Can I have the definition? Can I have the language or origin? Are there any alternate pronunciations?
I love spelling, and I promise that it has nothing to do with my recent brush with spelling fame and… well, spelling fame. Spelling has always struck me as the most typical “old school” school thing: useful, easy to measure, and repetitive. Still, I’m always surprised when I hear an adult say “I’m a terrible speller” – practice makes perfect, and we’re writing and spelling all the time!
I don’t know if you follow spelling bees, but there was high drama at the Scripps National Spelling Bee the other week. Eight children – the octo-champs – won this year’s bee, and after that happened, some are forecasting the demise of the spelling bee. It’s not just because there were multiple winners, as the rules were changed a couple of years ago to allow for that. What is prompting the predictions are acknowledgments that most competitive spellers have dedicated coaches (with two of this year’s winners sharing the same coach) and six of the eight training with software called SpellPundit. What does it say about the competition when success can be attributed to access to outside help?
I think a part of the problem is that spelling is a simple task. I’m NOT suggesting that the specific words that the contestants are asked to spell are easy. I don’t even know what most of them mean! But the reading lists, memorization, repetition, etc., are typical of lower order thinking skills. What if spellers needed to know the language of origin, the definition, and how to use it in a sentence, piecing together the context around the words they had to spell. Would you agree that that would be a more complex task that activated slightly higher order thinking? Do more challenging questions help us think “better?”
We think so. When the Center was started four years ago, one of the first things that we worked on with the RA faculty was to look at the existing curriculum and reframe each unit around an essential question – a question that is timeless, open-ended, requires support and justification, and encourages further questioning. By starting each bit of curriculum with an essential question, we are asking students to think about something that can’t be Googled, something that no computer program can answer for them. A good question often leads to further questions, so we are inviting them to wonder on their own and not race to a “right” answer. A great example of this is happening in second grade, where Ms. Spiro has taken a professional growth and development course that has her challenging students to apply math and research to open-ended questions.
We are already hard at work on exciting curricular developments that students will see next year, the year after, and even after that. While we’re not ready to share all the details just yet, we can tell you that there will be no question that a software package can train us to answer, nothing that a quick Google search can turn up.
S-U-M-M-E-R. I hope your family enjoys a hard-earned summer vacation and we look forward to asking many more questions in the fall.