I marvel at book talk attendees. People trek from great distances, clutching worn copies of favorite reads. They stand in long lines for a brief word with (or autograph from) a favorite writer. The brave ones step to the podium to share stories or ask questions. Their remarks bring more voices and perspectives into conversation. Their contributions add welcome depth and texture to the occasion. At a Jacqueline Woodson BookPeople talk that I moderated in October, an educator in the audience . . .
Can you spell sesquipedalian? Well, the children featured in anthropologist Shalini Shankar’s Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z’s New Path to Success can. The elite competitors in the Scripps National Spelling Bee are largely of South Asian descent and, though born after 1996, exhibit intensity, skill, and poise rare in people twice their age. On stage, they spell obscure words with ease, backed by supportive parents and thousands of hours of practice. And these feats . . .
Every week, my daughter brings home a list of spelling words, along with a note on the spelling pattern the words exemplify. For example, a recent word list focused on examples of the short o sound spelled with an a following w or qu, e.g. squad, wash, and want. I appreciate that the words are organized around a single, specific spelling concept, so that any time spent on them reinforces a lesson she’s received. (Unlike thematic lists organized by holidays, seasons, or other topics that give . . .
In Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z’s New Path to Success, anthropologist Shalini Shankar offers readers a nuanced and scholarly account of a subset of immigrant parents today. Like Amy Chua’s tiger moms, the South Asian Americans Shankar examines—parents of kids who participate in the National Spelling Bee—value education above all. These so-called “bee parents” are just more likely to spend time supporting and advocating for their kids than doling out harsh criticism. . . .
Demon words. Oddballs. Rule breakers. The terms used to describe words—like indict and villain—whose spellings don’t match their pronunciations tend to veer negative. It’s as if the words broke with some established order and wreaked havoc on the language, fueled by their own rudeness or irreverence. In fact, words are just words. Language itself is messy, though, full of complexity wrought by natural evolution and intentional intervention over time, place, and population. No authority makes . . .
Syringe. Fluorescent. Privilege. Spellings for words like these don’t exactly roll off the tongue. Their silent, ambiguous, and unusual letters create mismatches between print and pronunciation that often lead to misspellings. So what’s a speller to do? I say, focus on every letter, identify the unexpected bits, and create a special pronunciation of your own that makes the letters easier to remember. Don’t use the alternative pronunciation in conversation, but lean on it all you want when . . .
Memorization gets a bad rap, but it works very well for some words and children. Time and again researchers find that focused attention, transcription, and recollection of select words helps kids master challenging spellings. The key is to treat memorization as a supplement, not as the sole or even primary method of spelling instruction. First and foremost, parents teaching spelling at home should strive to create a culture of interest and engagement with words. We should focus on weaving a . . .
November is National Family Literacy Month, organized by the National Center for Families Learning. Originally, the group worked with Congress to designated November 1 National Family Literacy Day in 1994. Now the organization celebrates the cause all November long and distributes a guide of 30 days of family activities to try. I say, let’s prioritize literacy all year long and use the awareness month as an opportunity to reflect and recommit. Going hard for a short period of time, the 30 . . .
It’s report card time again, and U.S. reading achievement shows no improvement. National reading scores dipped for fourth and eighth graders this year, according to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as The Nation’s Report Card. Only one third of U.S. 4th and 8th graders are proficient readers. Not excellent or strong, mind you. Just competent, able to get by. Mississippi was the only state in the union to post reading gains. We should applaud its improved literacy . . .
Spelling is crucial for reading and writing. Still, spelling instruction limps along in the 21st century as “the abandoned stepchild in the family of language arts,” in the words of researchers R. Malatesha Joshi, Rebecca Treiman, Suzanne Carreker, and Louisa C. Moats. Despite evidence that spelling directly affects reading skill, it gets little time and attention in most American classrooms. “Probably more than any other school subject, teacher intervention and influence on the spelling . . .