Spelling: Engaging the hard-to-reach

Written by: Michelle Lockwood | Published:
Good Spell: Pupils working on teacher Michelle Lockwood’s Spelling Beats project
These look very useful. Are these Spelling Beats available now? How can I best contact Michelle ...

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Engaging pupils who don’t want to be taught is a common classroom challenge. Teacher Michelle Lockwood discusses how she is engaging hard-to-reach pupils in learning to spell

I firmly believe that young people want to learn and if we can find an interesting way to engage them in a particular topic, they will enjoy watching how their efforts will lead to improvements.

That said, learning the basic rules of spelling is often seen as repetitive and many pupils think “why bother when I have a spell-checker on any device I use?” – but good spelling is fundamental to good literacy and in the longer-term, essential for the employability of our pupils. In hard-to-reach pupils, the ability to spell well is often missing, but I believe that it can be addressed no matter how old the pupil.

I wanted to find an engaging way to teach the rules of spelling and I did not have to look too far. I love music and have always been struck by how it seems a universal way for pupils to express themselves. It is a common occurrence to see our pupils humming a tune or having a little dance and so a plan started to form.

My idea developed and I decided to teach spelling using rap, rhyme and funky beats to challenge the pupils’ perceptions that learning to spell is boring.

I created a series of raps which cover all the main spelling rules which pupils follow. The learning is personalised as pupils work at their own pace.

They also work individually on the spelling rules that they need more help with to fill in any learning gaps. They repeat the rap and record the results so they can hear the playback of themselves as a rapper.

Through repetition and rhyme, pupils can improve their spelling in a short amount of time. The feedback has been excellent and pupils are motivated to learn as it’s fun and they get to play the role of a DJ.

I called this fledging programme Spelling Beats and was lucky enough to secure funding from the 2016 Let Teachers SHINE competition, which provides funding for innovative ideas to help disadvantaged pupils. My aim was to create something that not only could I use in my classroom but which I could share with other teachers; the funding has helped me to achieve that.

With my grant I have been able to work with a games developer and graphic designer to help me develop the Spelling Beats game. The game follows the same principles and allows pupils to step into the role of a DJ to learn the rules of language in an engaging way. The game is also enabling me to share my idea with other teachers easily and I already have a number of schools in Rotherham and further afield that are keen to join me.

The game will be accessed from a website that will also include tutorials and a number of classroom activities. One idea that I think will be very popular is creating an ebook of resources that can be used by both teachers in class and support assistants during interventions.

I have already noticed a significant difference in pupils’ spelling since introducing Spelling Beats in my own classroom, where 90 per cent of my pupils increased their spelling age by one year in only four weeks.

The project won’t be exclusive to a set age group and is being developed to be used in both primary schools, secondary schools, special schools and pupil referral units. I’ve also incorporated feedback from the children themselves to add in personalised touches and to make it unique for both boys and girls.

Although I still don’t lay claim to music being able to connect with every pupil, I do know that by using music we have increased engagement, and therefore achievement, for many.

Michelle Lockwood is a teacher at Saint Bernard’s Catholic School in Rotherham.

Let Teachers SHINE

Michelle Lockwood won funding from the 2016 Let Teachers SHINE competition, which is supported by Capita SIMS. Funding is open to other teachers with inspirational ideas for improving attainment in English, maths or science for disadvantaged pupils. The Spelling Beats website will be live in summer 2019. For more information about funding via the Let Teachers SHINE competition, visit www.capita-sims.co.uk/Shine1

These look very useful. Are these Spelling Beats available now? How can I best contact Michelle Lockwood?
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