Though you've probably heard about the saga of Smokey Rabbitson and the changes that have been happening with our beloved class bunny, I will briefly recap for those who have not. In short, I took Smokey to the vet for his first check up, only to find out the he is in fact a she. Not only is he a she, but also she needs to be spayed. Apparently spaying is essential to a pet living a long, healthy life. Given that I was told by Smokey's previous owner that he was a he and that he had been neutered, this came as quite shock.
A few weeks before this, I attended a conference at Purdue to learn how to start and operate a profitable classroom business. With all of that training floating around in my mind, this Smokey thing was a perfect "in." So I sat down with the 3rd graders, introduced them to Mrs. Smokey Rabbitson, and discussed our need to come up with the funds for her surgery. This began our journey into business-hood, which I will try to recount for you as we progress.
Step 1: Choose a Product
After much searching and brainstorming, I found these cute bracelets here. These bracelets are a particularly appealing product for a few different reasons: they can be customized for boys, girls, kids, and adults alike; they are simple to create, but do require multiple steps; and the materials are inexpensive and easy to find.
Step 2: Choose a Price
You may be wondering why choosing a price would be so important before we have even made a single bracelet. For us, we needed to know the price in order to project profits so that we could write a business proposal to present to the PTO for a loan! That's right -- a loan. Smokey needed her surgery ASAP, so we needed the money up front. We'll get into the details of the loan process a bit later.
As for determining a price, we decided to conduct a market survey. Each student was assigned a grade level to survey.
After each class was surveyed, we worked together to collate our data and find totals. The students first had to find the totals on their own survey.
Then, they were put into groups of 3 and given base-10 blocks to find the total number of bracelets that we would sell at each price point. Once they had those numbers, they used their budding understanding of multiplication to figure out how much money we would make at each price point. This of course led beautifully into a discussion of "profit," where we then had to subtract our estimated cost of materials.
After all of this hard work, we finally had 3 projected profits for 3 different prices. Predictably, the numbers showed that we would make the most money if we sold them for $5 each and the least money if we sold them for $2 each. Like all good business partners do, we sat together and discussed what the best decision would be for our business. Everyone got a chance to speak, and ultimately it was decided that selling them for $2 would be too risky because we would need to make and sell so many, but that selling them for $5 would also be too risky because people may not actually want to spend that much. So we settled on a price of $3 per bracelet, hoping that our customers will buy close to the amount they said they would when they were surveyed.
Alright, so at this point, we have fulfilled step 2. We have our price. Check back soon to find out what happens next in our journey to business-hood!
(Note: This blog post accidentally turned very academic-y. If that's not what you are looking for today, scroll down to the part with the pictures!)
A current hot topic in educational research is the validity of spelling tests as an accurate measure of a student's ability to spell. I have seen this quandary play out first-hand, as time and time again students earn A+'s on spelling tests but average B's and C's when it comes to spelling words correctly in their own writing. Many schools have adopted "word study" curricula that center around memorizing patterns in spelling as opposed to a set of unrelated words. One criticism of this approach is that it doesn't provide students with the challenge of learning to spell complicated words that do not follow a pattern; however, there is research that suggests that students receiving word-study instruction outperform those receiving traditional spelling instruction.
For further evidence that the educational world has yet to take a stance on the "right" way to teach spelling, just look at What Works Clearinghouse. Given their stated mission, one would think they would have the answer:
The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviews the existing research on different programs, products, practices, and policies in education. Our goal is to provide educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions. We focus on the results from high-quality research to answer the question “What works in education?”
Sadly, entering the word "spelling" into the WWC search bar yields hundreds of results of spelling programs that have either not been researched, or that the research done did not meet the protocol necessary to allow us to draw conclusions about their effectiveness.
What is a teacher to do? Well, luckily there were a few programs that WWC was able to verify as effective. Parsing through these programs, I found that they seem to lie somewhere in the middle of the traditional approach and the word-study approach, and they all have 3 aspects in common. The first is that they attempt to lay a foundational knowledge of syllable types (open, closed, vowel-consonant-e, etc), phoneme types (blends, digraphs, etc.), word parts (prefixes, suffixes, basewords, etc.), and irregularities, then use this knowledge to attack unfamiliar words. The second common thread among these programs was the integration of reading and spelling - that this new knowledge of the parts of words should be explicitly taught as a means of reading new words and spelling new words. Lastly, all of the programs emphasize a multi-sensory approach, meaning the use of hands-on manipulatives, songs and rhymes, and movement activities to build connection and retention of the strategies learned.
LONG STORY SHORT, this year the 3rd graders are improving their spelling skills using the approach outlined in the paragraph above. So let's get to the fun part and see what they've been up to!
After 2 weeks of learning 4 new syllable types, I put the 3rd graders to the test by throwing in nonsense words. Nonsense words are essential, because they test the student's ability to apply the rules they've learned without relying upon any prior knowledge of the word. For example, once you learn to recognize the word "apple," you will easily be able to tell me that the first vowel sound is a short one, because well, that's how we say it! But what if I gave you the word "ipdom?" You would need to know something about syllable types and where to divide them in order to know how to pronounce it (read it). If I spoke the word "ipdom" to you, you would need to know something about syllable types and what vowel sounds they produce in order to write it (spell it).
To make this activity multi-sensory (and fun), I put the students into groups of 3 and gave them some scissors! Each person had a job: either the repeater, the decider, or the checker.
I gave each team a card containing a nonsense word. If I read the word aloud, it was the repeater's job to listen and repeat the word to his/her team as needed. Then, the decider decided where the word should be divided and marked it with a pencil. The checker's job was to verify the decider's decision, consulting their spelling mini-notebook where they have stored their notes about syllables.
After each team shared their decisions and we came to a consensus, the decider got to cut the word to divide it into syllables. Later, these syllable cards will be shuffled and used to create and read new nonsense words.
Every so often, I will give a spelling inventory assessment of unrelated grade-level words as a way of measuring the effectiveness of this blended approach to spelling instruction. As the year goes on, we should have a much clearer understanding of "what works" with spelling.
Little people, big minds.