Friday, July 19, 2013

Not Your Mama's Spelling Bee

I've been asked to share about our annual school Spelling Bee...it's quite a bit different from Scripps, and that's not just because of the cake:

The official "Spelling Bee" Cake--honey lemon, of course. :)
or the schwag--medals, ribbons and goodie bags:

Medals, ribbons, and goodie bags try to upstage one fabulous cake!

Receiving a well-earned medal.
or the chance for 30 minutes of fame among their peers:

Four finalists compete from each grade level, after being whittled
down through an elimination process--from classroom to semi-finals.

Although all of this makes for pretty exciting Spelling Bee times, our claim to fame is


that it's a differentiated spelling bee, the brainchild of a former colleague, Maybeth Biantan.  She came up with the idea to have all the contestants write the same word simultaneously on whiteboards. With 30 seconds to do so, the bell would ring, markers would go down, and whiteboards would go up with the words written upon them for the judge to see. 

Doing so allows the contestants time to hear and visualize their response before finalizing--with time to make changes if need be, or simply to confirm that hey, this is what I want! Since the majority of our students and contestants are second language learners, this is an added boost for their onstage confidence. Nerves and thinking under pressure can wreak havoc on a language learner's working memory, and this really helps. Holding the board up rather than saying the words aloud also help ease nervousness.

This style is for grades K-2.

Grades 3-5, however, have a little more challenge to contend with--and this, Maybeth, is a detour from your original plan, but it seems to work.

You see, the upper grades have a Jeopardy-style Spelling Bee. They can choose a category, then a difficulty level--the higher the point value, the more difficult the spelling word. Difficulty is determined by spelling patterns--ones typically learned later in the language acquisition process are worth more points; content area words that may be longer in length or have an unusual pronunciation; or just plain fun words to spell. C'mon--Mississippi, anyone?

Content areas include Math, Science, Social Studies, Language Arts,
Miscellaneous, and Challenge. Daily Doubles are in there, too, always
at random so they surprise us all!
With the Jeopardy format, I realize it's not all about being the best speller--this style of play demands a little strategy, and it's interesting to see the different grade levels taking different levels of risk. The older they are, the more higher value words are chosen, and the opposite for 3rd graders who tend toward the conservative.

Kids choose their words, one at a time, listen to the word, sentence for context, and repetition of the word, then have 30 seconds to write. For these grades, each of the finalists writes his or her own word, in contrast to K-2, where all the finalists write the same words.

Contestants each get 8-10 words total, with point values totaled after the first 4 and the second 4 to help them think about their next steps. Whether they want to go "big" or can afford to stay lower in the point ranks.

The Spelling Bee is hosted by the ESL team at our school, but more and more classroom teachers are being invited to participate as guest judges and word-callers. We (the ESL teachers) can't have all the fun!

We always hold it after End of Grade testing to maintain the spirit of learning during the last couple days of school. And yes, it's most certainly a great time--in an #edugeek sort of way--regardless of what the Spelling Bee traditionalists might say. 

It's definitely not your mama's Spelling Bee, and a far cry from Scripps. But--and we'll spell it out for you--that's a-ok with us. Come visit next spring as we continue the tradition!


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