"Eyes on Progressive Education" Blog

A Green Acres School journal that chronicles progressive education in action, the research that supports and informs our practice, and ways in which we live out our mission each and every day.



Jen, 4th Grade Teacher

We recently painted our six-year-old daughter’s bedroom wall with chalkboard paint. I was touched to discover this message next to her bed in pink: “I LV YOO MOME.” Translation? I love you, Mommy. 

Even as an educator experienced in deciphering the inventive spelling (sometimes called invented spelling) of young children, it took me a minute to figure this one out. It sure is charming and sweet, but… should I be concerned?

I am passionate about spelling instruction. Many of us grew up during a time when spelling instruction was comprised of a new list of words every Monday—the same list for the entire class. The words were practiced throughout the week, and then there would be a test on Friday. In fact, I taught this approach to my 27 students at a more traditional school about ten years ago. Some children were bored by the weekly list, and others were intimidated, but this was the standard approach at many schools (and it still is today).

Then I learned about the developmental approach to spelling instruction. Researchers and teachers have observed that children often acquire new spelling patterns in a predictable, ordered pattern. These patterns have been separated into five stages: (1) Emergent Spelling; (2) Letter Name Spelling; (3) Within Word Pattern Spelling; (4) Syllable Juncture Spelling; and (5) Derivational Constancy Spelling. In her book Word Journeys, Kathy Ganske suggests that word work helps students “explore words through a student-centered approach that is interactive and inquiry-based.” 

By utilizing simple lists of words read aloud by the teacher that have been expertly designed to uncover a child’s current stage in developmental spelling, teachers are then able to “meet individual students where they are”—a cornerstone of a Green Acres education. This tool also makes it easy to group students with peers who are working to master similar spelling patterns. 

What does this look like for your 3rd or 4th grader? In my 4th grade class, initial assessments allowed me to analyze which students were working on similar spelling patterns. I then placed my class into three separate spelling groups, each working on words containing patterns that the group members are ready to master. So, one group is working on complex consonants (silent consonants, hard and soft "c" and "g," etc.); another on syllable juncture patterns (homophones, compound words, unstressed syllables); and the third group on derivational constancy (prefixes, suffixes, plural, homographs, etc.). On Monday, children are given a list of words that matches their current understanding of spelling patterns and introduces a new pattern they are ready to access. Teachers periodically reassess children to determine their rates of progress. Sometimes, students are shifted to different peer groups that better match their current spelling mastery. 

As for my daughter, “I LV YOO MOME” demonstrates that she is working in the Letter Name stage of development, and, as a Green Acres student, I know that she will be challenged and supported in her understanding of spelling patterns.

I, of course, penned my own chalkboard paint reply to her at home: “I LOVE YOU, TOO!”

Posted by Mrs. Sara Kendall Huneke in Lower School on Monday March, 4

Choose groups to clone to:

Questions? Reach out to us!
Contact me by:



Catalogue School
11701 Danville Drive North Bethesda, MD 20852
powered by finalsite