Look, Cover, Write, Check

I was watching my granddaughter doing her homework. She opened the spelling book and turned to a specially folded page. On one side was a list of words and the other half of the page was folded so she could cover the list and write on the back of it. It was a ‘look, cover, write, check’ exercise. It was easy for the teacher to set. She got most of the words correct, because if she didn't know how to write it, she would have another peek at the list and check, so she could write it correctly. After all, it was only grandpa watching, and what would he know?

In my mind, I had several questions that concerned me with the exercise. The first is "how many times did students need to do a ‘look, write, cover, check‘ to have the word permanently embedded in their understanding? Is that type of practise enough to ensure that several weeks or a term later they would still be able to spell the word, if they were given an impromptu test. Or how many times do they need to do the ‘cover, write, check,‘ process before they will get excited enough about the word to spell it correctly and use it when they're writing or in their speech.

Spelling is about enabling children, not only to recognise a word, but eventually incorporate it into their speech or writing. An interesting question for me is, ‘How much improvement in word usage is there in a child’s writing that can be attributed to me as a teacher rather than just general maturation?’

 So, my question is how many times do we need to use ’Look, cover, write, check’ with the same list of words to make learning of a word complete? I suppose  it leads to the question 'how effective is my spelling process within the whole class? When I give a spelling test on Friday, is my spelling teaching of that list of words done and I can move onto the next list with every child? What am I doing with the mistakes children make? Do I record them? Do I enlist parent or other help?  The answer should be that I need to keep going until I know that if I give an impromptu test, or pick up a written language book and find that the words that I have had in my spelling list several weeks before will all be spelt correctly.

Furthermore, after a test, and I record the results with  a number out of 20 and incorporate it in my results book and eventually in my report to parents, does it reflect my students long term understanding of the words. Does the it tell me a clear picture of the struggles or success that my studends have experienced?  If, in that spelling test at the end of the week, there are mistakes from some children; what am I going to do about making sure these students learn words they wrote incorrectly? Tests should be for my information so that I know how to plan future lessons. One child I had contact with, in a public school with a good reputation continually got a score of 2/8 for spelling tests but was then given the next list of words in the Jolly Phonics program only to repeat the process and get 2/8 for the next test. When asked, what was being done to help, I was told that he was in the low group and only given 8 words to learn each week.

The second question that I have, is to do with the actual mechanics. So, when I say to the children ‘look first look the what am I are asking them to do; or do they understand what I'm asking them to do? 

The first thing I want to do is too make of is that the child is reading from the correct side of the word or page. Several children that I've had worked with, look at word ’was’ and then write word ‘saw’ and when they check it would be pleased, thinking they were correct.  Some children want to read from the wrong side of the word or page.

So, especially in the early grades I would be setting up activities that helped children with that difficulty.

The first issue is usually prevalent in lower grades.  The next one can be found in all grades. I want children to know rather than guess. Some guess from the first letter, others from the last letter. And some just guess.

In lower grades, I want students to see the middle sounds and recognise them rather than guessing. In upper grades the key sounds can be surrounded by prefixes and suffixes which can make recognition difficult. I want to make sure students know and do not  guess when they fold the sheet over, or go back and merely copy.

There are other children that when they see the word they read it, but when they go to write it down their mamory lapses and they must go back and check because they confuse the letter order. A word like ‘half’ will have the ‘l’ and the wrong place and become 'hlaf'. Often some will have trouble hearing all the sounds in a blend.

So initially what I want students to see is the letters and sounds in order, and seeing the letters, sounds and affixes from the right direction.

Next, I want them to do is to be able to see the actual sounds that are in the in the word and as they write the word to hear the sounds in their head. As they progress I want them to be able to identify consonants and vowels. Later, I want them to be able to identify syllables. Alongside syllables, students need to be able to employ rules that affect words in syllables and comprehend the difference between ‘cutting’ and ‘baking’ and able to identify that words with CVC pattern, where we double the next letter when the ‘ing’ suffix.

So, as children get older I will be asking them to look more into differing aspects of the word. In a grade at the top end of a primary school I would be hoping that they would be able to understand the processes in of adding prefixes and suffixes and just what that does to a base word and its meaning.

Therefore, before I set a ‘Look, cover, write check’ there are many things I would be teaching, and in that process I would be looking forward to when I set in the ‘look’ and the ‘check’ processes.

I may also like them to look at the shape of a word and at times use word grids as clues, or get them to draw the grid in the write section of the process.

A further activity would be looking for blends, is there a blend the beginning of the word or at the end of a word or both like ‘strand’.

Then when it comes to checking I would like to see them check whether each letter is in the correct spot. I would like them to check what kind of rule or sounds that they have used to make sure that they haven't left anything out. I would like them to ponder the word in a sentence so that when they check the word to ensure some idea of meaning as well. Most all we need to stress the orderof the process  and why we are undertaking the task.,

Some activities to ponder:

1 Writing the words using coloured pencils and  using a different colour for each sound in the  word.

2. Getting the child to say the words slowly and sounding out each sound.

3. Using letter shapes as clues to the words.

4. Having the children in a group saying the words slowly and articulating them to each other.

5. have the clues words  with sounds missing, so they need to be added to write the word correctly.

6. Use sentence clues where the key word is missing and must be worked out before writing the word down in the appropiate list.

7. Have children in groups help each other check the work. When they find a mistake they explain how they remember the word.

8. Have children in groups tell each other the hardest word to remember and the easiest. For some to explain this properly they may have to think like a student who finds spelling difficult.

9. Make sure you test the words regularly, weeks and months later to check if the words are still remembered. 

10. Written language is a very good place to check on spelling. Mark it so that students are encouraged to remedy their own errors.

11. Make sure the ’look, cover, write, check,’ process is followed carefully.

12. Remembering mistakes can be useful.