Shannon Stacey

A spelling quandry

After all my obsessing about the Tall Kid starting high school, it’s the Short Kid hitting third grade that’s caused the most upheaval. He moved into a new school (we have a preschool-2nd building and a 3rd-5th building), but that wasn’t a big deal. Actually, since the first school was an ancient three-story job and the oldest kids were on the top floor and the new building has NO stairs, it’s a nice move.)

But, for our kids, third grade brings…*cue dramatic music*…homework. And, WOW, does SK not have homework skills. He’s always been of the mindset that school is for work and home is for play, and he’s not liking this at all. The fact it takes him ten minutes to do the work and fifteen minutes for the reading makes no difference. He’s yapping and walking around and playing with the dog and fiddling with things. It’s killing me.

But the issue of spelling words is especially trying. His lists…let me show you them:

Week 1:

Week 2:

Now let me show you the first ten words on the “typical” third grade spelling list from


On the one hand, I have an eight-year-old boy who is not happy. He sees the list the other kids are getting and this is the first time he’s ever felt resentment his work his harder. But it’s a lot of resentment. Even though he’s with the same kids, third grade comes with some changes and some upheaval, and maybe burying the kid under spelling words like that isn’t the way to go. And his spelling assignment, which required him to write sentences for each word, was a horror show. Why? Because he doesn’t know what a lot of those words even mean, therefore his sentences made no sense so, after I explained what each meant, he had to rewrite them.

On the other hand, he took his Week 1 test and only got one wrong: coincidence. And he knew how to spell it, but the teacher went on to the next word, rushing him, and he got discombobulated. You know, because when a boy is eight and the word is eleven letters long, it might take more than fifteen seconds to actually write it on the paper.

And on yet another hand, because let’s pretend I have three arms, I do want him challenged in the classroom. He’s been skating and taking the ease with which academics come to him for granted and he needs to learn how to deal with things being hard. I know that. Honestly. And he did only get one wrong. So do I want to intervene and have it taken down a notch? How can I claim they went too far in the challenging department if he only missed one? (Especially since it was kind of a handwritten typo more than a misspelling.)

(I’m not even going to go into my conspiracy theory about SK and the standardized testing of a School In Need of Improvement. He was only 98th percentile in his vocab, but 99th in everything else. Hmm…)

Oh…and meanwhile, they’re throwing math sheets at him that are ridiculous. 5+2=7. 6+2=8. So this is specifically a spelling (vocabulary) thing.

So, hey, if you made it this far, what do you think? Don’t those words seem a little out there for a third grader?

14 comments to “A spelling quandry”

  1. Jewell
      · September 16th, 2009 at 10:08 am · Link

    Hmmm, I’m of the mind that if he only missed one, then it’s not past his ability. I think I’d be much more worried about the low level of the math.

    Thinking back eons ago, I remember my mom being horrified about the amount of work I had to do in third grade. (Advanced class) But me, I thought it was fun, and yes, challenging.

    Once he settles in to the whole concept of homework, I’m sure he’ll be fine.

    That’s my opinion, and you know what they say about those… :groucho:

  2. Charlene
      · September 16th, 2009 at 10:09 am · Link

    Wow. That’s the same level math my 5 yr old did last year. The spelling, um, yeah. A bit beyond grade level. My now 6 yr old is reading at 3-4th grade level and she’s not reading those words.

    I’d at least say something about the time they’re given to write the words.

  3. Samantha
      · September 17th, 2009 at 12:31 am · Link

    I have a 3rd grader as well and those lists do look way more advanced than what she’s been bringing home, her’s are more the 5 to 6 letter range. But man oh man, the math is killing me, they spend a whole week learning a piece such as carrying the one, the next week they move onto another piece like estimating so then when it’s time to combine principals none of the kids have any idea what to do.

    We’re in CA so she’s had homework since kinder and she still hasn’t gotten the hang of school’s not over til the homework is.

  4. Michelle B
      · September 17th, 2009 at 1:20 am · Link

    I know this is a bit off topic, but…

    A friend of mine calls her handwritten typos “write-os.” Or would it just be “writos”? I’ve never written it down before. Anyway, I’ve started using it in my classes when I or my students have a handwritten typo on the board :-)

  5. MJ
      · September 17th, 2009 at 6:06 am · Link

    I teach 4th grade, and those are more like our vocabulary than our spelling words. Is his teacher new? Is she maybe creating her own spelling lists from their reading stories? I’m thinking she’s following curriculum in one subject and not the other.

