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A Question for Y1 teachers about spellings

Discussion in 'Primary' started by Biscuitsneeded, Jul 7, 2011.

  1. I am a secondary teacher (MFL) and am hoping for some honest advice from primary teachers so I can know whether or not I am worrying over nothing. My son is in Y1 at school. He is doing well according to his teacher, appears to be quite able in maths, has friends, behaves well etc. His reading is not amazing but is apparently fine for his age (Oxford Reading Tree L9). He is an articulate and inquisitive little boy. HOWEVER we are really struggling with the weekly spellings. He gets six words to learn on a sheet of paper with several columns to practice in using the Look See Cover method. Often we fill up the whole sheet and he is still making lots of mistakes. Or he can get the spellings right after lots of practice but has completely forgotten them again by the time he takes the test. I mentioned to his teacher that we were having to work very hard on them even to get 4 out of 6 in the weekly test and she just said that he is doing fine. However, I know many of his friends just glance through the spellings or write them out once and can manage them with no problems. I also know I never had any problems with spelling as a child and spent no time at all practising for tests. I don't want to be a neurotic or pushy mother, but he is in a big and very diverse class and I wonder if the teacher sees him as a relatively able child and therefore hasn't really noticed that he is struggling to spell. Or is it, in fact, entirely normal to practise five times and still not be able to remember a spelling at age 6?

    Reading this back, I sound like a nightmare! I'm not expecting him to be brilliant at everything, but I would hate to think there were signs of a problem and I was ignoring them. Thanks for any advice.
  2. In my experience L9 ORT is above average for year 1 reading. Spellings are not taught in year 1 in all schools due to phonics but he should be able to read/spell the year 1 key words. It depends what spellings he is getting. One thing though: Does he spell them out loud as he is reading them and again when writing them down? Perhaps he is not a visual learner but needs to hear it too. Help him by saying the spelling, emphasising it in different ways. Spellings should not be a one off for a test though - it is a gradual process of learning them and using them in their reading and writing. Ask him a random one off the list everyday in the car on the way to school to say outloud or say and spell in the air with a magic pencil (kinesthetically). I'm sure he'll be fine.
  3. Thanks so much for replying. I have tried sounding the words out to him but had not thought of getting him to say the letters as he writes them or write in the air. Will do that. I don't know where the word lists come from; some are straightforward but some really aren't! (Thought, through, laughed etc). It's also nice to know you think ORT level 9 is fine. Lots of his friends have finished the scheme altogether and are reading The Worst Witch, Enid Blyton, even Harry Potter independently, so I guess my reference points may be a little skewed!

    Thanks again.

  4. cariad2

    cariad2 New commenter

    I've pulled together various resources that other posters have put on the Resource Bank to create a Spelling Handbook. That might have useful ideas of different ways to practise spellings.
    I would try to work out the spelling patterns in words that your son has been given - talk about the parts of the word that are regular and the parts that are tricky. Look for any rules that you can spot.
    Mnemonics help with awkward words such as "laughed".
    I wouldn't worry about his reading. I agree that ORT level 9 is a good level, and shows that he doesn't have any problems. Some of his friends may be reading chapter books, but plenty of other children in the class will still working at a lower level of the ORT books than your son.
  5. NQT1986

    NQT1986 Occasional commenter

    Harry Potter in Year 1-wow! Is it a state school?

    Can you give us some examples; what are this week's spellings?

  6. Wotworklifebalance

    Wotworklifebalance New commenter

    Why would you assume that it wasn't a state school? Are state schools not as good at teaching reading?
  7. NQT1986

