Thursday, January 16, 2014

We're Having a Spelling Bee!

I am just now starting to let myself get excited about the school-level Scripps Spelling Bee that I'm organizing for one of our homeschool groups later this month. It was a pain in the butt to get approved and planned out, yes, but I am a firm believer that a healthy dose of competition is good for kids. There are so many valuable lessons in competition--the concrete reward for practice and preparation, the realization that you don't necessarily get something just because you want it (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and your unrealistic morals, I'm looking at YOU!), the chance to practice winning and losing with dignity and grace, etc. I'm an even firmer believer in academic competitions, and always disappointed that they're so much more rare than sports competitions. I'd love for all chess matches and spelling bees to have the same enthusiastic audiences that go to the softball games of six-year-olds.

So I'm all set for this upcoming spelling bee. Practice in taking turns and following rules! Practice in winning and losing with grace! Practice in standing and speaking in front of an audience! Practice in interacting with judges! Practice in speaking into a microphone!

And practice in spelling, of course.

After the bee is over, I've got a post planned that's a tutorial for how to run a school-level spelling bee for a homeschool group, but as I'm still in the prep stage, here are some of the school-level spelling bee videos that I've been using to help me organize our own spelling bee:

This is a lengthy video, but it's the best because it encompasses the entire school bee, from the first speller to the champion. If you watch it, you'll see the kids model how to take turns at the microphone, how to ask the correct types of questions to get more information about a word, how to spell a word without starting over or unnecessarily repeating letters, what it looks like to misspell a word, and how to act when you do.

It also illustrates the only tricky part of the spelling bee--the "champion round" rule. Basically, one round consists of all uneliminated spellers in that round spelling their word and either being eliminated or moving on. The last kid standing after all other spellers are eliminated is first given the most recently misspelled word to spell, and then, if the kid spells that word correctly, it's as if the kid begins a new round all on her own. She's given a new word to spell. If she spells that word correctly, she's the winner! If she spells either word incorrectly, however, the bee retraces its steps back to the previous round. Everyone who was eliminated in that previous round returns, and that round begins again with new words.

I like this one, because our bee will look a lot like it. We're holding it in a fancy meeting room on the IU campus, but it won't have a stage. It WILL have a podium and microphone, and although I'm also bringing a step stool from home, we could equally also end up using a hand-held mike.

This one amuses me when I start to stress out that our spelling bee won't be nice enough--there's no stage! No name placards! No medals, certificates, or trophies!!! But if these kids are happy to stand in their library and spell to a folding table, then it's clearly not about the placards and medals and certificates or trophies.

Here's what it's about:

Here's an example of what a district-level spelling bee looks like--this is the level of bee that our champion will move up to. It's a little more intense, isn't it? It should be, because the bee after this is the national one!

Participating in the spelling bee was one of the very happiest parts of my own childhood. I vividly remember studying from the spelling bee booklet every year (it's a pdf now), and how it felt to sit on the stage with the other kids and then take my turn spelling. I remember trying to figure out how to act towards the kids that everyone knew were the "big competition," and furiously misspelling every other kid's word in my head during their turns, in case someone was a mind reader and trying to cheat by reading my mind (I was a *very* weird little kid...). It still makes me feel good to remember how proud my entire elementary school was of me after I came in second place in our district spelling bee; seriously, they declared one Friday to be Julie Finn Day, and there were balloons, a giant poster signed by the entire school, a ceremony in the auditorium, a thesaurus given to me by a representative from one of the local factories that was our school sponsor, and I felt both abashed and like a rock star.

My Papa never went to the district spelling bee to watch me compete, any of the four years that I did so (I did lousy one year, then came in third, then second, and then second again; in high school, I became good friends with the kid who beat me out every single one of those years, and in college I told those stories about her and the spelling bee so often that my best friend from that time still occasionally asks about her when we talk), because he said he'd get too nervous; instead, he stayed home and recorded the spelling bee, which actually interrupted the Saturday morning cartoons on our local CBS station. I know for a fact that we still have all those VHS tapes of my spelling bees... somewhere, and I should totally put them on DVD before humanity moves so far past the VCR that it becomes impossible.

In other words, I can't wait to share this spelling bee experience with a whole new batch of little kids.


Tina said...

My spelling is comical (I LOVE the red squiggly lines and that I can right click to get the word spelled correctly), and I remember (painfully) all of the extra sheets I had to fill out with my misspelled words. I HATED spelling in public so never did a spelling bee.

However, you make it sound fun :0)

Can't wait to watch your homeschool spelling bee!

julie said...

Well, extra worksheets don't sound like fun, so I'm not surprised you didn't want to spell in public--who knows what horrors could result? I bet you'd be fine now, though!

At this point in my life, I am so utterly desensitized to public speaking, and it's mostly due to all the time that I spent teaching. Ever more practice, then, is what I keep trying to give my kiddos. Who knows if practice is really all it takes, but at least they're getting plenty of experience!

Tina said...

I find I do better in large crowds, its the small groups that make break out in a crazy sweat and makes my jaw tremble (so it makes it hard for me to talk). Thankfully, I only put myself in those situations that I am confident in what I am talking about, so it's a bit easier.

Emma recently did a little play with her friend in front of a small group of women (5 including me). I could see her cheeks were really red, but she did a wonderful job :0)

As far as the spelling, Emma always makes me spell for her, so I am getting better!


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