The district is looking into alternative ways of teaching spelling to students in an effort to increase mastery among grades kindergarten through five.
According to Cheryl Dyer, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, the district currently uses a program called Words Their Way in its classrooms.
“The program is very good, but does not always result in the level of mastery that the newly adopted Common Core State Standards require,” she said.
These standards, Dyer said, were adopted in the state a few years ago, and all districts are required to implement them this year.
Dyer said that Candy Mulligan, supervisor for language arts in grades kindergarten through six, has been working with elementary teaching specialists to determine if materials published by Zaner-Bloser would serve the students better, particularly those struggling with spelling.
“She is going to have several teachers in each of seven schools in grades two through five pilot these materials next year,” Dyer said. “Toward the end of the year, she will analyze student growth in spelling to determine if switching to Zaner-Bloser is the right choice.”
Mulligan said the Common Core Standards are the main impetus for looking more closely at how the district teaches word study.
“In the past, we have taken a more developmental approach with our word study instruction in the district,” she said. “At the beginning of the year, we would assess all of the students to determine which spelling features they had previously mastered.”
That information, Mulligan said, would enable the teachers to focus instruction at students’ individual levels.
“What this means is that students who struggle as spellers might continue to focus on the same spelling features from one year to the next,” he said.
According to Common Core Standards, Mulligan said, there are more explicit grade level expectations that require students to have certain aspects mastered at the end of each school year.
“This makes it necessary for us to take a closer look at a program that will allow all students to rise to those standards,” she said. “We want to pilot this new program to see whether it can help all students meet the Commons Core Standards in a way that will allow us to still be mindful of our students’ learning differences.”
The new standards, Mulligan said, are broken down among the different grade levels. For kindergarten and first grade, she said, students are expected to build a solid foundation about phonemics, namely using conventional spelling for words with common patterns and for frequently occurring irregular words.
“The standards also state that by the end of first grade, students should spell untaught words phonetically, drawing on phonemic awareness and spelling conventions,” she said.
In second grade, Mulligan said, students are beginning to look at spelling patterns, like vowel teams and consonant blends, and by the end of third grade, they are supposed to be using spelling patterns and generalizations, with syllables and other aspects.
“This tells us that second and third grade are going to be two very important years where we need to make sure that students are receiving explicit instruction related to a wide variety of spelling patterns,” she said.
Although there are no specific standards for fourth grade, Mulligan said, she believes students should have a solid foundation by the end of that year.
“What this does is allow an increased focus on the connection between spelling and vocabulary as it relates to roots, prefixes and suffixes in the higher elementary and intermediate grades,” she said.
“This is a change because as it stands right now, there are certainly many students in fourth, fifth and maybe even sixth grade who are still learning a variety of spelling patterns because they may not have gotten the chance to learn them as early as second or third grade,” she added. “Hopefully this helps to explain why this is something we think is important to take a closer look at through the implementation of our spelling pilot.”
Board of education member Jill Gladstone said at the July 24 board of education meeting that it will be a full-year program.
“There is considerable interest from teachers to participate,” she said. “If it works, we will probably purchase it for grades two through five for the following year.”