Mrs. Shearer, may I please have your autograph?

A new approach to the spelling list

Caleb Johnson drew a picture of a referee blowing a whistle to help remember the difference between spelling quit and quiet.

Because they're look-alike words, it's hard to see the difference, especially when the 11-year-old is working fast.

His sixth-grade teacher at District 66's Swanson Elementary knows that's a problem for many students. But she stressed in a recent lesson that it's no excuse. They have to get it right when they write.

Learning commonly used and often misspelled words - with less rote memorization - has been part of the district's spelling curriculum for about a dozen years.

Now other metro-area districts, including Omaha, Millard and Papillion-La Vista, are joining in the approach.

At Swanson Elementary, spelling lessons emphasize commonly used and often misspelled words, and less rote memorization.

In general, the idea is to move away from asking students to memorize a weekly list of words, especially if they don't yet know what the words mean or use them when they write. (How many times, after all, did you write the word acquiescence last year?)

Students still might get a spelling list. But instead of simply writing each word three times, they're asked to use the words when they journal, to find and correct misspellings or improper usage in a passage, or to work on look-alike words as Caleb's class did. Such activities help to make the words part of the long-term memory.

Teachers also focus on words youngsters use and misspell the most, such as neighbor or through.

"We're expecting kids to perfect words in their vocabulary," said Nancy Oberst, elementary education director for the Omaha district. "As opposed to learning to spell lots of fun and interesting words that we never use when we write."

Some Westside parents find the approach odd, especially if they're new to the district, said Swanson Elementary Principal Laura Croom.

"There are still parents that think we're not teaching spelling because they don't see the weekly lists that come home," said Croom, who also oversees the district's spelling curriculum.

Croom said the shift away from memorizing weekly lists doesn't mean educators don't care about spelling. Learning to spell, she said, is still important.

Yes, computers can spell check. But, Croom pointed out, students need to spell well enough so they know when spell-check won't catch their mistake, as in the case of quit and quiet.

The popularity of text-messaging among kids isn't exactly reinforcing the notion of proper spelling. Abbreviated spellings like "l8r" - that's "later" to those who don't text - may have a social place, but educators want students to remember that the work world won't tolerate it.

Denise Shearer explains spelling directions in her sixth-grade classroom at Swanson Elementary in Omaha.

Bottom line - if you spell a common word wrong, people think "this is not a smart person," Croom said.

In OPS and Millard, time spent on a pretest of 10 or so words, then writing each a few times, then taking a test on those words at week's end is now - or will be - spent in a variety of ways.

In some cases, students who know the words at pretest will get new words to challenge them. Or teachers might introduce a few words during writing or reading lessons, then expect students to spell them correctly from then on.

Lists may still go home, but they likely will be individualized with words the student struggles with.

Jamie Gibson's first-grade daughter McKayla attends Millard's Reagan Elementary. The words McKayla is learning to spell regularly pop up in other subjects, Gibson said.

"It's not just a random spelling list like it was when I was a kid," she said. "They'll see it in their math book, in their reading."

Now, when the two read together, Gibson can point out the words - come, said, they, there - to her daughter to reinforce what she's learning.

By the time students reach upper elementary school, several educators said, they will study words and their roots so they understand the spelling behind them. If a student knows the root aqua means water, then half of aquarium and aquifer are in the bag.

"Words are more complex than just memorizing letters," said Kelcy Currin, an instructional facilitator for the Papillion-La Vista district. "We want kids to truly understand how words work."

• Contact the writer: 444-1037, michaela.saunders@owh.com


I've died and went to Omaha

I once stalked College World Series baseball players at the Omaha Marriott while I was in college. Now's about the time I grow up and start stalking adults. And I think I'll start with Mr. Clooney. Hot mama! I think the four "Honeymoon is Over" readers and I should have a contest to see who spots him first...

George Clooney heading to Omaha for new film

Academy Award-winning actor George Clooney will be in Omaha this spring filming for the new movie, "Up in the Air."

