According to Wikipedia, “a spelling bee is a competition in which contestants are asked to spell a broad selection of words, usually with an increasing degree of difficulty. To compete, contestants must memorize the spellings of words as written in dictionaries, and recite them accordingly.” Spelling bees seem less popular today than in previous generations, but there is no question about it – the poise, confidence and steely nerves of participants are always an impressive display of grit. This week, we enjoyed the drama and suspense of our own annual House League Spelling Bee with contestants ranging from Grade 3 to Grade 8. It was exciting. It was challenging. It was a thing to behold!
The ability to spell orally under pressure may seem like an anachronistic skill from the days of bobby socks and soda fountains, but competitions of spelling prowess have never died out and are alive and well in many schools, cities and countries. This is especially true in the US. The Scripps National Spelling Bee is an annual spelling competition run by a not-for-profit, The E. W. Scripps Company, and is held at a hotel or convention center in Washington, D.C. during the week following Memorial Day weekend. It draws competitors from across the US and around the world. It is always an event that pits students against one another in a demonstration of grace under pressure.
These large “bees” – which refers to gatherings in which people join together in an activity – typically have qualifying rounds with progression from the local to regional levels and finally to nationals. Some competitions have study lists and preparation guides, while others are more free form with vocabulary drawn from syllabi compiled by English teachers. There are protocols, regulations, chimes, tie-breakers and awards. It is an alphabetical “blood sport” for the uninitiated.
What are the benefits? Many may question the value of spelling bees. The main complaint is that they force children to perform mindless rote-memorization under high pressure. Some may even think that the competition is potentially traumatizing; however, in a supportive and encouraging environment, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The main objective of our House League Bee is all about gaining a better perspective on life. Our students gain the experience necessary to develop a healthy sense of sportsmanship and friendly rivalry – and how to both win and lose with grace. The experience provides our students who have an interest in language with a chance to enjoy the same opportunity to compete and learn some of the same valuable life lessons found in sport. While training for a spelling bee, our students learn about word roots and origins. They delve deeper into understanding the meaning and grammatical function of vocabulary. Our students who target their spelling, not only increase their vocabulary, but also develop cognitive abilities and learning strategies.
I always admire kids who will take the chance to compete in a public forum in front of their peers, parents and teachers. Each of this week’s competitors has my unreserved respect and admiration.
Thanks for an entertaining and fun afternoon!
Ric Anderson, Head of School