Open Assessment and Mrs. Kohler’s Spelling Lesson

It was ironic that I was at Technorati searching for “Open Assessment” when I stumbled on

Mrs. Kohler’s Lesson Plan

August 3, 2007

Standards: 7C1.3

Objectives: Studnets will take Spelling Lesson #1 test. Students will work on their Vocabulary Squares for Duffy’s Jacket. Students will learn how to create their Weekly Grading Sheet Packet.


Anticapatory Set: The teacher will explain that the studnets are taking their Spelling Test #1 for Compound Words. She will remind them that some words are closed, and some are open.


Studnets will take the Spelling test, then trade and Grade.

Now, I also make the typo of “studnets” for “students,” but finding Mrs Kohler has me thinking about how I’d want children to go about the task of learning about spelling.

For the record, I care about spelling correctness, but I have a distaste for Mrs Kohler’s method. (perhaps because it didn’t work for me 45 years ago). So, how would I think about “attending to” spelling? – which I think is a question that goes beyond spelling mechanics.

A colleague on the bus I ride, who teaches in the College of Education, was relating a story about his daughter, a first grader, who comes home with perfect scores on her in-class spelling quizzes. She also loves to write and draw and makes greeting cards for family and friends — on which her spelling is poor. He wryly notes that she does not carry her skill from the classroom to the real context. Now– does this mean that he understands that Mrs Kohler’s work is perhaps in vain, students will learn to spell in authentic contexts by the feedback they get in those contexts, and that students may learn to do school spelling for school tests, but that is a different (and perhaps irrelevant) additional skill. If so, how sad for the efforts of Mrs Kohler and the system of No Child Left Behind where she is trapped.

I think the real issue here is not Mrs Kohler’s typos but schoolbook approaches to teaching spelling. The issue is teaching children to be effective communicators and how to work with their mistakes in the process of being communicators. A few typos didn’t deter my understanding of Mrs Kohler. Children should know the same is true. What they really need to understand is when bad spelling and grammar will impede their communication goals. The other thing they need to understand is how to attend to those errors so that the effect is the one they desire. It may not be by becoming good spellers, it may be by learning to use tools as aides. For example, I make both typos and spelling errors, but I use Firefox as my browser to help me avoid publishing them. The unfortunate thing is that children compose with crayons, a very inflexible medium unfriendly to correcting mistakes and they are reminded by their schooling that making mistakes is bad.

I came back to edit this after I found Vivian Cook’s piece The Liter Cide 2 Spelling where she explores some of these ideas in a humorous way to make some of my points above.


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