Should Spelling Count?

Should spelling count?

Every teacher has asked themselves this question – and heard its cousin question “Does spelling count?” from students about a million times a year.

It’s not the simplest question to answer. Over the years my own ideas have swung from one end of the spectrum to the other until I finally landed on a solution that seemed to work well for both me and my students.

No, Spelling Shouldn’t Count.

When I was in school I was vehemently opposed to teachers taking off for spelling – at least outside of English class or formal papers. And, no, I wasn’t just being a complainer. I really thought that it was unfair to be penalized in history or science or math for a spelling mistake. That, I believed, should only be penalized in language class.

As I became a teacher I started to understand that all subjects are connected and that regardless of how well you know a subject you need to be able to effectively communicate in that subject in order to excel. But that didn’t change my feelings about spelling. In my math class, I determined not to frustrate my students the way some of my own teachers had frustrated me.

No, spelling would not count.

Maybe Spelling Should Count

My spelling-doesn’t-count phase lasted a year or two – until I realized that my students were grossly – and I do mean grossly – misspelling the same words over and over and over again. I realized that while they understood what a reciprocal was, it sure didn’t look like it when they spelled it recipricle or resiprical.

Since I wasn’t counting spelling – and made no bones about that fact – they weren’t even trying to spell these words right. And I started to realize that if they were to write about these topics or discuss them in writing with others, they would look pretty ignorant.

So I started wondering – maybe spelling should count.

Should spelling count on tests?

What About Writing Misspelled Words

Even though I knew spelling was important, I still remembered how much it frustrated me as a student to have spelling count in non-language classes. And I still didn’t love the idea of taking off points for spelling. It still just didn’t quite seem fair.

But something had to change.

The next idea? What about requiring students to write the words they had misspelled 5-10 times each?

On one hand, this was a great idea. Students would practice their misspelled words and thus should start to learn how to spell them correctly. This would also translate into their being a little more careful about spelling so they could avoid the extra work.

The problem, though, was that this was going to create a nightmare’s worth of extra paperwork for me. Tracking which student owes me which words and when they’re due and who’s turned them in……Yikes! The thought was overwhelming.

There had to be an easier way…..

Finally, a Workable Solution

I finally came up with a solution that would help the students learn to spell correctly without being unfair to the students and without causing me an unreasonable amount of work.

I would take off points for spelling, but students could get the points back by writing each misspelled word five times. 

I would take off points for spelling, but students could get the points back by writing each misspelled word five times.

The beauty of this arrangement was that it created a minimum of bookkeeping and headaches for me because I didn’t have to track down students for their list of words. If they wanted the points back, they would write them. If they didn’t write their words, their score remained the same.

Here’s exactly how I did it…..

  • I decided to only actually count spelling on tests. On quizzes I would make a note of it to help them learn the spelling, but I wouldn’t actually count off. This just made things a lot simpler.
  • On tests, I took 1/2 point off for each misspelled word, but I would track this separately and write how many points were taken off for spelling next to the score. For example, if a student would have received a 90% but lost two points for spelling, I would put their score as an 88% but put “-2 sp” next to it.
  • When students saw their grade, they had one day to write each misspelled word five times and turn them in to me. I had a bin for each class to turn in any work so that it wouldn’t waste any class time.
  • When the student turned in their words, I would change the score on their test and in my gradebook. This would typically take less than a minute since I had previously marked how many points they had lost for spelling errors. (I always collected their tests and kept them for security purposes, so I would have the original test to refer to. If you allow students to keep their tests, you would need to require them to turn in the test with their words.)

When I implemented this method I saw drastic improvement in my students’ spelling. And I never heard any complaints that this policy wasn’t fair.

Finally, a workable solution to the question “should spelling count?”

How do you handle spelling errors in your classroom? 

*This article is sponsored by Primary Learning*

Photos by S1ON and Nicobobinus.

PIN Should Spelling Count?
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  • I’m a mother of two great spellers with one winning three school spelling bees. When I began teaching as a second career, I was shocked and dismayed by the spelling mistakes. I often get that question, “Will the spelling count?” even as a math teacher as students are required to complete projects and write reflections. Thank you for sharing your excellent idea!

  • I also find this issue a nagging one, if I may say so, and my immediate reaction to your solution was “Awesome!”. I am definitely going to try this next year! Thank you so much!

  • I love this! What a great way to get students to take responsibility for and ownership of their learning AND avoid either extreme of counting the spelling or not as a teacher! A wonderfully reasonable approach with a logical consequence built in.

  • What is the purpose of grading? Assessment? It is to inform the teacher, student, and parent as to where the child is compared to the specific subjects set of standards. If Math is the subject being assessed, taking points off for spelling invalidates the results. An 80% with spelling errors misinforms the parent telling them that the child has 80% mastery of that particular standard assessed, but this is untrue. The child could have 90% or even 100% mastery but spelling is the issue and should be reflected in the Language Arts Grade..

    • I always agreed with you – until I had students who couldn’t articulate basic math terms in an educated way (i.e. were spelling them completely wrong to the point they looked uneducated). In today’s society, being able to articulate & write is key. That’s why I came up with this system…

  • Plus, your system differentiates which points were lost for spelling specifically so it shouldn’t be a problem with students or parents understanding what has been mastered in the subject area.

  • I feel that spelling should count on projects and other assignments on which they have extended time to work. If spelling counts, I put it in the directions and/or rubric. I don’t count off for misspellings on quizzes or even essays that are handwritten. I teach a computer based class and the students have spellcheck. If spellcheck is available, they need to learn to take advantage of it. I have one son who can spell most anything and one who struggles to spell common words. Both are adults and the one who struggles takes advantage of the spelling helps on his computer and his phone. My sister isn’t a very good speller either. She is a speech pathologist and has made a point of learning to spell the words she uses on a regular basis in her job. She relies on spellcheck and friends and family for the rest.

  • I feel that students should be encouraged to care about their spelling as early as possible. If they are supported and given the tools in first grade, they are more apt to make the effort for the rest of their life.

  • What grades do you recommend starting this in? What about 2nd or 3rd grade when they are required to learn 20 states in a week or two?

    • Definitely use your discretion. If you think it’s too much to expect them to know how to spell all of them, then you can choose to let it go. However, you may decide that you do want them to at least start to learn how to spell the words correctly – in which case, this solution still works since all that’s required is for them to write each word 5 times (in your example – a max of 100 words even if they miss all of them)

  • In this day of high stakes testing, students are required to explain their reasoning and process to receive full credit for responses given. If our students can’t articulate in a manner that makes their thoughts clear to the grader, we will not see a score that accurately reflects their abilities. We owe it to them to help them do this.

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