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Spelling Test-7/8th grade L.A. (fair/unfair?)


Junior Member
Hello, I'm a recently took on a longterm substitute til the end of the year for a teacher that was put on administrative leave. I was the 4th substitute teacher that this group of students have had since their teacher was sent packing. The other subs "did one day and out" because the students were out of control. Well, the administration practically begged me to stay after my first day and I agreed.

The 7/8th grade students are with me 3 times a week. Twice for an 1.5 block and on Fridays for 30 minutes.

The first week, we did a writing practice for our state assessment (AIMS) and when I graded the students work I was really appalled at their spelling and grammar mistakes. Also, we I have a reading block each day for my homeroom class and I observed a lot of comprehension and reading problems for this grade level. One of the state standards is vocabulary and all their writing is graded according to 6 traits of writing rubric which scores for conventions (spelling) and word choice.

So, I did some research on 7/8th grades spelling tests on google.com and I found several links for words.

So, on Monday I gave my students a list of 20 words and I created a worksheet for them to complete with definitions (denotations), and to write the word in a sentence using its proper context. I told them the test would be on Friday and the vocabulary worksheet was due prior to them taking the test and it counted 20% of their grade.

When I told them I was giving them a spelling test til the end of the year , they whined. I also said that they would have 5 - fill in the blank definition words and 3 - write complete sentences. The complete sentence words were - emperor, guarantee, and consequence. About 1/3 of the students didn't even try them.

I then told them that it was an easy grade and it would be as painless as possible. Each time I saw them I allowed them 15 minutes to look up their words in the dictionary. Well, on Friday I administered the test and collected about 1/3 of the vocabulary worksheets.

I had a lot of excuses that I left it at home and I don't have a dictionary.
Once I accepted the I "don't have a dictionary answer" from one student, about 10 other students used the same excuse.

The results of the test were pathetic. Most of the students didn't study and the scores are really low. The students are 75% bilingual. One of other teachers (social studies) said that I was being unfair to the students and that 7/8th graders didn't take spelling tests.

I didn't argue with her because she has been teaching at the school for 10 years and she knows these students better than I. But for goodness sake the words were easy (biscuit, vacuum, meringue) and only a few knew what a biscuit and meringue was.



Meringue, biscuit and vacuum

are HARD words. I don't know if the majority of adults would spell those words correctly, but I'm betting most of them would have trouble.

Spelling lists and tests have been the exact opposite of best practice for a long time. Yes, I know they're common practices. That doesn't make them effective, doesn't mean they work. They don't. Just because you see something everywhere doesn't mean it works or is best practice. I think you can/should spend instructional time in far more fruitful ways. The ability to spell well really is the ability to visually image, and is pseudo-academic. Spelling instruction takes an inordinate amount of time in classrooms across the country, every week.

Grammar and vocabulary instruction is not usually very helpful in isolation--here's a word, look it up, use it in a sentence. It's hard to retain words learned in isolation that way. It's better to have them get the meaning of words from the context of whatever they're reading--fiction or nonfiction. Here's a sentence, underline the noun and cross out the prepostion are time-honored ways of teaching grammar, but why? If they can identify the adjective in a sentence, how does that help their writing? Really, what good is that skill? I don't mean that it's USELESS, but in your lifetime, how many times have you had to identify the adverb in the sentence? Away from the world of standardized testing, it just doesn't come up.

Working on reading comprehension (where you noticed problems) is a place I would spend a lot of time. THAT is worthwhile, and real-world skill stuff. Use KWL charts when reading nonfiction and text books, use lots of prediction and "what do you think" evaluative questions in fiction. This is where you get all grammar and vocabulary work, if you want to do it--do it all in context, everytime. Don't use the new word in a sentence--look at the word in this sentence, on page whatever, and without going to the dictionary, tell me what it means.

Remember that these kids are learning a foreign language, and it's hard! People working in a second language will not be as proficient as people working in their first language. Also, is a student has not achieved literacy in their first language (this is true of so many of the Mexican immigrants), then literacy is a second language is particularly difficult. I try to encourage my Mexican immigrant kids to read and write in Spanish as much as in English. It's so beneficial for them, much more beneficial than English-only.

There are many programs that propose to help you with these areas, but you don't need them. They will sell you a lot of worksheets and graphic organizers, but you can find those yourself, or make your own that will be EXACTLY what you need. Look at what YOUR kids need, right now, and know that they are at different levels and need different interventions. There is no program that is at the proper level for all your students, or that is stressing the particular skills that your one-of-a-kind, individual students need. Be your own "program." It's not teaching if it's just herding kids through the same worksheets and lessons on the same day.

Finally, this must be some humdinger of a class to have chewed through so many long-term subs! You must be awesome to hang in there like this. You're doing something right, so keep it up. I don't think the other teacher should have shot down what you were doing, just out-of-hand. After all, you have to do SOMETHING with these kids, don't you? And they're at the very worst age of all. While I offered some advice about what is/isn't best practice, please know that I admire your tenacity and determination.

Ima Teacher

Senior Member
Actually, those are pretty difficult words. For a few years I taught exactly the same way that the "been there forever" teacher taught . . . and I hated it. The kids that struggled, still struggled, and the kids that knew it were BORED. Plus, some didn't know how to SPELL the words, but could use them correctly and vice-versa.

