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Super Spellers: Review + Giveaway

Picture it: 1993- The Regional Diocesan Spelling Bee. After becoming first runner-up in my school spelling bee, I went on to represent my school, St. William the Abbot, in the Regional Spelling Bee for Catholic schools in our area. I can’t remember if I won or was a runner-up again, but there I am receiving my trophy for spelling well! (I didn’t do as well in the Diocesan Spelling Bee- thus ending my short-lived reign as a Spelling Queen.)

As a student, I was always a good speller. Hundreds on weekly spelling quizzes and only the occasional spell-check when writing. As a teacher, my relationship with spelling is more complicated. For ten years I taught kindergarten and focused on helping emergent writers match sounds to letters. I praised their efforts when they would label pictures with beginning and ending consonant sounds. I understood that spelling wasn’t the most important thing when it comes to writing- the ideas were, but spelling definitely helped get the message understood more clearly.

As a third grade teacher, I find teaching spelling to be a puzzle. While students have been taught all the high frequency words prior to third grade, many still misspell words like “said”, “friend” and “could.” I’ve given students portable word walls with high frequency words on them and space to write in words they want to spell. Lately, I’ve been wondering if this is not really setting kids up for independence. Some students always ask me how to spell words without trying it on their own first.

In my opinion, whole class word lists, spelling homework and weekly spelling tests are not effective ways to help kids grow as spellers, but…I’m not really sure how to approach spelling. I’ve been conflicted about the best ways to teach spelling in an already packed curriculum. With spell-check and online dictionaries, is spelling correctly even all that important? I had a nagging feeling I was not doing right by my students when it came to teaching them to spell, but I wasn’t sure how to go about fixing that.

Enter Mark Weakland’s book, Super Spellers: Seven Steps to Transforming Your Spelling Instruction.

In the Foreword, by J. Richard Gentry, he states, “Mark Weakland fully grasps an aspect of spelling instruction that is unknown to some literacy educators: Spelling knowledge is essential for reading achievement” (ix). To be honest, I never thought of spelling as being connected to reading achievement- I mostly felt it impacted student writing.  Weakland writes, “The type of spelling instruction you engage in can make a world of difference to students, especially for children who struggle to read and write” (4).

Super Spellers will not instantly give you an easy way to help all your students spell well enough to win trophies. Alas, it’s all more complicated than that. Weakland states, “Although some might claim it takes magic to help our kids become better spellers, readers, and writers, I’ve found that it really just takes a bit of time and effort” (7). He presents 7 steps toward super spelling and then each chapter is devoted to one of the steps. The Seven Steps are:

  1. Understand Theory and Practice.
  2. Assess Spelling Knowledge
  3. Focus Scope and Sequence
  4. Bring More Words
  5. Teach Strategies
  6. Teach Activities
  7. Build Opportunities

One feature I really liked in this book is the “If you only have ten minutes” tips at the end of most chapters. As I’m in the last trimester of the school year, it can seem overwhelming to overhaul all that I’m doing to make room for a new spelling system, so these tips were helpful in allowing me opportunities to try out what I read. Another aspect I liked about this book is it is designed to help teachers who teach in a workshop setting or use a basal series- Weakland gives suggestions on ways teachers can make his ideas work in either setting.

Here are my top ten quotes from Super Spellers that made me stop and think more about the need to teach spelling more strategically:

