Thursday, December 19, 2013

Spelling Bee

Rachel's school had a spelling bee this year. I guess it's something that they do every year. I guess it's also a relatively normal thing within the US education system (though, don't get me wrong because schools are state-run (they aren't federal so any attempt to ensure that children across the country are receiving the same learning opportunities should probably be stifled immediately (I jest; because I'm not actually all that against Common Core Standards (it's not a curriculum, people))). But seriously, spelling bees are a thing here.

When I was little we had a couple of games on the computer that I liked to play—Treasure Mountain  and Spellbound!—both by The Learning Company. You could incorporate your own spelling list in the Spellbound! game. I'm pretty sure it was the only time that I ever got to use the computer for homework as a child (this was back in the day when we had to handwrite all our homework—can I be admitted to a nursing home yet?) until I hit middle school and refused to ever set foot in school ever, ever again (and was subsequently enrolled into a "virtual" school and got my own computer (hello, digital age—you can cancel my nursing home application now)).

Anyway, I was an okay speller and I had fun playing Spellbound! but I considered the idea of a spelling bee rather foreign. And also the stuff of nightmares because...spelling...out front of an audience?!

See? Nightmares.

Of course, this might be because my only exposure to such a thing was in hyped up media in which they always talked about how nervous and terrible the whole thing was.

It seemed to me that I had seen spelling bees featured in American-centric media but I had never participated in a spelling bee. And for the record, I attended three elementary schools and none of them had spelling bees. And my siblings attended other elementary schools and I don't think they had spelling bees either, at least not in the Canadian schools. It's not like the one elementary school my siblings and I ever attended just happened to not have a spelling bee. It's more like my siblings and I attended at least seven different elementary schools in two separate provinces in five different school districts and we never, to my knowledge, participated in any spelling bees (Canada has one, technically, but I don't know that many schools participate in it).

I have no memories of having any sort of spell-down with my classmates. I can't boast to my children that I ever received second place in the school-wide spelling bee (Andrew can). To me, a spelling bee sounds about as foreign as taking an OWL exam or something. Like—that's really a thing? It's not just something in books and movies?

So, Rachel comes home with this paper explaining the whole spelling bee thing, as well as a list of words she was supposed to study. I read the paper and we began casually studying the spelling list at the dinner table, challenging Rachel to spell words aloud and talking about spelling rules (she had this nasty habit of spelling the past tense of any verb with an apostrophe-t rather than the basic -ed ending (eg. I close't the door) but I think we kicked that one). But the spelling bee wasn't until January or something so we weren't pushing it too hard.

On Monday Rachel got off the bus looking a little dejected.

"How was school?" I asked.

"Fine," she said.

"Did anything unusual happen?" I probed.

"No," she sighed.

"What was your favourite part of the day?" I asked.

"Oh, I dunno," she sighed again.

"What was your least favourite part?" I asked.

She sighed heavily once again and then said, "I failed the spelling bee, Mom."

"What do you mean you failed the spelling bee?" I asked. "The spelling bee's not until January."

"No, Mom," she explained. "The spelling bee was today. I got out. Right at the very end. I won't go on to the next level."

"Wait," I said. "You had the spelling bee today? How did I not know about this?"

"We had the spelling bee today. We had the spelling 'A' on Friday. I won that and then I went to the spelling 'B' and I lost so I don't get to go to the spelling 'C.'"

"You won your class spelling bee?" I asked, amazed. "Why didn't you tell me that on Friday?"

"Spelling 'A,' Mom," she said. "It's got to be spelling A because we had the spelling B today. And I didn't win it. I tied with Elijah F."

(This is coming from the girl who thought that "daily five" was "dally five" for the longest time due to her teacher's southern accent (and I simply could not convince her otherwise until I found and pointed out the words in her classroom—daily five!). Basically the daily five is a choice of activities to promote literacy—you can read to yourself, read to someone, be read to, write, or do 'word work' (Rachel usually chooses to either read to herself or to write). What I'm trying to say is that I'm not sure that the first day of a spelling bee is really called spelling A; that might be something Rachel's making up.) 

"Well, that's pretty cool," I said. "So you won your class spelling...A...and today you had the grade level spelling bee?"

"Yes. And I wasn't chosen. They only chose three people and I was number four or five."

"That's pretty good, though!" I said. "That's great! You don't have to win, you know. It's just a fun thing to motivate you to become a better speller. What word did you get out on, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Plastic," she told me.

"And how do you spell it?" I asked her.

"P-L-A-S-T-I-K," she spelled, "But I know that's wrong because that's the word I got out on."

"Yep. There's a C at the end instead of a K. That tricky kuh-sound!"

Rachel felt better after admitting her defeat to me, and learning that I had no expectation of her winning. She said that she sometimes felt like she was going to throw up while she was spelling and that one kid peed on their chair. So I kind of have mixed feelings about the whole spelling bee thing—I mean, it got Rachel excited about studying spelling words, sure, but at the expense of making some poor child so nervous that they wet themselves.

I checked the paper when we got inside and, sure enough! Round 1 was on Friday, Round 2 was today, Round 3 (the school-wide spelling bee) was going to be held sometime in January. I don't know why the vague "sometime in January" date stuck so firmly in my head while my brain easily dismissed the solid dates of December 13th and December 16th.

We're proud of Rachel for making it as far as she did and she said she's kind of glad she got out when she did so that she doesn't have to compete in the school-wide spelling bee (or C). She's not sure how far she wants to go next year but I think she got a little taste of "success," having won her class spelling bee and getting so far in her grade spelling bee. She's talking about studying extra hard for next year. There's a little Hermione Granger in her after all.

But you have to admire the kid who spelled it wrong on purpose so he can sit down...


  1. We had class spelling bees pretty frequently when I was in elementary school, grades 4-6 with Mrs. Woolley (who was my mom's Miss Thomas, the teacher she had that time when her spelling error made the whole class unable to have a party when she was in grade four). I liked them because I was a good speller, and they didn't make me nervous very much. I was so much better at spelling than, say, baseball or dodge ball or red rover. It was nice to feel a bit of success once in awhile. But, we did not have a grade level or school level spelling bee. It was just something Mrs. Woolley liked to do to add variety to our learning.

    Such an interesting post!

  2. I placed second in the DISTRICT bee; I was so excited! And I'll never forget the word I missed: stereotype. Don't ever spell it "steriotype"!

  3. Good job Rachel! I'm a horrible speller so the spelling b gives me nightmares. So speaking of virtual school in middle school we might be doing that with Ezra next year. They are talking about making a 5th and 6th grade academy. I'm not even a fan of junior high. So if they do, we're going to home school him for at least a year, maybe until high school.

    1. Do it! That's what I did, basically. I went to grade 6 and it was terrible, terrible, terrible. I homeschooled "online" for 7 and 8 and for grade 9 I mainstreamed into high school for everything but core classes, which I took via the Alberta Distance Learning Center. It was great.

  4. It's ok Rachel. I never won any spelling bees. I didn't even place in the school finals because I misspelled the word misdemeanor. I cried.

  5. I was chosen for the spelling Bee in California, I remember we had a huge list of words to spell, I made it to round 2 but alas to no avail, I didn't make it to round 3. I was pretty bummed about it too . But when our Provincial Test scores were announced in Grade 7, and I had a Grade 10 Level B spelling mark, it made up for that defeat! I also remember in Raymond, we had classroom spelling Bees. I always loved them! *sigh*