Back in July 2011, I wrote a post about using Words Their Way as my spelling assessment. It never ceases to amaze me how, three years later, I still get comments and inquiries on that post. It's kind of unbelievable.
It is, by far, my most viewed post. Check this out:
This is the page views for August 6 as of 4:44 pm EST. 67 page views in ONE day...3 years after the post was written!
This is the page views for all time, since the post was written. Crazy, right?
I am not a Words Their Way expert by ANY means. In fact, I haven't even used it in the last three years. It isn't because I don't like it, it is because we got a new reading program and it was just EASIER to use the spelling patterns that came with the program. Alas, I can tell you right now, that was a VERY stupid decision for me to make.
Over the past two years, as I have worked primarily with 4th grade again, I have noticed my students' spelling stinks. It is really horrible. They still can not spell sight words correctly, they don't bother to use the word wall, etc. No matter how much we practice and drill, they just don't get it. Why would this be?
Because I am not meeting my students where they are. I am not screening them as I did with WTW and able to group them based upon the place they are with their word knowledge. If you read that post and look at all 55 comments left over the years, you will see some people HATE WTW with a passion and think it is the devil and others want to know how I used it, want more information on it and want to hear what I think about how they will implement it. It's flattering for sure.
Again, I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. But I know that it works when you do it with fidelity. I did not use all of the games and things because I didn't have the time within my day to do that. But we always did the sorts, always. The two years I used the program from the beginning of the year, my students' word knowledge growth was immense. They understood the patterns and thus were able to spell even more difficult words because they had internalized the pattern.
Most of the negative comments on that post discuss how students aren't learning to spell. I will just go ahead and say this (even if it offends):
IF IT IS NOT WORKING FOR YOUR STUDENTS, YOU AREN'T DOING IT RIGHT
There. I said it. Sorry if you are offended but it is very likely that if your students aren't getting it, you have lost a step in the process, most likely a very meaningful one.
Let me remind you...I work with English Language Learners. Most years, as the ESL teacher in my grade, I get the lowest students because they are the ELLs and are still grasping English in school when they mostly speak only Spanish at home. Usually there are several non-ESL students whom I take because they fit into a group with my lower ELL students. I also work with a population that, unfortunately, do not read at home as much as I would like. (You always get the few who, no matter what, will pick up a book because they love it -- not a surprise they are the best readers in the class too.) High poverty, inner city, you name it and it probably describes my district.
And I have had success with this program. I think people who don't are skimping on it. I'm not blaming them, just pointing out my opinion. You have to do the sorts and you have to do them teacher-led in a small group so you can model it. That is ESSENTIAL. I truly know how hard it is when you have 4,982 things to do but only 6 hours to do them in. I get it. Believe me, I do.
Alas, if you want success with this program, you have to follow the program. You definitely do not need to own all of the books that include the sorts but they sure are helpful because the sorts are already there and made for you. Once you have given the screener and make your groups, you can literally just start within whatever color book they are and go from there.
This year, as I finally begin to prepare myself for back-to-school, I will be using Words Their Way again. It may get me into some hot water with my district (a few people in my district found my blog and read it *waves to district people*) but I will stand by my decision as I know darn well that my students have ceased to make growth in spelling once I stopped using this program.
What I plan to do this year, which I haven't done before when using it, is color-code each group and make copies to keep at school and copies to send home so the children can practice. It will be part of their homework every night Monday-Thursday along with their math homework.
Once I can get into my building, I will be picking these materials up (they are in my classroom) and bringing them home so I can begin to plan for implementing the sorts into my classroom this year. It may well look different than it has in years past but I am certain that my spelling scores will go back up with this program compared to the same old rote memorize and forget lists that we have with Reading Street.