  1. “Spelling is not the only key to reading and writing success, but it is an important one. Why? During spelling instruction, you build your students ability to recognize words. Word recognition, in turn, leads to reading and writing fluency. When reading and writing fluency improve to automaticity, students have a greater capacity to  concentrate on and be successful with reading comprehension and written expression. In other words, when children effortlessly and automatically decode words while reading or encode words while writing, they are able to devote their full attention to making meaning” (4).
  2. “We must also understand that sounds, patterns, and meanings lie at the heart of spelling instruction, that poor spelling and poor reading are connected, and that because spelling is at the heart of the reading process, the most effective spelling instruction teaches children to read” (7).
  3. “From eye-motion studies and cognition studies, we know that fluent reading is dependent upon the lightning-fast and effortless recognition of entire words. Thus, one of our teaching goals should be to help students store thousands of word spellings in their brains” (12).
  4. “The most effective spelling instruction is not a weekly routine in which you give your students a list of loosely connected words, have them complete worksheets and write the words numerous times at home, give them a test at the end of the week where they regurgitate the words from memory, and then move on to another list of loosely connected words” (14).
  5. “I am not here to tell you to get rid of the weekly spelling list and test. I am, however, asking you to create a more instructionally relevant weekly word list; to change your assessment routine to include a pre-test that leads to some type of differentiation; to think of your post-test as a formative test and not a summative one; and to realize that everything you do in spelling, including your end-of-the-week test, can be an opportunity to instruct children on how to read and write” (40).
  6.  “Children do not spell words so that they can do well on a Friday spelling test. Children spell words so that they can read and write fluently. And as teachers, we shouldn’t teach spelling to generate spelling scores. We should teach spelling to help students become better readers and writers so they can learn, expand their worldviews, and successfully share their thoughts, ideas and dreams with others” (46).
  7. “Because we know that fluent reading is dependent upon the instant recognition of entire words, an essential goal of spelling instruction is to build the repository of word spellings known as the ‘dictionary in the brain’…It’s important to note, too, that spelling and vocabulary are intertwined. If we can deeply teach students the meaning of their spelling words, then we are building their vocabulary even as we teach sound and pattern recognition” (70).
  8. “Spelling is a subject to be taught, not assigned” (81).
  9. “The more students read, read, read and write, write, write, the more words they regularly encounter and the better their chances of moving words into their brain dictionaries. Therefore, I encourage you to make and keep space for students to engage in extended bouts of reading and writing” (95).
  10. “The first thing we can teach student writers is that they should be aware that when they write, some of their words will probably be misspelled. But awareness is only the first step. Spellers need to take action to navigate past their spelling bumps and fill their spelling potholes” (96).

My recommendation is for teachers to read this book with other educators in a book study. It’s a lot to take in on your own and a little overwhelming to think about how to implement the 7 steps by yourself.  Mark Weakland makes a compelling case that spelling is more important than I thought and for more than just winning spelling bee trophies. While spelling isn’t the only thing that counts when it comes to writing, it is important for a student’s overall literacy development and deserves a better instructional approach than many of us are currently implementing.

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Super Spellers: Seven Steps to Transforming Your Spelling Instruction. Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Super Spellers: Seven Steps to Transforming Your Spelling Instruction please leave a comment by Wednesday, April 18th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Friday, April 20th. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter this giveaway.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Stenhouse Publishers will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – SUPER SPELLERS. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

80 thoughts on “Super Spellers: Review + Giveaway Leave a comment

  1. Congrats to Learningtolikewriting who won the copy of Super Spellers! Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I wish I had a copy for everyone! I hope we can continue the conversation about spelling and best practices around teaching it.

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  2. We were just having a discussion in our Wednesday meeting about spelling and “how to teach it.” I would be THRILLED to win a copy especially since Friday is my birthday.

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  3. This looks like a great book. I am curious to know more about the seven steps. Wondering if a lot of what is in this book is similar to Words Their Way??

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  4. Spelling is being left behind starting in third grade I am guessing.By fourth we are so overwhelmed with reading, writing, and math that we have no time for it. I would love a resource that lets me teach in short sections!

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  5. I, like you Kathleen, was a spelling bee kid. Which has made it difficult for me to figure out the best way to teach spelling. This book sounds great and I’m eager to read more. Thanks for the review!

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  6. Yup! My school has always struggled with how to teach spelling. Our department chair is currently looking at options. I’ll pass this title along to him. Thanks!

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    • I totally agree with the fact that spelling and vocabulary are intertwined, for my ELL’s its is hard to read and write when they don’t know what the word means.

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  7. This looks like a great resource! I have always struggled with how to teach spelling and I would love to have a new point of view.

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  8. What excellent timing! My team and I have been discussing our approach to spelling for quite some time now. I definitely plan on adding this book to my library. Thank you everyone for the comments, tips, and advice!

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  9. Looks like a great book! I have never thought that weekly spelling tests and teaching words in isolation was best practice but wasn’t sure the best way to go about it differently. Would love to win a copy of the book to read and share with my colleagues.

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  10. Kathleen, this is so timely. Spelling remains a bit of a mystery here in my school as well. I’m curious to see how we might make spelling instruction meaningful and transferable to student writing.

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  11. Spelling is a curricular area that continues to haunt teachers. The transference of spelling knowledge from weekly word study work to everyday writing continues to be a problem for students. This resource would be a great addition to my professional library to use in my work as a literacy coach.