Oscar nominated "Juno" director Jason Reitman wrote the screenplay and will direct the Paramount Pictures film. Reitman and his crew have been to Omaha several times scouting locations and “fell in love with the city” said Dana Markel, executive director of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Filming locations will include the giant push pins that feature tourist locations such as the Henry Doorly Zoo and Boys Town.

"Up in the Air" is based on the novel written by Walter Kirn about a constantly traveling corporate downsizer obsessed with collecting his one millionth frequent flyer mile. The main character, Ryan Bingham -- played by Clooney -- endures some quirky twists and turns on his journey.

This isn’t Clooney’s first brush with Omaha. He won an Oscar nomination for his role in "Michael Clayton," which includes a quick visual reference of Omaha. Clooney is expected to be in Omaha filming "Up in the Air" for three days.


I have a new obsession

And her name is Michelle Obama. Her inaugural gown was hot! I thought the color looked awesome on her and the style was great. Very flattering and seemed to fit her personality well. Plus, it's a major bonus she didn't choose something matronly like exhibits A and B:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B
I know Hils and Lars both became first ladies at older ages than Shel (totally on a nickname basis) , but still - blach! I wouldn't let my grandma wear either of those to an inaugural ball! Newsflash Hillary Rodham Clinton: mesh, jeweled sleeves were never cool. Not now, not in 1800 and not even in the 1990s when you actually wore that hideous thing. (Not to bash a prominent American figure, but she should stick to politics.)

Back to the first lady of the hour...how 'bout her love for J. Crew? The gloves (and rumor has it shoes) she wore with her lemongrass ensemble during the swearing in ceremony were just a little something she picked up there. And Sasha and Malia (who had a movie party in the White House last night - HOW FUN!) and their little Crewcuts coats. Word to Obama: I too like J. Crew, it's just a little pricey for me. Let's stimulate this economy and mandate they lower their prices!

In other fashion news, props to Target for the $2.25 Cherokee brand white turtleneck I found on the clearance rack last night. Sorry friends - I got the last one. I know you're jealous. Why don't you blog about it.


Happy Inauguration Day

Today's a neat day.

Regardless if you voted McCain, Obama or yourself, regardless if you're 6 or 106, regardless if you spent today at home, work or Nebraska Furniture Mart's TV department, chances are good you tuned in to history as Barack H. Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.

The good ole US of A is filled with a lot of people, and all different people at that. But today we all have one thing in common, as 1.20.09 marks the beginning of a new era. Today is something that brought Americans together. Today, infamous musicians and award winning movie stars traded the red carpet for bundling up and interspersing on the national mall with millions of other everyday Americans. Employees ate lunch together in conference rooms, eyes glued to the television. DVRs were erased to make room for today's coverage. If deleting a full season of Desperate Housewives doesn't say "I care about the inauguration," I don't know what does.

So, yeah. Today's cool. I look forward to watching America evolve and improve under our new leadership. But for now, I've got to continue to hunt for a white turtleneck.


Macy Eye View

For Christmas, Macy got a camera. It attaches to her collar and takes photos randomly. Trevor and I thought this would be really fun when she is home alone to see what she does, and maybe even at Bark Avenue.

Tonight while cooking dinner was the first time she wore it and I'm already obsessed. You might not find them as funny as we did, but I can't help to put her thoughts to each photo.

"Drop something drop something drop something. It smells delicious. What are you cooking up there?"

"Well shit. Looks like I'm outta luck. Through that door to the bowls on the floor is where I shall feast."


Ringing in 2009

While we missed ringing in 2009 with our friends, we could not have been anywhere better. My family was privileged to celebrate the new year (and Husker victory!) in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. There was never a dull or inactive moment! We rode snowmobiles through Yellowstone, sledded, skied, went on a sleigh ride, got massages (at least the ladies did!), hot tubbed, sauna-d and ate and drank too much. And somehow... even though we flew through Denver and in and out of Idaho Falls - in December/January...all flights were on time. It was the perfect culmination to 2008 and a fantastic way to commence 2009.