Why Is Spelling So Hard?

Whether we like it or not, the ability to spell words correctly is quickly becoming an art form. As literacy rates in the U.S. continue to decline, spelling skills go with them. Not to mention, literacy and its definition have gone through many changes throughout the years. As literacy used to be defined, it simply referred to reading and writing. Anymore, literacy skills encompass all forms of communication from reading, writing, speaking, and listening. 

Therefore, many educators are still catching up with the changes and focusing their literacy lessons on reading and writing skills (grammar)–which is not a bad thing. But the skill of spelling is often left behind as the focus on other aspects of literacy get the main stage. This is caused by a few different phenomena. 

Death of Drill and Kill

Direct instruction used to be the go-to method for educators to teach their students. Direct instruction means lecturing and drilling. In other words, dumping information into students’ brains without checking for true and meaningful understanding. Traditional educators give spelling tests weekly, testing students on all sorts of higher-level and lower-level words. They give out a list, tell students to study, provide a test, grade the test, and move onto a new set of words. Very little time goes into actually teaching the students how to spell these words or why they are spelled as they are. This means that students have not been taught the morphological rules that go along with the English language. Which leads to more bad spellers.  

Greek and Latin Roots

If you were in school before the 21st century, Greek and Latin roots were your bread and butter in English class. Teachers valued their role in learning how to decode and describe words. Lately, the focus on Greek and Latin roots has diminished as teachers move toward a more holistic approach to teaching vocabulary. This wouldn’t be a problem, if Greek and Latin roots didn’t play a large role in our ability to read and understand words. With a strong knowledge of these root words (which are responsible for the creation of the English language and several other romantic languages) one can read, spell, identify, and describe nearly every word in the Oxford English dictionary. That is because the knowledge of one Latin root can help you understand close to 30 or 40 words. And once you understand words, spelling them becomes second nature. 

Less Reading – Less Spelling

Reading. The enemy of the English Language Arts instructor. Getting students to read in this social climate is like pulling teeth. Students don’t want to spend their valuable time reading books when they can be reading Instagram posts. The trouble with this is those social media posts often contain slang, jargon and expletives, which serve little purpose to students developing their reading and spelling skills. If you spend less time looking at, studying, and learning new words, the likelihood of replicating those words in your spelling goes right out the window. Luckily, the prescription is simple. Read more. 


Tips for Requesting Letters of Recommendation

Seniors of the world. This is the time. The time when you finally get to blossom out of your childhood shell and start taking steps into adulthood. For many of you, this time has been a whirlwind. You might have started a new part time job, gotten your own car, or enrolled in college credits. However you’re spending your time, these years will be held in your memory for many years to come. 

This is a very important transition in your lives. Especially those of you thinking about going to college. If college is on the brain, then you know how vital letters of recommendation are. No matter what school you hope to apply at, every college application is made stronger with these letters. So we compiled a list of tips that will help you in the process of attaining them. 

Choose the Right People

Letters of recommendation are a necessary part of any important application for a number of reasons. The most important of those reasons is because they showcase how well you have built your network in high school. Your network is the peers and colleagues you have gained in your formative years. This can be teachers, professors, counselors, or employers. In other words, people who have watched you work hard and seen the motivation you move through life with. Choosing the right people to write your recommendations is huge. 

Choose those you have known for several years and can speak to your accomplishments and character with accuracy. If those people hold important positions in educational settings, extra brownie points for you. These letters will notify college administrators of your work ethic, your drive, and your ability to succeed in the various ventures you pursue. So don’t simply ask a friend to write a nice letter about you. Ask a colleague or supervisor to write a letter describing the attributes you possess that make you a strong candidate for enrollment in your dream school. 

Choose the Right Discipline

As you know, college is the place where you get to branch out of the standard Gen Ed curriculum and onto more interesting subjects. You get to choose your own adventure and sign up for classes that feel meaningful to you or are aligned with your anticipated major. When choosing individuals to write your recommendations, go for those aligned with your subject area. If you plan to study biology in college, ask your biology teacher to write a letter. If your plans are to join the theater arts program, ask your most recent stage manager or director for a letter. Presenting letters that describe your achievement in your future area of study will surely strengthen your application. 