Once I realized that the world was not going to screech to a halt if I taught my own way, I quit with the old spelling/vocabulary tests and started only doing what the kids needed.

Some needed sight words--spelling AND usage while others only needed challenging words spelling help and no usage help. Some kids had 5 words a week and others had 20 words. It worked a lot bette because the kids got what they needed. Sure, it took more planning on my part, but I didn't spend as much time dealing with kids who didn't do their work.

In the past couple of years I've had reduced class time, so I now include spelling in my writing workshop instruction with the kids who need the most help.


not fair

Biscuit, vacuum, and meringue all have strange spelling roots based in old French! If you are going to teach spelling do it the Orton way with spelling patterns and multisyllabic words. Almost 90% of words fall into phonetic patterns. If 75% of the students are bilingual, writing lessons done as a class modeling activity is good because you can model proper oral language. Use current events to lead into background knowledge. For example, when we read about Katrina, everyone learned vocabulary about weather patterns and how hurricanes formed. Do your writing lessons orally and use an overhead. Kids love current events and making up sentences. I use Basic Writing Skills strategies and 6 trait.


Junior Member
Spelling words must have meaning

If the students do not know what the words mean, they will not feel a real need to learn to spell the words. Find out what they are interested in and adjust the vocabulary list to that. I have used their personal journals to make up spelling lists. I worked in a bilingual school and found that this worked so much better than a prescribed list. I did add a few words that I thought would help them in their writing in the topics covered in class but I never did them in isolation.

You are on the right track by asking for information. It will make your teaching a lot more rewarding.



I have been teaching 7th grade Language Arts for 10 years. I do spelling, but I get my words, (20 per week), from a list titled Most Misspelled Words For Grade 5. They have to look the word up in the dictionary and use it in a sentence. I loan out dictionaries and always get them back. One activity that they like is a paper that comes with the spelling list. There are four boxes across the paper for each word. In the first box they copy the spelling word. In the next box they write the dictionary definition. In the third box, their own definition based on what they found in the dictionary. In the last box they draw a picture. Now of course this is great for geography, vocabulary, etc. but I found that they really use their imagination and can turn any word into a picture. This process helps them to learn what the word means. As far as the Friday test goes, I have several students on a 10 word list. They are to pick the 10 words themselves but must do definitions/sentences for all 20. Last, I teach at the roughest inner city middle school in my district.



I agree with you. Biscuit, vacuum, and merinque are very easy words that my school would give to students at a fifth or sixth grade level. Emperor, guarantee, and consequence are also words that 7/8th grade students need to know as they are preparing for high school and entrance exams. I'm sorry, but if you don't know what a biscuit is in 7th grade, you need some tutoring. I think you should expose these children to young adult literature, and SOON!


Well, that's impressive

that you have fifth graders who can spell those words. I don't have sixth graders, or at least not many, who can spell those words.

Impressive, but how important? I still say that the majority of lang. arts time needs to be spent on reading and writing. Remember that these kids are graduating to a world with Spell Check, which we didn't have. Spelling takes way too much time in way too many classrooms. It's not only just sorta academic, it's developmental. Assuming a child has the ability to visually image (most of us possess it to some degree, but excellent spellers are excellent visual imagers--NOT necessarily excellent students), reading will teach them more anyday about spelling and vocabulary than all the worksheets and spelling tests in the world.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. :-)


If its one thing our school doesn't have is

A writing curriculum. We spend more time on spelling because we don't write as often as we should.


Consider teaching

spelling within the context of writing. What I mean by that is, I personally like to have my kids write all the time. While I conference with them (really, only minutes--no big deal), if I see they have need of a spelling generalization, I just give them a quick minilesson right there:

"Words that end in the /us/ sound USUALLY are spelled at the end with 'ous': marvelous, hideous, scandalous."


"If you are having trouble with 'competition,' go back to the root word,
'compete.' Now you know what the vowel after the p HAS to be. Having trouble with 'reception?' Go back to 'receive.' If an e comes after the c in 'receive,' it's going to do the same thing in MOST of the various derivations of the word--reception, receptor, receipt." That's a strategy that they can use their entire life, and involves no memorizing of lists, no tests. Instead, it involves reasoning, and contrary to popular (and often-spoken belief), English spelling is really quite regular and quite predictable. Not entirely predictable, but WAY more predictable than it's given credit for.

Most (not all) spelling programs want kids to spell phonemically. The trouble with that is that English is spelled morphemically, not phonemically. That's why we have so many terrible spellers. Instead of being taught to look at word parts (morphemes) we ask them to "sound it out" or to memorize a list. If we would teach language (both spelling and vocabulary) the way the language is put together, in morphemes, all students would have a much better time of it.

And--having said all that--spelling should be a tiny, tiny part of the language arts curriculum. A lot of people like to walk around with their noses up in the air about spelling and how "uneducated" poor spellers are. The fact is that spelling instruction that takes more than minutes a week is pseudo-academic, and when it takes time away from reading or writing, that's just mixed-up priorities. Spelling is developmental, and has everything to do with visual-imaging skills, not a lot to do with smarts or academics.


New Member
Not Fair

Students need to be left at ease more. I get a lot of hatred from students given too much work to do. If spelling is not a given class for the report card or final grade, do not bother giving it to them. You're giving yourself and your students more work. Besidese, if nobody even tries to complete the assignments, then they are not learning anything. The effort goes to waste, and the grade you chose to give them drops.