    NQT1986 Occasional commenter

    I was just wondering!
  8. Thought, through and laughed as spelling words in year 1...wow!! No wonder he struggles. I teach year 6 and the majority of my children still struggle spelling those words independently. I certainly wouldn't be worried.
  9. dagnabit

    dagnabit New commenter

    It sounds like they are working their way through the high frequency words rather than setting lists of words with the same spelling pattern linked to their phonics lessons. Some schools do the former,I prefer the latter. I would not be losing any sleep over it. Pick some of the words he struggles with like through and make up a mnemonic for it. Just do one at a time until he gets it cracked. The lot you mention have three pretty tricky graphemes. Poor wee thing.
  10. breadmaker

    breadmaker New commenter

    I would agree with this, they are very hard for y1 and that is just being realistic about the age group rather than having low expectations. I would encourage your son to improve his spelling through using the words in writing rather than just learning them out of context in a list. Make up silly sentences about anything he is interested in and include the words. Get him to be the teacher and highlight all the letters he thinks he has got right and then cross check. Always get him to write the word from memory rather than just copying it and once he has written it, rub it off or cover so that each time he has to start from scratch. This will make him more successful in the long run as he has to think each time about the sounds and shape of the givenn word.
  11. minnieminx

    minnieminx New commenter

    I would relax a bit at home and not worry so much. If he gets 1/6 then fine. It is the teacher's job to teach your son to spell and your job just to support that. You really shouldn't be having to stress and work hard to get him to learn 4 words each week.

    He is only in year 1, just play lots of games that involve words that he can spell and the occasional one he can't. Build up his confidence or he will soon see himself as 'rubbish at spelling' and then you have no chance.

    Get a game like junior scrabble to play. If he uses a very tricky word and makes a plausible spelling then let it go and don't correct it. If it isn't plausible then get him to think about sounds, but in a non-threatening way.

    For his spelling lists for school you could practice each one once a day, maybe orally, and then leave it. You have done all that is required of you. His school need to see the problems and they won't if you mask them with enormous amounts of work at home.
  12. Lots of fantastic advice, thank you. I could back off and let him get 1/6 a few times I guess, but he is already saying things like "I'm not very good at words Mummy" and I don't really want his confidence dented any further, because he does care about the outcome of the test. Yes, it is a state school but in a university city with a lot of very high-achieving parents, which makes for a critical mass of very able children. And yet it is an urban school with 27 languages spoken and a fairly mixed intake, so his teacher is having to deal with very different challenges, and I suspect my happily normal, just-a-bit-brighter-than-average little chap is just getting lost in the middle of it all. Anyway, it's nearly the holidays and I am looking forward to him having a proper break and not having to do any spellings for a few weeks! Thanks again for all the suggestions.

    Biscuits x
  13. Msz

    Msz Established commenter

    or they could be using word lists using alternative graphemes which is Y1

  14. mystery10

    mystery10 Occasional commenter

    The ones who can easily learn the spellings for the test might not be doing as brilliantly as you think. One of mine (Y2) can easily learn words like laughed, environment etc for a test, and it doesn't take long with a few tricks of her very own (e.g. lick an ugly granny on the head every day). BUT, read her writing and her spelling is dreadful - whith for with, thort for thought, uver for other etc etc etc. It makes my toes curl.
    I don't know what our school spelling strategy is, it certainly isn't clear from the lists, and they don't / won't explain to parents. Maybe if your school would explain the strategy to you it would help both you and your son to understand where the words or phonic patterns he is learning "fit" and this in itself might help the memory process if you can both see a logic to it.
    If there's no improvement in the lists in year 2 (i.e. greater success in the tests for your son) and it is demoralising him, I'd be inclined to ask if there is an easier set of spellings he can learn for the test each week. Some schools do a spelling test each week where 4 or 5 different lists are called out. Then in the time that you save slogging through the school lists you can help him learn to spell at home in a more logical fashion and he will also achieve greater satisfaction in the school tests and feel better about his spelling?
    It sounds like a fantastic school and fantastic class, but it is a shame if his writing confidence is knocked early for nothing.

