Talking about a word revolution

31st July 2009 at 01:00
Teachers at a high school entered pupils in a national spelling bee and found it created quite a buzz

When Rachel Speed entered her Year 7 pupils into a spelling bee, she saw it as a fun way to improve their literacy and introduce them to some healthy competition.

But what started as a bit of fun culminated in a contest played out in front of hundreds of fellow pupils and teachers from across the UK in the country's first national spelling bee.

Now, inspired by the experience, Ms Speed and her colleague Vicki Booton are planning a spelling revolution at their school, Fairwater High in Cwmbran, Torfaen.

The two teachers said they were becoming increasingly concerned by their pupils' growing disregard for literacy and a tendency to use abbreviations and slang.

Ms Booton, a maths teacher and Year 7 deputy head, said: "I have been doing literacy lessons with the pupils, and going through their work you can see they are using `text-speak'. They say it's a lot quicker."

Ms Speed, a science teacher and Year 7 head, added: "I feel spelling has gone by the wayside a little bit with the text-speak that they (pupils) seem to be using more. I saw the spelling bee and thought it would be a good thing to do.

"I feel it's good for pupils to have competition in their lives. Winning or losing isn't important; it's just the experience of doing it."

After holding a series of mini spelling competitions among the Year 7 pupils, the two teachers picked a team to represent Fairwater at the Welsh semi-finals, held in Cardiff in May.

The chosen pupils - Sam Harrison, 12, Alex McDowell, 12, Aaron Wagstaff, 11, with Jade Seabourne, 12, as a reserve - initially struggled against the four other schools. But they pulled it back in the second round to win the event, going through to the London final as the sole Welsh representatives.

In preparing for the final, the four pupils were tested on their spelling by their teachers, parents and fellow classmates.

Ms Speed said: "They were already very good spellers, but they sat down and learnt many new words, both in school and at home. It was a fantastic effort."

Ms Booton, who helped the pupils train for the final, said: "They were given lists of difficult words to learn, and would regularly come to my form class where the other pupils would grill them."

Sadly, in the final at the Odeon West End in London's Leicester Square, the Fairwater team finished tenth out of 10.

But despite their disappointment, the teachers said the competition has had a positive effect on the pupils and their school.

"It's certainly raised the awareness of spelling around the school," said Ms Speed. "Other pupils have been asking the spelling bee team to spell words when they see them. I think it has also helped them develop their communication and teamwork skills.

"Unfortunately, we all have to lose sometimes. But I think it's good for pupils to feel what it's like to win and lose; it's a life experience. After the final, they were devastated, but within half an hour they were singing on the bus."

Ms Booton added: "It was a team-building and character-building experience for them. They have learnt how to take part in competitions and how to conduct themselves. Because of the spelling bee, more of our pupils are now thinking more carefully about how they spell words."

The two teachers now want to use the experience to raise the profile of spelling within the key stage 3 curriculum at Fairwater.

Next term, they are planning to hold mini spelling bees between Year 7 and Year 8 pupils, as well as making spelling tests a regular part of form periods.

They also want to use it to improve transition, involving feeder primary schools in friendly spelling competitions and events.

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