Penny Slater is Deputy lead adviser for Primary English at Herts for Learning.
Spelling remains a high stakes aspect of the ITAFs for 2017. As in 2016, children cannot be judged as ‘working at the expected standard’ if they have not first met ALL of the statements from the ‘working towards the expected standard’ list (with the exception of the statement relating to handwriting). One statement that I know has caused many Y6 teachers more than a moment of anxiety relates to the correct application of spelling knowledge learnt in previous year groups.
Specifically, the need for pupils to spell most words correctly from the years 3 and 4 programme of study (PoS). Alongside the ITAFs, the national curriculum also makes it clear that children in KS2 should continue to secure and build upon their developing spelling knowledge from KS1. To further support us in knowing where to channel our teaching energy here, at the start of the spelling appendix for year 3 and 4, we are reminded that revision of work from years 1 and 2 should focus specifically on securing ‘rules for adding suffixes’.
These rules can be neatly summed up by the words used in the title of this article: chopping, changing and doubling. This refers to the children’s ability to know when the addition of a suffix requires them to CHOP (remove the ‘e’), CHANGE (change the ‘y’ to an ‘I’) and DOUBLE (double the final consonant). Despite the unnecessary complexity that the NC brings to this aspect of learning, the ‘rules’ are deceptively simple (and in my experience, fairly easy for the children to pick up if they are explained using suitably straight-forward language and if the children are given time to practise, apply and check their work through focused editing). Fundamentally, success in this area relies on the children recognising that there are two groups of suffixes: vowel suffixes – those that begin with a vowel letter (including ‘ous’ and ‘ed’ to name just a few. Not forgetting ‘y’, which the children will need to be reminded is an honorary vowel for the purpose of this learning. The suffixes ‘ion’ and ‘ian’ must be included in this list although the NC confuses the matter by asking us to focus on endings which incorporate letters from the root word ‘tion’, ‘sion’, ‘ssion’ and ‘cian’, which aren’t suffixes. I have always had much greater success by focusing purely on the suffixes ‘ion’ and ‘ian’ instead. ); and consonant suffixes – those that begin with a consonant letter (‘ment’, ‘ly’ etc). I suggest a classroom display that presents the suffixes in two columns to make this distinction very clear for the children. Very quickly I encourage them to see that there is no skill required in adding consonant suffixes – just slap ‘em on! Job done. No change needed. (Of course, there is the small matter of words ending in Y. I tend to treat these words as a separate group so as not to muddy the waters at this crucial stage of understanding. We are after simplicity at this point after all. When we come to this learning, I support the children to explore the fascinating ways in which words ending in Y behave when suffixes are added.) Already the learning is becoming simplified. It is those pesky vowel suffixes that we need to be more mindful of. And this is where the majority of my teaching would focus.
In short, I would not be content until my children were able to tell me using simple, straight-forward language, when we need to CHOP, CHANGE and DOUBLE. Then I would insist upon this learning becoming evident in their independent writing. It would become the focus on our proof-reading until it was absolutely secure. So empowering is this spelling knowledge, and so effective is it in improving the picture of children’s spelling performance in their writing, that I often encourage Y6 teachers to dedicate a good chunk of the first term’s teaching to it. In focusing on this knowledge, we can introduce and discuss a whole range of suffixes (and let’s remember that expanding children’s understanding of a range of suffixes and how they ‘fit’ onto root words and change their meaning relates to the majority of spelling statements in years 3 and 4, and years 5 and 6) and in doing so greatly improve the children’s likelihood of meeting that troublesome spelling statement on the ITAF document.
We can safely assume from morgans-suffix-successes (gathered from the DFE exemplification materials) that his teachers did just this. He is a dab hand at adding suffixes. In fact, I would go as far as saying that he has pretty much ‘mastered’ it. In one piece of writing alone (the Macbeth re-telling), he is required to apply his knowledge of adding suffixes no less than 77 times. Out of this number, he is required to apply the more advanced knowledge of when to correctly chop, change and double 28 times. On all occasions, he gets it spot on. (In fact he only makes one spelling error linked to this learning in the whole piece. He misspells ‘freakily’ as ‘freakly’ – however, this may not have displayed an error in his ability to change the ‘y’ to an ‘I’ as it is unclear as to whether or not he actually knew whether or not the root word ended in a ‘y’ in the first place. I will therefore give him the benefit of the doubt on this one!).
Now, just imagine how different this piece of writing would have looked if he had been at all shaky in this knowledge. Insecurity in this key aspect of spelling knowledge may have forced us to hover nervously over the ‘working towards’ spelling statement, let alone the ‘working at’!
I am lucky in that I get to look at a great deal of writing from Y6 pupils. Much of it is engaging, creative and highly enjoyable to read, however, a great deal of it would be made much more accomplished – and much more likely to meet the demands of the ITAFs – by ensuring that the child is unshakeable in their knowledge of when to CHOP, CHANGE and DOUBLE.
|Morgan’s Suffix Successes
|Chop||Change||Double (single syllable root word)|
|tire||tired||try||tried||Double (2 syllable root word)|