At the Bee

“A lot more than spelling was going on!” This post offers some observations of a junior spelling bee.

Not for the first time, something that happened this week has me changing my writing plans. My original scheduled post will wait.

Lynn and I went to Twinsburg on Saturday for their first Junior Spelling Bee, sponsored by the community library. We were there to support our grandson Fox, a third-grader at Bissell Elementary School.

I know what a spelling bee is, of course, but I don’t recall ever participating in one. And if our own kids ever did, it wasn’t a public event like this one. Forty second- and third-graders had practiced and prepared, and the room was packed with friends and family members.

As I watched the proceedings, I was surprised to see so many unusual connections to learning. Obviously, the spelling bee promotes spelling skills, and these kids had been studying their lists for weeks. But in addition, they were demonstrating learning outcomes, stated or not, that standardized tests don’t generally get at.

  • Some were essentially performance skills: poise, working with a microphone, staying calm in front of a group.
  • Others apply to other situations: handling success and failure, respecting rules, taking turns, preparing thoroughly, supporting each others’ efforts.
  • Still others were about the competitive aspects of the event: recognizing that academics can be fun and a source of pride, and that competition isn’t confined to sports.
  • And some were unique to the setting. They were interacting with adults, particularly the moderator and the judges, who weren’t their teachers or parents. Sometimes they had to stand their ground with those adults–for example, asking for a repeat or a definition when the word wasn’t exactly clear.

In other words, a lot more than spelling was going on!

I don’t suggest that spelling bees will save the world, but I do think that authentic learning experiences are worth supporting, and I believe that some of the forces impacting education today limit the opportunities for such experiences.

This post originally appeared on the website of my 2016 campaign for State Board of Education,

Author: StgCoach

Retired teacher and public education leader. Pastoral musician, community activist, parliamentarian, and photographer.