In the first of a regular new series on literacy and numeracy, Anne Yeadon explains how she teaches spelling.
When pupils say, "Will you zap me, Mrs Yeadon?" I know they're not talking about a game on the class computer. It's not an alien spaceship that's being eliminated; it's the children's problem words.
I give my special needs children a 100-word spelling test, and write the first nine words each child misspells in a grid on a small personal card which we call a "zapper". We use a range of fun strategies and look-cover-write-check to learn the words.
When they're ready, they ask me to "zap" them. When they write a word correctly, I put a small "z" in the corner of the box on the grid that contains that word. Once they have a "z" in all four corners of the box (for four correct zaps), I tell them they can't ever get that word wrong again! If the fifth zap is correct, too, I write a larger "Z" right over the word.
Consolidation is the key. It's important for them to use their spelling words in their regular class work. After about two weeks, I zap them again, and if they get all nine words right, I write a silver "Z" over the whole grid. I write a gold "Z" over the grid if they spell them all correctly again.
The whole process can take between six to eight weeks. Zappers can also be copied and sent home so that parents can help.
After "getting the gold", children draw around their hand, cut it out, and write their nine words on the fingers and palm. This is then handed in with written work, so that the teacher can check that children are transferring their knowledge to free writing, and not just succeeding in the tests.
I'm working with class teachers to trial spelling zappers with all the children in school, not just those with special needs. Pupils will work with a partner, testing each other. That way, they'll be exposed to the partner's spelling words too.
Anne Yeadon is special needs co-ordinator for Ecclesall Church of England junior school, Sheffield. She was talking to Kathryn Kohl.