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  12. I can’t wait to read this book! Our school is exploring new strategies for spelling instruction and this will be a great resource.

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  13. Understanding the connection between spelling and reading is key and one not always made. Thank you for sharing this review and the chance of acquiring this book. Should I not win the giveaway, I will be purchasing!

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  14. Yes! Yes! Let them read and write, but so important to teach the students how to notice more. Words are fun, so is language. It’s so much more than just letters strung together.

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  15. Thank you for the review! I am an English Language Development specialist and this is a recent conversation that a colleague and I were discussing. How do we extend what we are currently using or improve our spelling and word study instruction? Thank you for the quotes and tips! I’ve already shared the blog post. 🙂

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  16. Understanding how words work is so important! Traditional methods of spelling instruction have not proved effective. This seems like a valuable resource for teachers.

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  17. I love how you have shared the top 10 quotes of this book! Spelling comes naturally for me as well, so when I became a teacher, the teaching of spelling has always been an area that I have worked on for students and now as a literacy coach, with teachers. This looks like a good book to study over the summer! Thanks again for sharing!

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  18. Thank you for bringing this book to my attention. I know that spelling instruction is important and in need of tweaking at our school, so I can’t wait to read this book and breathe new life into our program. Thank you!

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  19. I’ve been learning a lot about and using the techniques of Orton-Gillingham for reading and writing in recent years, and it sounds as if this author’s philosophy fits in with the OG philosophies. I’d love to read this book and find out the ideas of this author! ☺ JudyK

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  20. I would LOVE to have a copy of this book. I work as an intervention teacher and see many kids daily who would benefit from more thoughtful lessons in spelling. If I get this book I would happily read it and share what I learn with other colleagues, perhaps even doing a book study from this because I believe ALL children can benefit from explicit spelling instruction.

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  21. I was just having this conversation with a 2nd grade team of teachers this week! I am an Instructional Coach in a building of approximately 650 2nd and 3rd graders. This book would be a great resource for our teachers!

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  22. This goes right in line with our word study team. We are feeling those same frustrations you feel Kathleen! Maybe this book is what we should study next!

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  23. I have always struggled with the best approach to teaching spelling, and I am glad to see I am not alone. I definitely want to purchase this book to see what ideas it has to offer. My school district gave out Words Their Way books a couple of years ago, but I never received formal training on the approach. You know something isn’t clicking when so many students come to 4th grade not knowing how to spell.

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  24. So many adults simply say they are bad spellers. They came through years of spelling lists that asked them to write it 10X, put the words in ABC order and look up the definitions. If the system worked so well, we would have better spelling adults. Transfer during workshop is our best hope.

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  25. Hi Kathleen, Thanks for sharing about Mark Weakland’s book, Super Spellers. My school is piloting Logic of English in k-2 this year. One thing this curriculum emphasizes is spelling analysis sharing the logic behind why we spell words the way we do. I love that you gave us a list of your top ten quotes. I would love to add this book to my library.

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  26. This could be the solution to “world peace” within our school where word study has caused the most heated debates and frustration. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I think I’ll be ordering it if I don’t win!

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  27. We have been struggling with how to incorporate spelling. “Spelling” has gotten a bad rap. I would love to redeem its importance! Excited to read “If you only have 10 minutes”.

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  28. Thanks for highlighting this book and sharing ten quotes. It would be interesting to see how his approach fits with Word Their Way and doing word study lessons.

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  29. I can’t wait to read this book! Spelling is so important and as a reading specialist I often remediate children in the area of spelling. This book may be the answer to helping all tier 1 teachers view spelling differently!

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  30. We grapple with how to teach spelling and grammar… How to squeeze it all in… How to make the teaching of spelling relevant and meaningful to our students. It’s a conversation we have almost each time we meet as grade level teams.

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  31. This is the tension we feel too. We know the weekly list/test isn’t really effective but it is comfortable and known. Our new focus on patterns seems logical but results aren’t apparent. Great post on an interesting book.

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  32. As a second grade teacher I struggle with finding the best way to implement spelling/word study in my classroom….. it seems like I try something “new” every year. I am very interested in reading Super Spellers.

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  33. Definitely a book I’ll check out! It’s far easier to find fault with current spelling practices than to find a better way. I’ve seen teachers struggle with the spelling beast for years. Hopefully, this book can make an impact on student learning!

