Differentiated Spelling Lists: There’s a Reason for Them

My daughter brought home her first spelling list to practice this school year, you can read about how hard she worked for her spelling test in my post here. 

Recently, we had quite the opposite experience with her. After a few weeks of great scores on spelling tests, she started becoming incredibly confident in her work, which really was great! Until that translated to being too confident. I think you already know where this is going, don’t you? 

We had a week where homework was a fight. I tried to find a good balance of prompting and encouraging, but not pushing too hard either and causing more pushback from the constant nagging. It’s a delicate balance! By the time the spelling test came around, she hadn’t practiced the words at all. They also do a reading test, where they read a passage and answer questions about the passage… This also was never practiced during the week prior to the test. I figured there were probably going to be some great natural consequences for her when she realized how much harder the tests would be when she didn’t spend the time practicing. 

We had dealt with some academic-related anxiety with her earlier in the school year, so knowing this, I had a conversation with her before the school day to prep her for the pending spelling test that I was anticipating ending in tears. We talked about trying our best and how sometimes when we don’t practice, the test can be a lot harder for us. When we do practice, it’s much easier because we know what to expect. She took it all in and seemed like she understood what I was saying. 

That afternoon she came home with a spelling test in her hand. Her final score? 100%. She completely aced it! I couldn’t believe it. Everything I was trying to do had backfired completely. What she had just learned was “I can get a good score even when I don’t put in the time and effort.” 

This is why differentiated spelling lists are so important. Because odds are, there was also a child in that class who despite the work, time, and effort put in, still did poorly. This doesn’t mean one child is better or worse than another,  it means that the needs and levels are different and therefore should be differentiated. 

Reading groups are differentiated for the most part in our school, why can’t we include spelling words and tests in that as well? 

What are our students actually learning if they are either trying too hard or not trying hard enough on their spelling tests each week? 

Many of us have specific guidelines and curriculums we must follow as a teacher, but how can we still use these, but work around them in creating and using differentiated spelling lists? 

Other posts on spelling words that may be helpful: