Edupeg, in collaboration with Volkswagen South Africa, The Wild Rapid Spur and Nashua undertook a Spelling Competition in Uitenhage in the schools in which we work. This was met with great excitement. 17 schools participated in the spelling competition, 242 tests were administered and 4602 children participated. Each child received a certificate of participation. The prize for the competition was a sponsored meal at The Wild Rapid Spur in Uitenhage for the winner and a friend. Each winner received an English Sentence Dictionary and a winner’s certificate.
The idea was sparked to support the spelling initiative of the Uitenhage District office and it was decided to run a spelling competition as a component of our First Additional Language support into Grades 4, 5 & 6 in the 17 selected primary schools.
Edupeg mentor, Bill Holderness, devised the tests, selected the appropriate words for each grade and worked closely with his mentored teachers to administer the tests. The process of the spelling test was clearly and calmly explained to the pupils. Learners were motivated to do their best. Teachers were all mentored on how to calmly and positively implement a spelling test – modulation of voice, pace, clarity of speech, etc. All teachers took a turn to ask words in the tests, thus building their capability, capacity and confidence, when administering future spelling testes.
Prior to the commencement of each spelling test, each child received: a sharp pencil; a pre-printed answer script with a space for the name of the child, their class and grade, the date and the name of the school; a cover sheet, to place over completed answers; erasers and sharpeners were also available, if needed. The spelling words were asked; then used in a clarifying sentence, with the spelling word then repeated. Timing and expression when communicating the words and sentences was demonstrated.
There was generally a high level of excitement and enthusiasm in each of the Grade 4, 5 & 6 classes where these evaluations took place. Children were seen to “cross” themselves for support and good luck, prior to the commencement of the quizzes, and pupils focussed and listened acutely to be sure to hear the words asked.
Generally, the children accepted the challenge to apply themselves to the task at hand. The motivation of a sponsored meal at The Wild Rapid Spur in Uitenhage was a great incentive for these children from less privileged communities. The thought that each winner would also receive a dictionary of their very own, was something wonderful to contemplate.
Two tests were written. The first one was unseen to establish a base-line, and the second test allowed for learners to study and practice in their spare time. The results showed that some children had clearly made an effort to learn the spelling words. I had encouraged them to spend 10 minutes per day with a friend at school, or with a family member at home. Feedback during the 2nd visit confirmed that a wide range of spelling partners had been found – including mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, granny and uncle. The children were encouraged to keep up having fun with words at home – even to organise their own spelling quizzes. In anticipation of receiving the spelling prizes, learners sometimes had animated discussions with the teacher about whom they would choose to invite to accompany them to the Spur for a free “burger, chips and drink of their own choice”.
It was also clearly evident, from looking at the results, that certain teachers were motivated to go the extra mile and work with their children in helping them learn for the competition by giving them tests during the 3 –week interim period of my visits.
Many successful outcomes were recorded:
- The spelling quiz has encouraged learners to love language and use it more effectively.
- The capacity of both teachers and learners has been built.
- Teachers were mentored, and gained confidence and competence to administer future spelling tests.
- Children with special needs were identified.
- The capacity and skills of teachers were developed.
- Pupils responded positively to playing a role as a monitor and to handing out the scripts, pencils, etc.
- Teachers were also made aware that orderly, respectful behaviour is possible in all classes, by establishing fair and quiet discipline.
- There is also a need to focus on daily written tasks, including legible handwriting, as many scripts were illegible.
All teachers were equiped with the resources and knowledge of how to run a spelling competition and many showed interest in taking on the initiative on their own accord next year. To further support these schools and their efforts English Sentence Dictionaries were donated to each school. All-in-all, it was a successful competition and exercise for all involved, which can be replicated for years to come.