Teaching middle school is not for the faint of heart. But if you're called to do it, you know there's nothing else quite like it. Join us in discussing what works - and what doesn't.

Does spelling count?

Sandra Wozniak President, NJ Association for Middle Level Education

Does spelling count? That used to be the big question. What students meant was “will you be taking off points for misspelled words?” While using technology in class now, the question is essentially, “do we have to spell words right on purpose?” I frequently use an online discussion tool. Many students use text speak and emoticons whenever they are using an online tool in their personal lives, be it social media or mobile. Students have learned a variety of ways to make their words become their voice, including emoticons, CAPITAL LETTERS, and lots of punctuation!!!!!! Some teachers allow that style of writing while using online discussion tools because it increases their excitement and engagement with the tool, freeing them to “learn the way they live,” Other educators feel that if you are using the tool for a class students should be practicing proper writing skills at all times, including spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, etc. What do you think? Does digital writing count?

Comments (47)

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Retired teacher educator - UMass, EDC, various school systems

Sorry, but I'm too conscious

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Sorry, but I'm too conscious of how teachers intervene, slip into directive vocabulary, and fail to encourage students to find their own voice. My experience is that kids initially view things with school the way they view things in their lives - and texting, etc. - produces odd anomalies. Then, preferably by comparing notes with each other, they teach themselves more nuanced communication. If anything, I'm a high school montessorian, who would rather "direct" the way they do in theater than the way they do in first and second grade. And I always, almost ritualistically remind them that there are more of them than of me, and that they can teach each other better and more than I can. OTOH (to use their own shortcuts), I know lots of stuff that can make their success a lot easier. Within a short time, they come to agree. Unless, of course, they don't.

I also cite community blogs, which are much better vehicles to "publish" papers about their lives and communities, and where the more formal "standards" are more intrinsic to the community they're gradually joining. So, rather than write for my eyes only, I find it far more productive for them to write for others, including me, and the advice they get is ... simply ... advice.

Incidentally, the software for this kind of communication doesn't always capture spelling, and I also get enraged at "grownups" who casually dump unedited text where intelligence should be the norm. Thanks for your timely and literate response.

One man science department

I actually prefer to approach

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I actually prefer to approach spelling much in the same way I approach writing - in layers. The first draft is designed to get the ideas, concepts, images, etc. out on the paper. Now that the ideas are safely out of my head, I can focus on making them as clear and concise as possible ( as well as handling any grammatical sins). The third draft is when someone else examines my work (usually my wife).

I teach my students to emulate this process. First, they write down their answers, ideas, hypothesis, etc. Next, they proof read their own work. This process includes underlining words they feel they might have misspelled. With dictionary in hand they then make any and all necessary changes. I then look over the third draft.

This offers me several tactical advantages. First of all, I can clearly differentiate between whether a student is having trouble understanding a concept or expressing their understanding. Second, it allows me to not only stress the material but reinforce the importance of proper spelling. Finally, it allows me to avoid the trap of just rewriting a student's work.

Founder, Improve-Education.org

First Content, Then Structure

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I actually have this on craigslist; might be useful for some:
"TIPS ON HOW TO WRITE AN ESSAY: Don't try to dash it off; there is a more efficient way. First, write down all the items you would like to cover. At least 10, maybe 20 or 30. Write them in any order and with just enough words so you don't forget the point. Read the list and ask: "Is this everything I want to cover in my essay?" Answer yes, and that means you have defined your CONTENT. Now go to the second phase, which determines STRUCTURE. Find the point that would be the most interesting way to start. Label that A. Then ask, what will be the next most interesting point to discuss. Mark that B. The next most interesting point is C, and so on to the last point. Now go back and read the points in the new sequence. If it sounds good, then rearrange the points on your computer screen and print them out. (Maybe wait a few days and come back with a fresh viewpoint.) Now you have a short version of your essay, sort of like a movie script on story boards. You can let your mind walk back and forth through your essay. When you are sure you have a good sequence, then you are ready to write. You may spend an extra hour at the start following this protocol; but you can save many hours in editing, rewriting, and worrying."

ELA teacher and educational author

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment

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Let's find out just what students know and what students do not know with respect to spelling. Then we can make instructional decisions re: how to grade, how to teach, and how to test. Here is a comprehensive diagnostic assessment with a nice recording matrix: http://penningtonpublishing.com/assessments/TSV%20Spelling%20Assessment.pdf

8th grade English language arts teacher in urban school district

Purpose and Audience

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As a writing teacher, my students and I always talk about purpose and audience. If the students are writing for themselves and you doing a casual assignment, then I would say you CAN give them leeway with spelling. If the audience and purpose is more formal and is being read by more than just you and your students, the writing should be more formal.

I think it's GREAT you're having them write in different ways. The most important thing is that their audience understands them.

The answer is "It depends..."

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Determining if spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc., counts depends upon what you are looking for. If you want creative writing, spelling (etc.) should be noted and have the student correct it, but not count against a grade as long as it gets rewritten correctly. You want to know the students' ideas and if they know how to put a creative piece together. If spelling (etc.) is part of the assignment (a research paper), then it does count. If you want age driven comments, it shouldn't count. If you want proper discourse, it does. Just marking something wrong and giving a poor grade teaches nothing except that if you aren't perfect the first time, there is no use in learning it at all because you are stuck with the grade you have. The learning comes when you give students the opportunity to improve what they have written. So if you prefer they not use text speak, a good lesson would be to open a topic twice, let them text speak response on one thread and require proper spelling (etc.) on the second thread. Then have the class compare and contrast the two. You'd be amazed at the reflection you can get from the students.

Founder, Improve-Education.org

Counting versus Correcting

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How much you want to subtract for errors is one thing.
In all cases, the teacher should mark mistakes, to show that good grammar is important and to tell the students where they went wrong. Otherwise, how do they know?

ELA teacher and educational author

Spelling is absolutely

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Spelling is absolutely essential. Check out this free comprehensive spelling diagnostic assessment with recording matrix to see which spelling patterns your students have and have not mastered: http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/free-instructiona...

Quote: How much you want to

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Quote:

How much you want to subtract for errors is one thing.

In all cases, the teacher should mark mistakes, to show that good grammar is important and to tell the students where they went wrong. Otherwise, how do they know?

Agreed

Retired teacher educator - UMass, EDC, various school systems

I never correct spelling.

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I never correct spelling. Instead, I ask them to email me papers, and post them on the SmartBoard using MS Word. That corrects the spelling while also inviting all students to help improve diction, usage and style. In an age when the tech is useful, USE IT!

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