More Important Things to Talk About

As stories of the National Spelling Bee flood the news, I wanted to repost a personal spelling story that originally appeared in the NCTE Inbox blog. It’s a story I carry with me as I respond to the writing of others.
 


 

When I was nearly 13, my parents gave me a pad of light blue paper with delicate yellow and peach flowers in the upper left corner, their stems stretching down the left margin. I delighted in the pad of stationery and the matching box of envelopes they gave me as a reward for watching for my younger sisters and brother while they did their grocery shopping.

I stared at the paper a few times everyday. Occasionally I ran my hand across the smooth surface. It felt like a perfect silk, almost too precious to even write upon. After about a week, I broke down and decided it was time to write a letter. I found the best pen in the house and carefully wrote a message to my grandparents, describing our recent trips to the public library, the Dolley Madison biographies I had been reading, and our trips to Wrightsville and Fort Fisher beaches.

When I finished writing, I sealed the letter in the envelope and carefully added my grandparents’ address. After adding a stamp, I carried the letter outside, placed it in the mailbox, and raised the red flag that would tell the letter carrier to start my letter on its journey from North Carolina to Pennsylvania. Anyone watching this series of events would have thought I was participating in a formal religious rite. I paid no attention to my youngest sister and brother as they wove their tricycles around me. I had serious business to do. I was sending my words forth on that beautiful paper.

A week or so later, I found a small white envelope in the mailbox with my name on it, the looping letters telling me immediately that my grandmother had addressed this letter. I carried it inside the house and sliced the envelope open with my mother’s letter opener. Inside, I found a letter written by my grandfather. He told me how tall the corn was and about the latest Louis L’Amour novel he’d been reading.

I sat up taller at the kitchen table and crossed my ankles under my chair, like the ladies I’d seen on my mother’s soap operas. My brother and sister were across the room, playing with a Fisher-Price bus and a circus train. Such babies compared to me. I had sent out a letter and received a message in reply. Me. My perfect light blue stationery was powerful. It transformed me from clumsy pre-teen to young adult. I mused on how I would continue this exchange, sending letters back and forth just like Dolley Madison, writing letters to family and friends, and saving my letters for future historians to revisit so they could learn about my life. In short, I was euphoric, absolutely smitten with the power of writing.

I turned over the page to read the paragraph on the back:

You spelled their and a lot wrong. You need to spell right to do well in school.
Love,
Grandpa

I couldn’t look at anyone in the room. They’d all see what a faker I had been. I slid off the chair as silently as possible and went down the hall to my room. I folded the letter and put it back in the envelope, which I tossed on my desk amid piles of books and old notebooks. I never read it again. I probably threw it away, but I have no memory of where it went. I put the beautiful blue paper at the bottom of a dresser drawer, where it stayed for months.

My spelling had betrayed me. I wasn’t really a letter writer. No historian would care about my letters in the centuries to come. It would be months before I wrote my grandparents another letter. A thank you note for a Christmas present, it included only the basic information. I neither expected nor received a reply. My mother said to write, and I did. I assume she mailed it with similar letters written by my sisters and brother. I didn’t save the details.

Whenever I begin to circle a spelling error on a student paper, I try to remember this story. Spelling matters, of course. But there are times when what matters most isn’t that spelling conforms to standard written English. The story. Sentence structure. Supporting details. The writer’s engagement and enthusiasm. Sorry, Grandpa, but sometimes thier and alot just don’t matter. There are more important things to talk about.

@newsfromtengrrl for 2011-06-04

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@newsfromtengrrl for 2011-06-03

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@newsfromtengrrl for 2011-06-02

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@newsfromtengrrl for 2011-05-31

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Teaching Spelling Without the Sting: May 31 to June 4 on ReadWriteThink

BeeIt’s the time of year when spelling exotic words that you’d never use in day-to-day communication is all the rage. The final rounds of the Scripps Spelling Bee take place, with daily coverage on ESPN.

As I wrote in an NCTE Inbox blog post a couple of years ago, the problem is that while spelling has apparently become prime time entertainment, spelling bees still aren’t good pedagogy. A 2007 Washington Post article explains that spelling bees provide limited support to students learning about words and the ways that they work. Sue Ann Gleason, the teacher quoted in the article explains the spelling bees “honor the children who already know how to spell, but they do little to support those who need explicit instruction.”

So while the Spelling Bee may get kids and their families interested in spelling for a few days, take a look at the spelling lesson plans and activities on ReadWriteThink for ways to support every student (not just the ones who can spell funny words like weissnichtwo. And check out the calendar entries, lesson plans, and classroom activities below for more classroom-ready ideas. Have a great week!

New Resources

From the Calendar

Connecting with Other Teachers

If you have feedback or questions about ReadWriteThink, all you have to do is contact us.

[Photo: Bee by _PaulS_, on Flickr]

@newsfromtengrrl for 2011-05-30

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Memorial Day: Bits Flashback for May 30

Always Faithful, Doberman, Military Working Dog, MWD, World War II Memorial, War Dog Cemetery located on Navel Base GuamIn honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to point back to an entry I wrote last October on writing about photos. The image I used to illustrate it was the one that came to mind when I thought about Memorial Day this year.

Look back to that entry for some ideas for writing or discussion, and for more ideas for the classroom or professional development, look back to these Bedford Bits posts from last week:

A Few Extra Links

Let us know what you want to know about teaching writing or about using digital tools in the composition classroom by leaving a comment. Your response will help shape upcoming posts.

[Photo: Always Faithful, Doberman, Military Working Dog, MWD, World War II Memorial, War Dog Cemetery located on Navel Base Guam by Beverly & Pack, on Flickr]

@newsfromtengrrl for 2011-05-29

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