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 they need to do a look right cover check and have the word permanently embedded in their understanding? Is that enough to ensure that several weeks or a term later they would 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 and spell it correctly and use it when they're writing and even 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 it learning of a word complete? I suppose all 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; the words that I have had in my spelling list several weeks before will all be spelt correctly.

Furthermore, when I give them a number out of 20 and incorporate it in my results and eventually in my report to parents does it reflect my students long term understanding of the words. 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 students learn words they got wrong? 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 page. Several children that I've had worked with, look at word ’was’ and then write word ‘saw’ and when they checked it would be pleased, thinking they were correct.  

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 have to guess when that fold the sheet over, or go back and merely copy.

There are other children that when they see the word they read read it, but when they write it down they must go back and check because they confuse the letter order. A word like ‘half’ will have the ‘l’ and the wrong place.

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

Secondly, 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 more 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 word 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 written 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.