The traditional spelling test is going away in some Sioux Falls classrooms.
A new method that involves teaching spelling and writing at the same time is backed by research on how our brains prefer to learn.
Students in Mrs. Jensen's fourth grade class use the SMART board, iPads and other use desktop games as they learn how to spell, one pattern at a time. Research suggests the brain absorbs information better this way.
"We want to look for word patterns. The brain is a pattern seeker. So if we introduce our first graders to the word sat, we might say to them, 'Hey, can you spell mat, bat? What did you change?'" Sioux Falls School District elementary curriculum coordinator Sue McAdaragh said.
Identifying patterns and learning new words that follow that same pattern are what word work, or spelling class, is all about these days. Mrs. Jensen's class spends at least 15 minutes a day on word work in addition to designated writing time.
While you won't find a weekly spelling test in this 4th grade classroom, you do find lots of writing examples and this is where teachers access students spelling skills.
"We're seeing what spelling patterns that student needs to work within their writing. And because ultimately our goal in spelling is to make children be better writers," John Harris Elementary 4th grade teacher Tiffany Jensen said.
"I think when parents first hear there may not be a spelling test in their child's classroom, they think automatically, 'Oh, we must not be teaching kids to spell anymore.' And that's certainly not the case," McAdaragh said.
In fact, Mrs. Jensen works one-on-one with students every week during word work to make sure students are challenged and progressing over the week before. And she says word work is working already.
"I've seen a lot of growth already this year in their spelling and I'm starting to see them really understand word patterns better so I think it's a great way to teach spelling," Jensen said.
While it might be a little more work for teachers, Jensen says it's rewarding to see the kids improve every week.
McAdaragh also explained it this way: Nobody goes to college to study spelling. It's a tool. Just like we learn math facts so we can compute better, we learn how to spell to communicate better.