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  34. Looking forward to reading this book – regardless of whether I win it or not. Been thinking how to restructure spelling instruction so that it is more meaningful for students.

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  35. I know that weekly spelling lists to memorize for the Friday assessment do not work. However, what to do instead is the question! It sounds as if this book has the answer!

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  36. Ah, the Beast of Spelling! I agree that the greatest impact spelling (or more accurately teaching of letter combinations and how words work) can be on reading! A lot of students don’t know the mystery of how sounds are made in words. Unlocking that for them can make a world of difference. As a literacy coach, teachers struggle with spelling every year. A much needed professional resource for the field of literacy!

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  37. Spelling is by far one of the biggest challenges in my classroom with writing. I’ve tried doing some different things with our word study program, but it just continues to fall flat. This sounds like a great book with some valuable resources. Putting on my must read list!

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  38. Thanks for sharing this title! I support teachers on a 7/8 campus, and many of them haven’t had formal training in spelling instruction. We will look into this book as we work through the journey of learning how to help adolescents who read at an elementary level.

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  39. This goes perfectly with a topic we have been grappling with greatly at our school. It’s always good to hear there are others dealing with the same thing!! I would love to see this book-sounds like he’s got some very practical tips that we could try right away. Thanks for posting this!!

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  40. We are currently reading, highlighting, rereading and discussing this book at my school in a small spelling team. We are revamping our HFW lists as well as creating a Scope and Sequence. This book has been instrumental in our planning and we’ve been doing many of the suggestions and discussing what words and what doesn’t! You’re right…if you can read it with a group, do it. We actually have 2 groups going-our small 2nd grade PLC and our larger Super Speller book study group (9 or 10 staff). I’d love to gift a copy to someone not on the team!

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  41. I’d love this book to help with word work with my fourth graders. I teach in an inclusion class and have quite a few striving readers & writers. I love that there’s a section “If you only have ten minutes tips”, as we all know time is of the essence. I feel I could incorporate this into my guided reading word work. Thanks for all you do!

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  42. In our district for the 18-19 school year, we are planning on piloting several word study programs and then deciding what is the best match to our workshop model. Our second grade students want to spell correctly but don’t have the strategies they need to do this independently.

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  43. Our district has gone to word study, but teachers are finding that the lack of time in the day has not allowed them to reap the rewards. This book may have some answers for how we can get spelling patterns to carry over into all writing.

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  44. The timing of this book is perfect… we’re just starting to plan a word study reboot for the 2018-19 school year! Can’t wait to read this!

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  45. Thanks for the information on teaching spelling. As a middle school literacy coach I found the 10 quotes/takeaways from the book to be very helpful as reminders for teaching spelling, Makes me want to take a look at the entire book.

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  46. Although much of the theory in this new book sounds terrific (this is clear in the relevant quotes from the book that were chosen), I wonder why the author of the book chose to use the word “spelling “ in the book’s title. Shouldn’t we be encouraging students and teachers of reading and writing to think of “encoding” (and “decoding”) as “word study” rather than spelling? Somehow the term “spelling” conjures up images of word lists, rote memorization of “rules” and weekly Friday tests and quizzes.

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    • Interesting point! Weakland does use the term encoding very often in the book. I’m thinking spelling is the term most people understand- at least for a catchy title.

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  47. Kathleen – first of all, your photo is priceless! I, too, competed in spelling bees as a child and even in recent years for my community, with a team representing my school. Spelling is one area of instruction that needs to change drastically. The old-fashioned, traditional spelling test isn’t cutting it, but it’s still around. Word sorts/word families -teaching pattern recognition- are highly effective … I can go on and on about progressions and each child working where he or she needs to in spelling, just as in reading, but I’ll stop here to applaud so many of the author’s statements. I’m not familiar with this book but would love to check it out. It sounds “do-able” and that is vitally important.

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  48. Thanks for the review, Kathleen. Sadly, teaching spelling is an area I’ve neglected in my classroom since moving from first to fourth grade.The quotes you shared are intriguing, as is the idea that spelling is important to reading achievement. I’ll be thinking more about that. I also like the idea of those “if you only have 10 minutes” tips. Great review!

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    • I have borrowed a copy of the book to look through, but would love a copy to continue to reference. It is easy to read and understand. He has combined a lot of great research from many spelling experts along with his personal experiences with spelling in the classroom. Spelling is so important. I am glad it is getting so much attention lately.

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