelling pattern appears again after a few weeks have gone by.  Cognitive science tells us that repeated spaced practise is the key to remembering.  Students must “use it or lose it”, as the saying goes, and our programming will be based on the needs of how much “use” (retrieval) is needed.      

Spelling Research

Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, OWL LD, and Dyscalculia by Virginia Berninger and Beverly Wolf is an excellent book that summarizes research on, among other topics, spelling.  The points that follow are from Chapter 4 entitled “Assessment-Instruction Links for Word Reading/Spelling and Related Language Processes.”

Word level reading is the process of translating written words into spoken words. Spelling is the process of translating spoken words into written words.  (pg. 61)

Learning English means learning phonological skills, orthographical skills, and morphological skills.  These skills must be taught explicitly, systematically and in a logical sequence.  They are interrelated and it is necessary to teach them all for both word reading and word spelling. (pg. 60)

Phonemic Awareness is knowing that words are composed of many individual sounds.
Orthography is knowing spelling patterns in words as well as writing conventions such as capitalization and punctuation.
Morphology is knowing how word parts added to a root word can change the meaning of the word (e.g. lock, locking, locked, locks, locker, unlock). (pg. 71) It is also knowing word origins and that words connected by meaning are connected by spelling (e.g. silent “b” at the end of bomb is pronounced in the words bombard and bombardment). (pg. 76)

It is important that students know the meaning of the words they are learning to spell.  Word meanings give clues to phonological, orthographic, and morphological aspects or words. (pg. 79)

“Students also have to be taught to apply their phonological, orthographic, and morphological awareness to decoding written words so that they can pronounce them during oral reading or identify them during silent reading.  The goal is to provide structured, guided practise in applying the three kinds of linguistic awareness to the word decoding/identification process.”  (pg. 72)

“That is, in the sound-to-spelling direction, English has more alternations or options than in the spelling-to-sound direction.  These options can be called substitutes in the spelling direction and nicknames in the reading direction to draw explicit awareness to the alphabet principle in both directions…A good analogy that teachers can tell students is that, just like a coach substitutes players so that one player does not get too tired, English substitutes different spelling units for the same sound so that no one spelling unit is overworked or gets too tired.” (pg. 78)

Research supported guidelines for teaching spelling are: (pgs. 80 – 82)
1.  Less is more. 15 minutes a day of spelling practise is more effective than an hour a day (Rice, 1987).
2.  Learning occurs over time.  Spelling is best taught with brief sessions daily distributed over months (Dreyer, Luke, and Melican, 1995).
3.  Teach high-frequency words (Fry, 1996).  The Reading Horizons program refers to these as Most Common Words.
4.  Teach multiple spelling strategies such as spelling patterns, word families, high-frequency words, grammar, subject content words, etc.
5.  Play with language (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2000).  Use riddles, puns, jokes in teaching spelling.
6.  Teach orthographic strategies (Berninger & Wolf, 200b). Suggestions for this are close your eyes and see the word in your mind’s eye, identify words horizontally, vertically, or diagonally through word searches, unscramble words using anagrams (Dixon & Englemann, 2001). 
7.  Teach morphological strategies (Dixon & Englemann, 2001).  Build up root words using prefixes and suffixes and teach word meanings.

“Spelling may appear deceptively on the surface to be a mechanical skill because it does not require conscious attention to integrate it with composing processes in a fluent manner.  However, the research evidence shows that spelling is a complex skill drawing on many language processes, including vocabulary meaning, acquired over time (Stahl & Nagy, 2005). (pg. 60)

A Very Short Summary
1. Spelling is a complex practise in which students learn sequences of letter sounds that create meaningful words, sequences of letter patterns that create meaningful words, and the meaning of those words. 
2.  The goal is mastery of the letters sounds, letter patterns, and word meanings.  Word spelling mastery in which word spelling is automatic makes reading and writing easier.
3.  Spelling must be explicitly taught.
4.  There are research supported best practises for teaching spelling. 


Reading Horizons Kindergarten Program
Reading Horizons Discovery Program
Virginia W. Berninger & Beverly J. Wolf