Students at Truman Middle School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, can thank T-E-C-H-N-O-L-O-G-Y and their local sponsor, The Albuquerque Journal, for making it possible for them to participate in their spelling bee program. Their school is remote learning only, due to the high concentration of coronavirus cases in their community. Susie Smith, librarian at the school, is in her third year as spelling bee coordinator, and had to think creatively to plan this year's program.
She created a spelling club to invite students to practice their spelling and participate in mock spelling bees. They did this virtually during the scheduled lunch hour. Smith said this program was a great way to ease students into spelling in the virtual format. She set up the program in Google Classroom and posted study materials, provided by the Scripps National Spelling Bee, for students to review. Students clicked on the Google Meet link to participate in the spelling bee club. Smith said she will definitely bring back the club next year. She has ideas for mini lessons on word origin to help students even more.
The first level of competition was at the classroom level. Some teachers conducted virtual spelling bees while others invited students to advance to the school level. A total of 21 students competed in the virtual school bee, administered by the same judges and pronouncer who participated in previous years. They conducted the bee with the support of Go Guardian, a service their district uses to monitor what tabs are open on each students' computer. Participants signed and recited the integrity pledge provided by the Bee prior to the competition. Smith also encouraged a parent to be in the room with the student, if possible.
Smith assigned students to speller numbers after a roll call to confirm how many students were participating. Spellers created their own placards at home. Participation in the program was down this year compared to last year, but Smith said it was important for them to maintain the program. "We wanted to keep a sense of normalcy in the school year," said Smith. "We wanted to give students a chance to participate and strut their spelling prowess. There were some kids last year who wanted to finish up during their eighth grade year. We wanted to give them some things to look forward to."
Smith offered some suggestions on planning a virtual bee:
- Create an online spreadsheet with each speller's name and speller number to serve as a digital record-keeping sheet for officials to track each word.
- Use the online platform your students already are familiar with (for Smith, this was Google Classroom).
- Work out a plan in advance with officials on how to handle any appeals or questions from spellers.
- Record your virtual bee through the platform. It is a great resource to keep if you need to refer back to the competition.
- Ask students to turn off their camera when not spelling to reduce the bandwidth necessary for the virtual bee.
- Communicate more than you think is necessary to make sure all teachers, volunteers, students and parents are informed about the spelling bee program.
Congratulations to the Truman Middle School spelling bee champion, Amaya Caraway, and runner-up, Yandel Perez Marquez. They will advance to the district level competition.
For more tips, see the Bee's Virtual Spelling Bee Recommendations for Schools found in the teacher portal for enrolled schools.