I recall hearing about differentiated spelling words, for students in Word Study, the first time I visited the school I taught at in Rhode Island. I was unsure of how it would be possible to differentiate for students. Once I began teaching fourth grade in Rhode Island, I quickly learned the easiest way to find words for kids’ spelling lists was to pull misspelled words from their in-class assignments and their writer’s notebooks. However, I realized that creating personal word lists from just misspelled words in their writing wasn’t cutting it when it came time to give my students high-frequency word tests and the Elementary Spelling Inventory. Over time, I realized that a better method of selecting personal words for my students was by using the developmental categories, defined by Words Their Way, 4th Ed., was a better way for me to go. In fact, I saw marked improvement on weekly personal word tests and on the final Elementary Spelling Inventory I gave in June once I spent the final quarter of the school year differentiating my students’ weekly Word Study Instruction based on the developmental categories presented in Words Their Way.
This past Monday, I attended an informative session at the TC Writing Institute, with Christine Cook-Robson, entitled “Assess and Plan for Differentiated Word Study.” Cook-Robson spoke about the benefits of differentiating word study instruction in the primary classroom by assessing students, grouping them together by need, creating structures and activities that work for a variety of concepts you wnat to teach, and then creating a plan for each of the groups. I think the greatest message of Cook-Robson’s session, which I wish I had heard when I dove head-first into differentiation two years ago, was this:
Think about your groups and the whole class teaching you want to do. Then, make a plan to teach the activities. Next, set up a management board and let these activities run as centers.
Cook-Robson’s bottom line: start small and make the differentiation you do in word study manageable so you are teaching effectively.
I know, from personal experience, how tiring it can be to pull lists of personal words for kids week-after-week. However, using the stages from Words Their Way this past spring made a seemingly tedious task easier and much more productive for the children. If you haven’t seen Words Their Way, then click here to find out more. While I didn’t use the actual program in my classroom with my entire class, I used some of the assessment tools and found the stages to be exceedingly effective when it came to differentiation amongst my students.
Finally, I found some Spelling Assessments on the TCRWP that are accessible to the general public. Click here to view those assessments.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).