If In Doubt, Circle It Out! How To Create A Class Of Independent Spellers

The Standards & Testing Agency have in some ways made the marking of spellings more problematic than it’s ever been. They state quite clearly that individual spellings should no longer be pointed out to children  if you wish to mark it as an independent piece. This, coupled with Ofsted’s move away from heavy amounts of marking needing to be seen in books, could make the marking of spelling seem tricky.

What the The Standards & Testing Agency do say is that you can tell a child, through marking or conferencing, that there are spelling errors in certain paragraphs that they’ve written. This is quite sensible if we wish to develop children as independent spellers [LINK].

We have tried to create a culture of independent spellers in our classroom by splitting up the writing process for children – and you can read more about that here

We’ve taught our pupils, at the very beginning of the year, that when they are writing, and they get to a word they want to use but can’t spell, they are to:

‘Sound Spell’ It -> Circle It -> Continue.

A good body of research has shown how sound spellings play an important role in helping children learn how to write (LINK, LINK, Young & Ferguson 2023). When children use sound spellings, they are in fact exercising their growing knowledge of phonemes and their confidence in the alphabetic principle. It also indicates that the child is thinking on their own about the relationship between letters, sounds and words. This also aids their reading.

Once at the proof-reading stage, they attend to these spellings by looking them up on the computer or by using a dictionary. If it’s a common word, they sometimes look in their reading book at how another author spelt it. Alternatively, they use their electronic speller checkers or one of the smart speakers in the classroom. This has proved very successful in identifying maybe 80% of spelling errors within a piece.

If In Doubt, Circle It Out

At the end of a writing session, you can also give pupils around 5 minutes to ‘If In Doubt, Circle It Out’. This is where children, alongside their talk-partners, circle any ‘unsure spellings’ – spellings they think they might need to attend to at the proof-reading stage. This might take care of a further 15% of spellings. Finally, as their writer-teachers, will can look to identify where the last 5% spellings might be hiding through our pupil-conferences!

What we don’t do during writing time is regularly spell words for our pupils. Doing so would transform us from ‘writer-teachers’ to human dictionaries. When we make a habit of spelling words for children, our students are simply taking up dictation. This is not how spelling is learned. Just the opposite in fact. Students learn to spell by approximation and then seeing the conventional form (Jacobson, 2010, p.41). They also require explicit spelling instruction.

We should add that the children in our class take the proof-reading of their manuscripts very seriously because they know it’s being published to a genuine readership. We talk about the importance of publishing – here

To find out more about helping children proof-read their manuscripts to a high level of accuracy, please see our publication: No More: ‘My Pupils Can’t Edit!’ A Whole-School Approach To Developing Proof-Readers

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