    My son was the same as yours about homework. Everything comes so easy for him that he had trouble “studying.”

  6. Shannon
      · September 17th, 2009 at 9:24 am · Link

    I really can’t imagine these are vocab words from reading. They’re using the Harcourt Storytown series and, based on what I saw when I volunteered in his second grade class, those words aren’t in what the kids are reading.

    Unless SK’s reading independently of the Storytown series, but he said he’s not. I’d like to go in and see what he’s reading and see if the words he’s getting are in any way relevant, but my husband has asked me to let it ride for a couple more weeks, so…*sigh*

    One thing most people agree on, though, is that making him spell words he has no meaning for is a useless exercise. They may as well be German. I can learn to spell them, but they’re just letters.

    And I like “write-o’s”. SK makes a lot of them because of rushing. (As do we all.)

  7. Shannon
      · September 17th, 2009 at 9:27 am · Link

    I just looked at the Vocabulary Development section of the syllabus:

    * Robust vocabulary from Storytown weekly lessons
    * Strategies to identify the meaning of a new word.
    * Application of new vocabulary.

    The only thing I see being implemented is the word “robust”. Those words sure as hell aren’t from the third grade Storytown program.

    But…letting it ride…


  8. MJ
      · September 17th, 2009 at 5:22 pm · Link

    I’m wondering about the students who don’t have high level skills—how are the less advanced kids faring?

    When I used to teach novels, I’d take words from them, but I hope I was more cognizant of the difficulty!

  9. Shannon
      · September 17th, 2009 at 5:38 pm · Link

    The other kids don’t have this list. It’s specifically for SK, which is part of the reason he’s so resentful. He’s never had a problem with it in the past and just accepted it as the way things were. For instance, on his math worksheets last year, the teacher would pencil in an extra digit on all of his problems, making them harder.

    But this is different for him. Perhaps because he doesn’t understand the words or their meaning. I guess the fact he only missed one means he has the capability to spell them, but it’s probably as frustrating as having to write fifty-dollar foreign language words would be to us. Sure, we can do it. But it means nothing and is pointless.

  10. MJ
      · September 17th, 2009 at 5:41 pm · Link

    I can absolutely understand his frustration. My son had something similar when he was in GT in elementary, also useless, just because the teacher wasn’t sure how to address his ability. I did end up talking to her because he was beginning to resent school.

  11. Natalie J. Damschroder
      · September 17th, 2009 at 11:14 pm · Link

    In my kids’ elementary program, all the kids take a pretest. If they get them all right, they get a challenge list for the week instead of the main list. In second grade, one of the words on Number Two’s list was meteorologist. I was shocked, but she got them all right, and the following year, the words were easier and she was less challenged.

    I get where you’re coming from re: vocabulary, but being able to spell something they don’t know the meaning of ISN’T pointless. It’s about spelling concepts and rules and how words fit together, which will serve him well far into the future. It sounds like he’s an intuitive speller already, and that’s something that should be encouraged. Though I admit, bad spellers drive me insane, so maybe I’m not the best judge. :)

    Look at it this way: If you say something now and the teacher gives him the regular list, or easier words, in a few weeks he’ll have settled into third grade and the chaos of change won’t be a factor any more…and then he’ll be locked in to the easier level, and it will be harder to push the other way again.

  12. Shannon
      · September 18th, 2009 at 9:54 am · Link

    Look at it this way: If you say something now and the teacher gives him the regular list, or easier words, in a few weeks he’ll have settled into third grade and the chaos of change won’t be a factor any more…and then he’ll be locked in to the easier level, and it will be harder to push the other way again.

    That’s pretty much what my husband said. I’ve promised to wait until Columbus Day break before broaching the subject again. I’ve also promised to smile and be happy lest my anxiety about the issue flavor the Short Kid’s subconscious feelings about it.

    I’m not good at patience or silence, but…I’ll try.

  13. Natalie J. Damschroder
      · September 18th, 2009 at 10:20 am · Link

    I’m not good at patience or silence, but…I’ll try.

    God, me, neither. It hasn’t been as much of an issue at school as at soccer, for Number Two. I interfered way too many times and had it bite me in the butt before I told her whatever she wants, she has to pursue.

    Geez, parenting is hard.

  14. Robert
      · May 9th, 2011 at 1:08 pm · Link

    Sorry for entering into this discussion so late, but I thought I’d point out the irony of the title.

    (It’s properly spelled “quandary” ;-)

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