Provide All Necessary Information

The fatal flaw in requesting letters of recommendation is the failure to provide your authors with information about your academic career. Having written letters of recommendation in the past, I know how challenging it can be to write about a student when all your have available is their class schedule. When asking someone to write a letter of recommendation for you, be sure to provide any information that can help them map out an image of you. Provide your resume or CV. Give them access to your grades and test scores. If your have certifications of various sorts, provide those. Even giving your authors access to your extracurricular calendar can help them write a more encompassing letter. All of this information tells a story about you, a story that is only yours, so share it. 

Get the Ball Rolling Immediately

DO NOT WAIT TO ASK FOR LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION. These letters take time and energy to write, and often the people writing them for you have very busy schedules. So jump the gun on these letters. Create a list of possible authors and send them emails or visit their offices to speak about your letters of recommendation. It would be smart to make folders for each author containing the information listed above so you’re prepared in the event they accept your request. Once you have your chosen authors, don’t forget about them and move on with your process. Follow up with them weekly or biweekly to check on the status of your recommendations.


Starting the Semester Off Right

The Boise School District is gearing up to begin the Fall term for the 2019-2020 school year. This means parents are scrambling to buy school supplies, school clothes, and prepare for the schedule shift. With the incoming school year about a week away, students need to start getting in the mindset of school. The right mindset for school can include a lot of different things. 

Some students will let out a big “whoo-saw” as they prepare for upcoming stress. Others will spend every moment they can with friends. And some students might spend the next week in front of the TV letting their brains chill out before getting crazy. These are all great preparation techniques, but there are some tangible things that need to be taken care of as well. 

Plan Ahead

Most schools now use some kind of internet portal to keep students, parents, and administrators in the loop regarding a student’s progress in a particular class. These online portals are likely available for your perusing now. Start the peruse! Look at your teacher’s classroom page, read their profile, learn more about them. Take a look at their classroom portal and familiarize yourself with it. This will help you get a better idea of what your semester will look like and will help you plan for the upcoming school term. 

Develop a Calendar

Calendars are hugely important, especially for high school kids. By the time most students start high school, they are involved in some kind of extracurricular. Whether that is football, chess club, theatre, or band, lots of students have things going on outside of the school day. Create a calendar that accounts for everything you are involved in. Yes. This means including your classes, practices, meetings, driver’s ed, eating, homework time, family time, and friend time. Having one place where you keep everything going on in your week will help you stay on track. 

Organize Your Supplies

School supplies are super fun to buy. I remember getting so excited to buy school supplies every year. And I won’t lie, I still get excited every time I walk into Staples or Office Max. Supplies help us stay organized and keep our chaos under control. Since your supplies do so much to keep you organized, they deserve to be organized as well. Once you have purchased the supplies you will need, organize them so they can be as effective as possible. Build your class binders, label your dividers, individualize your notebooks. Do whatever you need to to keep your supplies organized so they can help you stay organized during the school year. 

Meet Your Teachers

I know, I know. This seems a little scary at first. Many students think the best time to meet your teacher is on the first day of school. But this isn’t really true. Meeting your teachers before the school year begins is really beneficial. Meeting your teachers gives you an idea what to expect from their class so you can prepare for the nuances assigned to it. Learn about their background, talk to them about their teaching style, discover the classroom rules and guidelines. Plus, teachers love to meet their students. The better your teachers knows you, the better prepared they are to teach you in a manner that is best for you. So don’t be afraid to send them an email, drop by with a coffee, or friend them on Facebook (if they allow it!).


Know Your Learning Style

Learning happens in many forms. We learn from our parents who instill values and culture. We learn from our teachers who encourage traditional education. We even learn from strangers about sociology and the way the world works. Learning happens all the time, all over the world. And it looks like a lot of different things. Learning takes place through trial and error, practicing or drilling, repetition, reading, and much more.  

Because learning is such a big part of our lives, it is important to understand the ways in which we learn best. There are four basic ways in which an individual can learn new information. Of course, there are versions of learning that encapsulate more than one of these styles. But generally, we learn best in very specific ways. 


If you are a visual learner, you learn best through representations. This could look like graphs, infographics, charts, and images. Visual representations provide the visual learner with important information in a format that is easiest to understand. Many of the visual learners I have encountered also possess photographic memories. Or the ability to take a snapshot of an image and remember its details. Many visual learners excel in the arts and have a proclivity for painting or drawing.


