Ask An Expert: Should Teachers Give Spelling Tests?
Question: Should students be given weekly spelling tests? Rebecca S.
Answer: First of all, thank you for your question. Weekly spelling tests are a time-honored tradition in American elementary schools. For quite some time now, however, schools across the U.S. have elected to cut them out of their curriculum. Why? Because many education experts, like me, believe that they only test student’s short-term memory and do not assist students in gaining spelling mastery.
Over the last decade or so, many districts have elected to use a method called “word study,” which focuses on patterns instead of rote memorization. Word study is based on phonics, spelling and vocabulary and teaches students to examine, recognize and comprehend the patterns in words. An understanding of these patterns helps students master spelling more effectively.
During word study instruction, students engage in challenging and motivational activities instead of simply memorizing a set of words. In order to become literate, students need hands-on practice with dissecting and rearranging word elements in a manner that permits them to generalize learning from remote, individual examples to entire clusters of words that are spelled the same way. In itself, word study is not a panacea, as there are exceptions to every rule. Students can, however, learn invaluable strategies that teach them how to read, write and spell words.
Word study also teaches students how to examine words so they can construct a deep understanding of how written words function.
Even though many educators and parents are totally against abandoning weekly spelling tests, it is my professional opinion that alternative methods of spelling instruction, such as word study, are more viable. If you are an educator who is still giving traditional spelling tests, I strongly urge you to give word study a try — not because I said so, but because it will provide your students with balanced literacy instruction and exponentially increase their ability to read, write and spell.