Schools now, are much different to the way they were when we were kids. The number of subjects being offered, have increased. Children have many more choices with regard to education because there is so much more being offered in schools now. What has not changed, however, is certain core elements – spelling tests being one of them.
I remember hating dictations and spelling tests when I was a child and from what I see now, that sentiment has not changed among children. While spelling tests per se, do not really help with anything in particular, fact remains that to teach children how to spell, remains one of those monumental challenges.
I remember the spelling tests they used to give us at school. Our English teacher used to look as menacing as the giant when dear old Jack was running down the beanstalk and we used to really sweat it out through the spelling tests. The much hated, infamous ruler is known to have cracked across quite a few palms and worse still, knuckles – before some children got their spellings right.
Gone are those days, though. Now, if not anything else, children are treated with kid’s gloves at school. Even though the menace factor is missing, fact remains that learning to spell – by itself – gets quite cut and dry over a period of time. It does get monotonous and to put it in kids parlance – it’s so boooooring !!
Understandable – given the fact that children are stringing alphabets together to arrive at a word – or just mugging it up to retain the spelling in mind by rote. My vote is definitely for the phonetic version, though. Teach kids the phonetics of each alphabet and then get them/challenge them to give you the spellings of words – as they see it fit – just using the phonetics of the alphabet. English, being what it is, I mean confusing as hell, things get more complex as we keep raising the bar. But then again, that is where the fun lies – both, for the ones learning as well as for the one trying to get them to learn.
This is how both Macademia and Pecan were introduced to spellings and they used to love it. Like I said before, I was not, am not and will not be a fan at all, of the mugging up process. That’s pretty much like eating something and then throwing it up. The absorption factor is way too low and all “mugging up” or “rote learning” does, is makes the learning process very tedious, monotonous and mind numbing. In reality, should the learning process not be exactly the opposite ? At the very least, it needs to be interesting enough to get the learner’s attention and more importantly, keep it there for a while at least. When the learner in question is a child or children, incorporating a fun element to learning becomes very important as well.
When Macadamia and Pecan were little, they used to enjoy the phonetic challenge of stringing sounds together to try and form the right words. Over a period of time, however, as they grow, as their reasoning capacities get enhanced, this whole process of just stringing alphabets together too gets rather dull and repetitive.
We did reach a stage during their growing up years when the looks on their faces, used to be one of tedium. Gone was the excitement with which they used to tackle spelling tasks. It was just another task to be completed. It had ceased to be an activity that sparked that element of excitement. It was no longer an activity that got them eager and enthusiastic, it ceased to be something that gave them that thrill of having accomplished something, that sheer pleasure of getting it right.
Something needed to be done.
Something had to be infused into the formula. It had to be something that would get them all enthusiastic at the very idea of spelling something right. It had to be something that would reignite that element of eagerness, something that would get them all animated and something that would demand wholehearted participation on their part. Yet, there had to be an element which would make them willing participants to the whole idea.
The answer, when it did strike me, was quite simple.
What better than an aura of mystery? Nothing better than a certain amount of mystique, just the right amount of vagueness and ambiguity which would enhance the thrill factor at having found the right answer.
Riddle them !! said that voice in my head. Yes !! Yes !! Yes !! nodded the other half of my head, very enthusiastically and heartily. Riddles should definitely do the trick, was what my mind said. I knew for a fact that this would be fun for me too because I love making riddles. I love puns. I love to play with words and sentences. What started off as an experiment, proved to be a rip-roaring success.
Initially Pecan was started off on what we called Jumbled Riddles (known to adults as anagrams). Macademia was my partner-in-crime on this mission. I used to create riddles for Macadamia since they had to be taken up a notch and Pecan, then, was too young to help with those.
I would write down the riddle for him on his book. The answer to the riddle would be given alongside – but as an anagram – all jumbled up.
e.g: Children play with us. We pop when children touch us. What are we ?
Answer : LUEBBBS
I am red and juicy. I grow on a tree. One of me a day is said to keep the doctor away.
Answer : PAPEL
This project helped in more ways than one. Rather than just focus on spelling something right, Macadamia and Pecan were, in the process, having to use their phonetic skills to read the sentences in the riddles as well. No, I never read it for them. What I gave them at that age, step by step, were reading skills – things that are, in professional terminology known as chunking and decoding, to begin with. They had to put those to use and give it their all. If they still found something difficult, then and only then would I help them out.
Very soon, riddles ceased to be an instrument through which only spellings could be learned. If Pecan could grasp spellings through riddles, then the very same riddles (probably taken up a notch or two) could kindle the siblings’ thirst for General Knowledge too. It would be a good way to make them hunt for information, to search for answers. It would be such an entertaining and enjoyable way to glean more knowledge and information.
e.g: I am one of the satellites of the biggest planet in the Solar System.
Answer : MYGADEEN
I, the biggest mammal, swim in the ocean and did you know that I have a heart the size of a small car ? OK – first you tell me – what am I ?
Answer : LEBU LWHEA
If I had any trouble with this venture, it was in terms of keeping pace with them. As they got better, as their reasoning skills got better, they kept getting faster and faster and the riddles had to be dished out at a dizzying pace (for me). Another challenge lay in the fact that they had to be given riddles that could prove intellectually stimulating, interesting enough to keep them hooked and motivated, ones that were thought-provoking enough to make them go looking for the answers :)).
I just need to close my eyes and I can still picture them in my mind – eager little faces, eyes shiny with anticipation and that all too familiar, consistent chant of “Mummy, please give me some jumbled riddles?”
If, at any point of time, you find yourself having to teach your kids to spell or more importantly, to make the whole process more interesting for them, give riddles a go. For that matter, spellings aside, this could be used as a fun activity to keep them occupies during vacations as well.
Trust me, the journey promises to be a very interesting one indeed.
Gauri Venkitaraman dons many hats – a wife, a mom, a teacher and many more. Working as a full-time English teacher in HongKong, Gauri also raises and nurtures two terrors, affectionately known as The Nutty Siblings a.k.a Macadamia, a teen and Pecan, the ten-year old who behaves like he is fifteen. Gauri’s family means the world to her. Life is a lively roller coaster ride and we, as a family, aim to enjoy the ride together. http://tiny-tidbits.blogspot.hk/ is where Gauri pens down her thoughts and musings, in an attempt to preserve memories for posterity