  15. You should absolutely be worrying about the effects of a 'look, cover, write, check' approach for a Year One child which appears to be demoralising him and giving him the idea that he is 'not very good' at spelling.
    School should of course be teaching him to spell - but not through a dominant 'look, cover, write, check' approach.
    Spelling, in the main, should be about the skill of 'oral segmenting' (identifying the sounds all through the spoken word) and then knowing that there are different ways to spell those sounds - and systematically beginning to learn the spelling alternatives - gaining help from the adult to learn which alternatives to spell each word with - and becoming aware of building up spelling word banks.
    This does not mean that we don't 'look' at words - and we certainly do need to look and identify the words which are tricky with unusual spellings or alphabetic code not taught.
    If parents are asked to help a child at home, the parents/guardians should be informed by the school in the oral segmenting routine and the nature of the alphabetic code - and how best to support the child - along with understanding the notion of spelling alternatives and tricky/unusual spellings.
    If spelling lists are sent home, they should include the 'regular' type words which parents can say aloud slowly so the child can identify the sounds to spell the word.
    These should be simple words at best - with an occasional very common tricky word added into the mix - words like 'the', 'they', 'said', 'again', 'their' and so on.
    In my opinion, NO Year One child should be sent home with lists of sometimes challenging words - or to be taught through the 'look, cover, write, check' routine.
    The experienced, adult, literate method of spelling words which are multi-syllable or more challenging is a phonics approach (meaning sounds to print) - usually through word chunking at syllable level.
    If a child of mine was beginning to have feelings of failure in this way, I would very much want to understand the methodology and expectation of the school's approach to spelling.
    Having said all this, we do not fully understand the scenario and have heard only one explanation. Some schools may send home word lists with insufficient explanation to parents or the parents themselves may misunderstand what they are expected to do.
    Whatever the scenario, this is worth finding out more from the school and alerting the school to the child's worries.
    As for everyone's advice about 'don't worry' - if you don't worry about your child, who will?
    I'm not saying you should 'worry' in a dramatic sense - but I certainly think you should be finding out more about the school's approach to spelling.
  16. mystery10

    mystery10 Occasional commenter

    Everything you say is right, and it certainly is worth having a chat with the school to see if you can understand their approach a little more, and hopefully find out that it has a sound phonic basis to it. I hope this approach is successful. But, if it's not (and in my own personal experience this approach failed on several counts) then you're going to have to make the best of the school approach and if necessary supplement it at home.

    There are various spelling threads on this primary section which give some really good pointers to parents like me thanks to everyone on here.
  17. Wuzzy

    Wuzzy New commenter

    As a year 1 teacher, I have always made it clear to both the children and to their parents which phoneme/grapheme correspondences were being learned and that the spellings were there to back up the work done in phonics. I encourage the children to sound talk their spellings, exactly as is done in the phonics sessions. It takes some children ages to learn to spell - so please don't worry - words like thought, laughed etc are not ones that you would expect Year 1 children to be able to spell, though they are covered for reading in the course of phase 5 phonics (letters and sounds) where alternative spellings and pronunciation become the main focus.
    I would be hoping for words such as 'like, have, some, come, they, want, was, there' and all the wh question words to be spelt with increasing accuracy towards the end of year 1, plus plausible attempts at longer phonically regular words. In phase 5 children often get horrible muddled when they have to decide between several spellings for the same phoneme e.g. or, au, aw, oor, ore then it all begins to settle down as they become more familiar with the patterns as they move through years 2 and 3.
    Incidentally - ORT 9 is great for Year 1 - the most important thing of all is that any child enjoys books and reading.
    Have a lovely summer break and enjoy reading for pleasure with your son.
  18. Thank you for all the thoughtful and detailed responses. I will certainly try out lots of your ideas. I think it's pointless at this stage to address the question with his current teacher (who is lovely, and looking shattered at the moment!) but as he starts Y2 I think I will ask his new teacher about the rationale for the word choices as there does not seem to be any pattern currently. I did find out that different children are bringing home different spellings each week, and I did see one child with a more typical list starting coat, boat etc, but I think the teacher may have decided that my son can cope with harder spellings - perhaps erroneously!! I absolutely don't want him to lose his confidence so will request a gentle start to Y2. I have no worries about the reading; he will read to me quite happily and still loves bedtime stories.Thanks again for all your insights - it's all new to me!
    Biscuits x
  19. Hi Biscuitsneeded
    I hope things improved since your original post. I just wanted to suggest a free spelling game that can be used both at home and in school to improve spelling skills in a fun way: see www.spellathon.net

    All the best
    Spellathon (Andrea)


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