Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Spelling Bee


"I'm just going to say D-O-G if my word is 'chair.'"

This is just one of the complaints I heard my students say when I mentioned we were going to have the spelling bee. What could I say to help students try their best? What could motivate students who think they can't spell to even TRY? How can I convince them if I don't really believe it myself? I had to find some way to connect to the event so my students could, too.

24 Hours Later...

I sat students in a circle, and I joined in the perimeter. We had a discussion based on the following questions:
  • Why do we have spelling bees?
  • How long does the spelling bee last?
  • What good can come of the spelling bee?
  • Who is nervous or bothered by the spelling bee? Why?
Some of the best answers... 
  • We will (at the very least) learn how to spell one word - the word we got wrong.
  • ALL of us (except for the one winner) will "lose."
  • If we give up on the spelling bee in 7th grade (when all but one of us will lose!), what will we do when something really important to us comes along? On what else will we give up?
  • ALL of us are nervous. No one likes to be told they're wrong in front of others. But we will learn from making a mistake.
  • Even Mrs. Kirr is nervous - what if she doesn't hear a student right?!
  • Mrs. Kirr feels sympathy for all students - the ones who don't want to be in the spelling bee, yet don't want to make a mistake, and the ones who DO want to be in the spelling bee and are very stressed about it.
  • A lot of it is about luck - based on who begins, and what words come up next.
  • We will exhibit the genius "habitudes" of perseverance and most of all - courage.
Talk to your students about it. Children in different grades may feel differently about it, but I'd bet most of them are scared. Scared of being humiliated... scared of losing. Let's help them tackle the spelling bee like they could any competition.

Side note... One student asked to sit next to me - I haven't really connected yet with her this year, and I'm so glad she asked. I wanted to hold her hand, because I knew she'd struggle. Another spelled "apiary" right - just because he TRIED. I later told him he made my day. Today, during advisory, I received a small note from him - thanking me. These treasures are the ones that keep me heading back to school each day.

Update 8/22/15 - This post talks about spelling as an aid to communicating.

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