Homosapien-Tattalous: The human tattletale

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Defining Homosapien-Tattalous

Since the beginning of civilization, human beings have felt the need to get each other in trouble. It seems to be the life-long ambition of some individuals to make others miserable in-order-to feel a little better about there own small lives. I am of course speaking of homosapien-tattalous (the tattletale). This species of human is unfortunately not rare and is commonly found on school play yards and in elementary school classrooms (though they are known to frequent lunchrooms, water-cooler areas, and the office mail room, among many other locals). Tattle tales are often easy to spot at long distance and should be avoided at all costs. The tattletale often lacks self esteem and rarely has close friends. Tattletales are parasitic creatures that feed by sucking the happiness from others (not unlike a dementor if you fancy Harry Potter). Alas, being a teacher I cannot avoid interacting with the larva tattletales. Thus as educators we must develop strategies to handle the creature without harming it. If you cause harm to a tattletale, it will of course tattle on you. Thus the conundrum.


Dealing with Homosapien-Tattalous

I have dealt with tattletales in my career in various ways. There is the tried and true: punish the tattler not the victim of the tattling. I have seen tattle journals for classrooms. I’ve heard of detention for tattling. And yet no matter the punishment, homosapien-tattalous will continue to evolve to survive. An interesting adaptation occurred in my classroom this year. Several weeks ago, one of my resident tattletales (of the classroom variety) raised his hand to ask a question. I, being an amazing teacher, arrived promptly at the student’s desk. The student, Arthur Dent, looked at the girl across from him and then at me before speaking, “Mr. B, can we pass notes in class?”

I answered, “Of course we can’t. We’ve established that rule since day one.”

The student smiled and looked sneeringly at the girl across from him. He continued to speak, “Oh I was just wondering cause Trillian here was passing a note to her friend. So I guess since you said we can’t do it, she should get in trouble.” I was of course livid! I explained to the creature that even though he was asking a question, it was still tattling and possibly worse than the regular version.
Over the next few days Arthur and Trillian presented me with several different questions, each of them beginning the same way. “Mr. B, are we allowed to…” And alas I lamented. I thought I had eradicated homosapien-tattalous from my classroom. I was wrong. I have underestimated the resilience of the species. But fear not. Wherever there is a tattletale sucking the happiness from others, a teacher will be there to tell them it is wrong. “Constant Vigilance!” (again if you fancy Harry Potter)


The Perfect Solution

Many years ago a teacher “sitting on her own in a small cafĂ© in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place.” A world free of tattling. “This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.
Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terrible, stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost for ever.
And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.”*

So long, and go out and teach the kids.


*All quotes courtesy Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
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Spelling Lists: An Antiquated Waste of Instructional Time.

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Spelling Lists: An Antiquated Waste of Instructional Time.

I must begin this conversation by saying of course DON’T PANIC. I do believe that spelling should be addressed in schools. I must also disclose that in my first year of teaching (admittedly a short time ago) I too thought the students must memorize spelling words each week. What I discovered that year and through subsequent research (including the article No More Friday Spelling Tests? by Kelly A. Loeffler) was that I was only teaching what was taught to me. I asked myself if memorizing spelling words, one week at a time, was actually working. The answer was no. Students who spelled every word correctly on the Friday test were misspelling those same words the following week in their daily writing. So why was I wasting time. I was wasting time printing the lists. The students were wasting time studying words at home, doing busy work like writing them three times each or alphabetizing them. I was wasting 20 minutes a week giving the test and another 30 minutes scoring it. All this led to frustration at why the students weren’t getting better at spelling. Then I remembered a familiar quote from Anthony Robins: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” I studied spelling lists for my entire elementary career and I just now had trouble spelling the word career. Spelling lists didn’t work then and continuing to use a faulty strategy is poor or lazy instruction. It is the 21st century and it is time for a new model for spelling instruction.

Let me introduce you to New Spelling. No lists. No memorizing. No tests. What is it then? Well I believe that spelling words correctly should be done within the context of writing. A student should be able to spell the words correctly that he uses frequently. However, if a student does not know how to spell a word, he must have a system of strategies set in place that will allow him to in-the-end spell the needed word correctly.

This system begins with the student being able to identify either automatically or intuitively that he has misspelled a word. I utilize the traditional ‘circle the word if you know it is misspelled’ axiom. At this point the true teaching and learning occurs. I teach my students five spelling strategies (which Ms. Loeffler outlined in her article).

These problem solving strategies are:

  • Ask a friend
  • Sound out the word slowly by using sound boxes or finger tapping.
  • Use a dictionary (either a printed copy or digital edition)
  • Use similar words to help spell the troublesome word.
  • Use a spell-checker (either a handheld device or pulling up a word processing program)

By the time the student has completed as many of the strategies as needed, he will have discovered how to spell the needed word correctly. And chances are, he has taken more ownership over a word that he discovered the spelling to, instead of a meaningless word supplied by his teacher. As the student continues to write and discover how to spell new words, his personal word bank of correctly spelled words will grow (thus achieving the goal of teaching the student how to spell words correctly). As I will discuss in a further post, these strategies do not take the place of vocabulary instruction (which is not spelling word lists). I will conclude by admitting freely that I have not giving a Spelling Test in over three years. Am I the only teacher in my school not giving Spelling Tests? Yes. Can my students still spell? Yes.

If you are a veteran teacher, you may see this “as clinching proof that the whole of known creation has finally gone bananas.” I feel that change is inevitable (I just used 2 strategies to spell inevitable). We must educate our students to solve problems using logical strategies. Spelling is important. Being able to regurgitate a list of 20 words on any given Friday is not a life-long skill. So please, teach them the process for discovering how to spell, not the process of how to cram during lunch on Friday for a meaningless test. Until next time. So long, and go out and teach the kids.

Find the article No More Friday Spelling Tests? by Kelly A. Loeffler as a direct download here:
http://www.teachingld.org/pdf/teaching_how-tos/spelling_tests.pdf