Jul 9, 2009

weekly schedule and dictations

Desiree said:
This will be my 3rd year teaching and 2nd year doing TPRS. I love your idea of a routine and wanted to get some input from you. You said Mon & Fri is free reading, Tues free writing and Thurs dictation. What did you mean by no normal class on Wed. (do you not meet)? I see my students for 50 min Mon-Fri so I was wondering how this would work. How long do each of these activities take each day? Also, do you give them a grade for dictations? In my first year I did a dictation every 2-3 weeks but I would do the dictation on Mon as practice and they would rewrite the correct version afterwards and Friday I would do the same dictation but this time taking it up for a quiz grade. I didn't know if you do something like this. Thanks for any advice you can give me. Thanks for your blog....it is great learning from master teachers.

I have really loved the idea of a routine. The kids always knew what to expect when coming in to class. My administrators loved it too. As much as TPRS is a fairly organic process and is not as easily planned as other ways of teaching, it always *looked* very organized and planned. Administrators would look at my board and see that today we were going to do Free Writes, and then a class story, and they never asked me for more detailed lesson plans. The students were happily writing, so obviously is was a well-planned and organized classroom. Heh. If only they knew.
Wednesdays were not a normal day because out here they have one day a week that is an early release day. That is, school lets out an hour and a half earlier and that’s when teacher meetings and staff development are scheduled. This past year we had all the normal classes, but at a much smaller clip. It was perfect for reading the novel, because we could spend the whole class time reading without getting overwhelmed. I don’t know how I will adjust my schedule this coming year now that I am on an 80 minute class every other day.
I’ve never thought to give the dictation again as a quiz grade later in the week. I do give a grade for dictations, and I counted it as an assessment. But, the way I did that was to give students a grade based on what they were able to turn in correct. I read the dictation straight through twice. Students wrote what they thought they heard. Now, I based my dictation on the class story or the novel we had been reading. As students were writing, they left two blank lines after every line of their text. When I posted the correct version on the board, students underlined any words they had not spelled correctly, and copied the correct version on the line underneath. This focused their attention specifically where they needed it. I actually really like the low-stress atmosphere of kids are only scored on what they are able to correct. Everybody can get an A, even if they are not the world’s best spellers. What a way to lower that affective filter, while still sneaking in that scary subject like spelling. By the way, I stole this idea in its entirety from Ben Slavic.
And, even though this is an output activity, and focused on spelling and grammar, I still think it is a valuable activity. For one, it reinforces the stories we have been asking or reading all week. For two, it builds the students’ confidence as they see that each week they are making fewer corrections on their papers. Students who have difficulty writing still get to build their confidence because they can earn A’s, even if spelling has never been something they’ve been good at in English either. The first few times, I had students staring at their papers in surprise, they couldn’t believe they had gotten a good grade. By the end of the year, their dictations were a source of pride. And finally, I know that when they leave my classroom, they have to transition into a traditional class where spelling and grammar are the focus of a lot of their grade.
This lets me focus instruction on spelling and grammar, but still doing it through comprehensible input – I just do pop-up spelling and grammar after the dictation. So, I don’t interrupt the dictation with the grammar or the spelling, but when I’m going through the corrections, I will often have the class translate the passage, and then I’ll ask why for instance, the verb ends in –amos.
I would print out a few hard copies for students with visual processing issues, so they had a person copy and didn’t have to keep changing their focus from the board to their paper. I was also very pleased with the whole dictation process because it naturally differentiated for every student’s individual needs. Each student only underlined and corrected the words that he/she needed to work on. And if when grading the dictations I noticed a pattern, I would make sure to incorporate those words in future dictations too. You know those tricky words that always catch up all but the best students (and even those students sometimes) we spend all year correcting students’ work and yet on that final exam they still make those mistakes? Well, my students nailed those tricky words this year, and they were able to grasp basic spelling patterns. I think part of that comes from the dictations.


  1. Thank you so much for your response. It really helps!

  2. I'm a little bit confused about what you mean when you say the students are only scored on what they are able to correct. Do you mean that they have a chance to correct it and you score the whole dictation? Or do you mean that some of your students aren't able to get the whole dictation corrected and you only score part of it?

    My confusion may stem from the fact that it's after my bedtime.

    I did these dictados last year and felt there were considerable gains from them. Mine may have been a bit too lengthy, since they took most of a 45 minute period to complete. I had one boy who had Spanish in 7th and 8th grade taking Spanish I because our school wouldn't recognize his middle school Spanish for a credit. He refused to use accent marks on any writing. When he got a low mark on his first dictado, he suddenly started using them. Many students only needed to fix three or four words in the whole dictado by the end of the year. I only did two or three dictados per quarter.

    One boy who normally did well fell asleep while we were in the correcting stage. Since nobody was allowed to talk we let him sleep. He didn't do so well on that one, but stayed awake for the next dictado.


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