The client, Letterland, approached me to collaborate with them to design a new spelling programme. They were looking for something fun and engaging for learners, highly effective in helping learners to succeed with spelling, and meeting (and going beyond) the criteria set out in the National Curriculum. Here are the stages we went through to come out with an end product that's taking the market by storm...
Stage 1: Brainstorming ideas and concept creation
I always have my trusty ideas notebook to hand - literally, it goes everywhere with me - so I start jotting down ideas: How can we make teaching spelling fun for children? How can we present it in a format that is easy for teachers to follow? How can we minimise teacher preparation? What knowledge and skills do the children need to be taught and practice? Even though I know the answers to all these questions I always go through them and write down answers every time I write a new article or create a new resource. I need to bear in mind who the specific client is, who their target market is and whether there have been any updates to the curriculum requirements.
Stage 2: Creating a client proposal
I pull together my ideas ready to present to the client. I create a scope and sequence map showing that the Year 1 National Curriculum requirements for spelling cannot be covered with a 'one spelling pattern per week' approach. The curriculum lists 60+ different patterns to cover and there are roughly 30 academic weeks in a school year. The obvious maths here is to teach two patterns per week. Then the question becomes: How will this fit into a teacher's weekly timetable? I give different options to the client and recommend that we present 60 mini spelling lessons arranged into 30 week by week units. That way teachers can teach two short lessons per week or, less ideally, they could teach one long lesson but teach two different spelling patterns. I present this as a chart to show the client how the contents of the books may pan out.
Stage 3: Creating sample units
Alongside the proposal I create two sample units - one for Year 1 and one for Year 2 to show the progression. I create sample pages for the Pupil Book, the Teacher Guide and the Spelling Tickets booklet. I use Word to mock up the pages in the way that I imagine them looking in the end product. This is fiddly but it helps the client to see my vision and how I imagine the activities flowing through the space on the page. I add comments to explain the rationale behind each activity. For example, activities are included that focus on understanding the vocabulary used, reading the words, writing and using the words. A simple explanation is included for the teacher and learners to understand what the spelling pattern is and when it is used. Spelling is complex so I include 'Watch out!' and 'Did you know!' boxes to draw attention to rare pronunciations and spelling pattern exceptions.
Stage 4: Listening to the client
My carefully planned proposal pays off and Letterland like my ideas. The next step is to listen carefully to the client feedback and work closely with them to iron out any tweaks needed and incorporate their ideas. It was Lisa Holt (Letterland Boss) who came up with the brilliant idea to theme the programme with the train station concept. I was really struggling to come up with a concept that would pull all the ideas together under a cohesive and fun theme (some days the ideas are there and other days they are not!). The train station theme gives teachers the option to go a step further with the fun side of teaching spelling - they can put on a station master's hat and blow a whistle to signify the start or end of a lesson, and the spelling word lists are presented on 'tickets'.
Stage 5: Head down and write, write, write
Lisa and I agree a sensible writing and delivery schedule. We plan that I will deliver weekly batches of first draft units over a period of 6 weeks and then we build in time for revisions, rewrites and submission of the final manuscripts. As I work through writing the content we have a weekly catch up call to discuss any issues that arise along the way. On the whole everything progresses incredibly smoothly with just a few tweaks to the words chosen to make sure we get the pitch and differentiation right. While I'm busy writing content, Lisa and her designer review the content and create the page designs and layout.
Stage 6: Almost finished
PDF versions of the Pupil Book and Teacher Guide go back and forth between us as we edit and proofread everything. We collaborate and together write the Introduction and How to use sections for the prelims of the books. Then Lisa lets me know that they would like to create Activity Books for the trade market (these sell in places like WHSmiths, Amazon and garden centres and are aimed at parents rather than teachers). Lisa sends me a page plan that shows me how many pages there will be and how the spelling patterns will be spaced out across the pages. I get my creative head on and come up with some sample page suggestions showing how we can introduce new activities that practice the same spelling knowledge and skills but are more suited to a home learning situation. Once my template has been approved I'm able to knuckle under and write the content at a reasonable speed then get this submitted to Lisa for editing and design.
Stage 7: Published
Seeing something you've written being published gives you the biggest buzz! It's incredibly rewarding. I love how beautiful and colourful this programme is and it warms my heart knowing that the content will genuinely help both teachers and children. I'm pleased also that this programme is very reasonably priced. I hope that this will make it accessible to a wide market internationally and to parents at home. If you want to ask me any questions about the content of the programme please write in the comments section and I will reply. I'm also interested to know how you approach teaching spelling... what has been successful? What struggles do you find?
*Letterland Spelling Stations Year 1 will be available for purchase in early 2018, closely followed by Letterland Spelling Stations Year 2... I'll come back and add a link to the product in Amazon as soon as it publishes :-)