(Petra’s Spell-a-thon is our annual elementary fundraiser in which families and friends of Petra sponsor student spelling words. Click here for sponsorship information for Spell-a-thon.)
There is a common misconception in this day and age of autofill, autocorrect, and spell check that spelling is not as important as it used to be. But that’s not the case at Petra Academy.
Spelling is an integral part of our elementary curriculum from Kindergarten to 6th grade, and we want to keep it that way. We know that spelling is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to communicating big ideas and timeless truths. So how do we prepare students to learn the big ideas of classical literature? By teaching them the big ideas behind spelling. Here are a couple of examples of how spelling instruction takes place in our classrooms.
Within the first two weeks of our integrated 6th grade Latin vocabulary and spelling curriculum, students were already discovering the relationship between Latin root words and English derivatives. As elementary Latin teacher Elizabeth Wickland explains, “The English word “sylvan” came from the Latin word “silva,” meaning forest or woods. One student made the observation that “sylvan” was in “Pennsylvania” and I was able to explain that the state’s name means “Penn’s woods.”
This story seems the type you would hear about at the end of the year, but students are already grasping the concepts presented. Spearheaded by Mrs. Wickland and 6th grade teacher Sarah McClaflin, our curriculum makes students’ understanding of spelling and knowledge of Latin even more accessible and applicable. Students learn Latin vocabulary alongside English derivatives and practice and learn how to spell the English words for spelling tests.
For example, terra is one of their Latin vocab words meaning earth; an English derivative of terra is the spelling word terrestrial, an adjective describing something earthly. “The English language is not our own,” Mrs. McClaflin says. “We’ve borrowed a lot from Latin.” She mentions the fact that students have an easier time with spelling when they can see the connections between words rather than simply memorizing “the way it is.”
On the other end of the hallway, Mrs. Miller has been teaching Kindergarten students letters and phonograms for 9 years at Petra. “Reading is like a magic code they get to break,” she says with a smile. “Students start in our Pre-K and Kindergarten classes learning all the different sounds that the letters can make and by the end of the year they’re sounding out words on the signs all over the school.”
As for the method, students begin by learning phonograms and spelling rules. At the outset it seems a lot to learn for a little kindergartener, but by the end of the year they know all 70 basic phonograms and take that foundation all the way through elementary. This specific and focused introduction of phonograms and spelling rules is built upon in each grade, with the end goal being that students know how to learn to spell all words, not just specific words.
The spelling skills that students are learning in grammar school are vital for becoming more confident readers both in class and on their own. It also makes them more capable of tackling the big ideas in the classical texts that they read in their secondary years.
Mrs. McClaflin and Mrs. Wickland both point out that any modern student’s vocabulary would be stretched by classical literature, but here at Petra, they are gaining the tools they need to be able to learn, understand, and use any new word they come across. We’re not just teaching students what to learn; we’re teaching them how to learn (and how to rightly spell what they learn).
The benefits of this spelling instruction are evident: during last year’s Spell-a-thon, the average score across all grades was 93 out of 100 words spelled correctly; the year before, it was 92. Not only are the scores good, but our students learn to love spelling and reading and want to do both well.
Spell-a-thon is one of the many ways that we get our students excited about learning, and it’s also one of the many ways families can be involved in our school. Thanks for being a vital part of awakening the love and wonder of spelling and reading in your students…and helping us cover the costs to do so!