Tuesday, February 2, 2010

#8: Creating Future Scrabble Champions

Christmas break is a month past, and except for a few snow days, school is back in full swing. As far as I can tell the girls are learning the required subjects like math, science, reading, and social studies. I hear occasional fussing about homework and see piles of graded papers and tests which indicate that there is indeed something happening at the school house. I assume they are doing this work, or at the very least have hired someone to write a bunch of random stuff in cursive and complete multiplication tables. One subject I have no doubt they are learning is spelling.

I vaguely remember taking spelling tests in grade school, but that is about the extent of it. I also recall my spelling score on the 11th grade achievement test being “Below 8th Grade Level”…but we won’t let the kids know that little secret.

I am amazed how much the teachers push spelling these days. In fact, I am convinced that there is an underground movement to put the spell check guys at Microsoft out of business. Teachers have dreamt up dozens of methods for learning 10-15 words a week. Activities such as writing each word five times, alphabetizing the words, and using them in a sentence are all logical spelling activities. These methods foster basic memorization, or as we old-timers like to say, old-fashioned learning.

I guess I am behind the times, because there are apparently new learning techniques. Some classics include hiding the words in a picture, painting the words, and rainbow writing (don’t even ask). I am told that these are a “hands on” way of learning. The last time I checked, spelling wasn’t like plumbing. I cannot wrap my head around the “hands on” aspect of spelling like I can with the concept of making a toilet flush.

The absolute worst of these projects is what I like to call the ransom letter method. The kids have to cut letters out of old magazines and newspapers (enter the Wall Street Journal) and then use the letters to create their spelling words. The newly created words are then pasted onto a sheet of paper. Who in the hell thought this was a good idea?

Basically what I end up with is scraps of paper strewn throughout the house and random crap glued to my kitchen table. When the two hour spelling debacle is over, the girls have fifteen haphazardly glued words forming a ransom note written in monkey-speak.

gentle people injured unless poodle arrives underneath bleachers.
leave million outside window before tuesday arrives.

What exactly are they learning from this? I guess if any kid has aspirations of becoming a kidnapper he will look back fondly on grade school and remember the “hands on” experience he gained in his spelling lessons.

Use #8: Spelling Homework

John Hansen owns multiple dictionaries as well as a thesaurus. He is capable of looking up words in these books on his own and has been known to expand his knowledge by doing so. Along with Zak Hathaway, John has co-authored the Power of Zahn, a mega-hero novel featuring over 90,000 properly spelled words.

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