Jul 17, 2009


I want to make it very clear that I stole everything I know about dictados from Ben Slavic. I also want it known that this is NOT TPRS. It's pretty much very focused output. There is a lot of comprehensible input going on here, and I have seen a lot of gains (especially in confidence) from it, so I will keep doing it, especially since it really doesn't take up more than ten-fifteen minutes of class a week.

I keep my dictados to 5 sentences. They are always recycled from the stuff (stories, readings, etc.) we do in class, so there is no new information in them. The students can focus entirely on writing the information, not on comprehension. It lowers the affective filter a lot. I tell my kids that I only expect them to give me ten minutes a week of undivided, focused work time for spelling and grammar. (Which is really a lot, but that's another blog entirely.)

As in any dictation, the students have a piece of notebook paper, and they copy what they hear me say. However, I have them leave two blank lines between every line they write on. So, there is a line of text, then two blank lines, then another line of text.

I read through the five sentences very slowly. I usually read them through two times, although I will offer more, especially if there are complicated structures or long sentences in there. After I have read the dictation through and students are ok with it, I project the correct version of the dictation on the board. (I was lucky enough to have an interactive white board last year which made this all very fun.) At this point I go through the dictation again, but letter by letter, accent mark by accent mark. I point out all the tricky things, but I do it via pop-up lessons and circling. "Class, Did you notice the accent mark here? Why do I have an ía at the end of this verb? That's right! It's in the past tense." Then I keep going.

While I am going over the correct version of the dictation, my students are following along on their papers. Their assignment is to underline all their errors, and on the line immediately below the error they are to copy the correct spelling of the word. I print out hard copies of the dictation for students who have difficulty changing their focus from the paper to the board and back.

When I grade the papers, I only grade on what has been corrected. So, every single student regardless of his/her ability to spell can earn an A+. Talk about lowering that affective filter! I just removed all possibility of failure.

But it isn't just an easy A.

First of all, I am picky about accent marks and punctuation, because I am giving them the corrections visually and orally. So, the first mistake brings them to an A. After that, every second mistake drops them a letter grade. I write the new corrections directly beneath the mistake, so either on that second or third line.

Second, I am differentiating my butt off here, and I'm not even breaking a sweat. Every student is getting a spelling lesson and a grammar lesson in EXACTLY what he/she needs to learn.

Third, I am getting true assessments from this. When I look at the dictations, which I do, I am noticing where students are making mistakes. If a word or phrase keeps popping up, and it is a high frequency word, I make sure to recycle it into future lessons. If it's a "throw-away" word, one that isn't used often but was in that story, I don't pay much attention to it.

As the year went on, I noticed that despite (or is that because of) the lack of fear about grades, my students were making fewer and fewer mistakes on their spelling. That was in the dictations, and in the free writes. They were nailing words that are often spelled incorrectly.

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