If you are an auditory learner, you learn best through sound. Sound is an interesting thing. Auditory learners can learn through podcasts, music, and even direct-instruction like lecture. Because these learners take in information through their ears, they excel in learning that gives them an opportunity to truly listen. College is a great place for auditory learners because courses at the university level are often lecture-driven. They can listen to the information and keep it in their long term memory for later recall. 


If you are a tactile learner, you learn best through touch. These individuals tend to have hands-on jobs as adults. Jobs like fixing cars, flying planes, or rewiring electricity currents in a home. Tactile learners excel in classes like mathematics when manipulatives are involved. They likely excel in classes like physics and chemistry where they perform hands-on experiments or lab work. Tactile learners have the ability to take things apart, learn about them, and put them back together. 


If you are a kinesthetic learner, you learn best through movement. An example of strong kinesthetic learners would be professional athletes. Kinesthetic learners like to move, and use their bodies to understand concepts and make connections. They do their best work when the learning prompt requires movement of some kind like learning stations or gallery walks. Some studies have also shown that kinesthetic learners perform better during work when they have the chance to move as well. Examples of this would be standing desks, yoga ball chairs, and treadmill desks. 


Strategies for Solving Word Problems

Math is often a dreaded subject in school. But the most dreaded aspect of math, in my opinion, is the word problem. The word problem is the intersection where math and English meet. Students who struggle in one or both of these subjects find word problems nearly unsolvable. Not because they are particularly difficult, but because they lack the language and comprehension skills to solve them. 

Without a basic understanding of math concepts and math grammar, word problems feel like stories that don’t have an ending, roads that go on forever with no turnouts, or gaping black holes. Fear sets in, anxiety builds, and those word problems turn into ugly green monsters. Suddenly, unsolvable is exactly what they are. The good news is, word problems have strategies for solving them, much like most math concepts students will encounter. 

Learning Keywords

Understanding keywords is a huge aspect of solving a word problem accurately. Keywords refer to the words or phrases employed in word problems that give you clues as to how to solve them. If you can understand what keywords are being used, it will guide you to the proper equation or formula to rely on to solve it. Here is a list of common keywords:

increased bydecreased by
ofper, ais, are, was, 
more thanminus, lesstimes, multiplied byout ofwere, will be
combined, togetherdifference between/ofproduct ofratio of, quotient ofgives, yields
total ofless than, fewer thanincreased/decreased by a factor of (this last type can involve both addition or subtraction and multiplication)percent (divide by 100)sold for, cost
sum, plusleft, left over, aftertwice, triple, etcequal pieces, split
added tosave (old-fashioned term)each (“they got three each”, etc)average
(“greater than”, etc)comparatives 

comparatives (“smaller than”, etc)

Understandings Units

More often than you might think, students answer word problems incorrectly because they don’t understand the unit of measure referred to in the problem. Often, word problems, especially those in more advanced mathematics, include multiple units of measure to trick students. This means that you not only have to know the units, you also need to be able to convert the units if necessary. Before you try solving the word problem, be sure you understand what the unit of measure is for your response. This will help clarify the necessary path to take to solve it. 

Set Goals

Understanding what the keywords are and what the unit of measure is for a word problem can help you set goals for solving it. Creating accurate goals is based on understanding what the word problem is asking you to solve. Once you have an understanding, you can then set goals with achievable steps to help work your way through the problem and find the answer. If you know what you are trying to achieve, taking the necessary steps toward achieving it is key. 

It’s like planning a meal. You need to have a time table, a recipe, and a menu. Think of your goals as your fancy dinner. What do you need to cook the food, serve the food, and eat the food? In other words, what is your goal for the evening? Or in this case, the word problem. 

Problem Solving Skills

We all know that problems can be solved in multiple ways. Easy ways, hard ways, long ways, short ways, and dangerous way. Word problems are similar in this regard. Like most skills in math, there are many different avenues you can choose from to arrive at the correct answer. Think outside the box. Try new things. Attempt multiples avenues for solving the problem and see if you end up with the same result. Use skills you have learned from other subjects like physics, history, economics, and more. The more options you have and the more skills you employ, the more likely you are to solve the problem in front of you and move on.