I have been pondering changes to my spelling and word study program in my first grade classroom this year. Specifically, I wonder how I can look at my students' writing in ways that help me further their learning of words? How can I assess what high frequency words they are spelling correctly? How can I monitor where to go next with looking at word parts and sounds in words?
After lugging home 22 bright red and overflowing writing workshop folders with two months' worth of student writing in them over holiday break, the folders just sat in a pile. Instead of diving into their stories, I knew I needed to have some organizational tool that could help me record and look back at individual spelling successes and confusion.
I began to think about what expectations I have for my students as "spellers." I want my first graders to be fluent with high frequency words. I want them to be brave — to stretch sounds in words independently and use familiar word parts in their writing. With these ideas in mind, I reread my district's learning targets and parts of Spelling K-8 by Diane Snowball to check my thinking.
I was reminded of three areas that are important to first-grade spellers. These areas are spelling high frequency words, spelling phonetically (hearing and recording sounds in words) and spelling word parts (onsets, rimes or chunks, endings, digraphs). With my mind focused on these three areas, I began to create an assessment form that would help me record my findings. You can access the form I created by clicking here.
High Frequency Words
I knew I wanted my assessment form to be one page, easy to read, and include student spelling successes and confusions. I started with a list of the 100 high frequency words mentioned in Snowball's Spelling K-8. I knew having all the words on one page would make it easy for me to check off (sometimes multiple times) when a student had success spelling the word in his/her daily writing. Next to this list of high frequency words, I created a rectangular box labeled high frequency "confusions." Here I am able to write the misspelling followed by an arrow pointing to the intended spelling. For example, thay — they and cod — could. By noting these words and misspellings, I am able to quickly see the confusion and the intended spelling.
The middle of the assessment form includes an area to record what Snowball categorizes as word parts. Parts of words include onsets and rimes. The onset is part of the word before the first vowel (b in bat) and the rime is the part of the syllable from the first vowel onward (at in bat). Common onsets include single consonant sounds, digraphs, and blends. I decided to include an area to record the common digraphs (ch, sh, th and wh) on the form with room to add blends that the student is writing successfully. I also included an area for rimes and I listed the vowels so that I could easily sort the rimes underneath them. For example, under |a| I have listed words students are spelling successfully that have common rimes beginning with the many sounds of |a|. Words like cat, man and day are listed on student A's form because she has spelled the rime correctly within her writing. To the right of the word parts box, I have a rectangular box labeled word part confusions. This box allows me to record the word parts student A is confusing like nite — night or ceese-cheese.
Word Families, Interesting Words, Familiar and Unit Words
The last section of the form allows me a quick look at other areas that are important to me. I am using the phrase word families to refer to a group of words with related meaning that often have different suffixes or prefixes added to it. In this section of the form I included the suffixes s, ing and ed, knowing these are common endings first graders read and often include in their writing. I find this section especially helpful for my English language learners knowing word families are trickier for them. As I am reading, I like to jot down interesting words they have written so that I have a quick picture of vocabulary within writing as well. For example, I have recorded words like cooled, flowed and fierce on student A's form. Finally, I added a section for familiar and unit words after actually using the assessment form because I knew my students were using word charts within our room to spell words correctly.