Andrew Jennings is the author of the bestselling series Vocabulary Ninja and Comprehension Ninja, and now Spelling Ninja. Andrew is an experienced teacher and school leader and his innovative ninja-themed resources are used in thousands of classrooms in the UK and abroad. Follow Andrew on Twitter @VocabularyNinja and discover more resources at www.vocabularyninja.co.uk.
Spell Like a Ninja (Bloomsbury Education)
Struggle with spellings? Perhaps it's time to Spell Like a Ninja! - Andrew Jennings's fun and clear guide to spelling rules - and when to break them. With examples, exercises, spelling lists and plenty of jokes to see you through, you'll be spelling 'like a ninja' in no time! We asked Andrew Jennings to tell us more about Spell Like a Ninja, and if it's ever too late to become good at spelling.
Review: "This pocket-sized book is packed full of strategies and resources to enable you to support your primary school children and transform them into spelling ninjas!"
Q&A with Andrew Jennings
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself, and what drives your passion for vocabulary?
Hello! Well, I have been a primary school teacher for the past 13 years and even before then was involved in working with schools and young people. Vocabulary is most certainly the niche that I like to champion as something that can have a significant impact on all learners, but more than that, learning in general is a great passion of mine, intertwined with the need to be creative and help people.
2. When did you become a vocabulary ninja - and why? What are your special ninja skills in teaching children about reading and writing?
Vocabulary Ninja began back in 2017 through general sharing of resources, speaking at events and writing small blog posts on Twitter. Not with the intention of it becoming what it is now, but just as a way of engaging people and pupils with the power of vocabulary, reading and writing in general. I suppose it was fun, and things have taken off from there.
I guess when it comes to reading and writing, I have always had a need to be able to unpick how 'something' works and how we can improve it, teach it and explain it better. Over time this had enabled me to gain more and more experience and skill at unpicking the key areas that pupils need to develop alongside some central personal philosophies such as 'consistency of approach'.
3. Your new book, Spell Like a Ninja, is described as 'the ultimate spelling toolkit to support every child, parent and teacher, in school and at home'. So, what's inside?
Spelling is so vast; it really is a journey over time that builds on prior spelling knowledge. Spell Like a Ninja aims to create a complete overview of spelling, alongside in-depth coverage of each spelling rule. The goal is to create a simple clarity and understanding for teachers, pupils and importantly parents too, who are the gatekeepers to any learning success at home.
Each rule is explained, examples given, and key parts of each rule identified to make it more obvious how a specific pattern or rule works. Ultimately, making each word and rule easier to learn, not for children to just rote learn a list of 10 words. So, when a spelling rule is being introduced at school or learned at home, the book is the ultimate resource to support the understanding give endless examples and breakdown each rule so that spelling is no longer the issue it once was.
4. How are the sections structured, and how do you know it will work for children?
Sections vary, but the aim was always to make the book as child friendly and focused as possible, as with all the 'Like a Ninja' books. With a friendly design, soft illustrations and only the essential information included, the book aims to offer a very children friendly resource to support spelling in school or at home.
5. How is Spell like a Ninja different from other 'learning to spell' systems?
I think all spelling systems have their own merits and will be great, I'm sure. I always say that any system or resource is only as useful as the person delivering it. You could have the best system, but if it isn't implemented properly and used regularly, just like going to the gym or brushing your teeth, the impact won't be there.
Spell Like a Ninja is designed to complement what any system or school provides by offering a comprehensive and detailed overview of the spelling curriculum, in one handy and simple to use guide that is easy and quick to reference for all users.
6. What are the biggest mistakes we make when we're trying to teach children spelling, and how do you avoid these?
From my own experience as a teacher and a parent, the biggest issue with spelling is the relationship between school and home. How a spelling rule is introduced in school and effectively taught, and then how this information is sent home for practice to happen.
I know a lot of times; rules aren't taught effectively and consistently and a list of 10 words is just sent home. While at home, the list of words come home, and parents work on their children trying to remember the rule. These are obviously broad examples, but this will be common. Both situations don't really help the child to become an effective speller. For children to become effective spellers, they need a greater understanding and awareness of the rules, patterns and exceptions involved with spelling.
The solution, using this book, would help school staff to be more confident around each spelling rule to effectively teach and introduce the content, while putting in place a clear daily routine for teaching and practicing the spelling rules in school over the course of a week. This can translate to home via the book, to support parents understand and deliver the same messages at home throughout the week.
7. So how would you like to see teachers and parents using Spell Like a Ninja, to get the best results?
In school, teachers can very easily use the books daily to support spelling practice. With a class set, every child could quite easily turn to the same page, have access to the same information, word lists, explanations and examples to practice spelling from. This is the start of embedding a clear and consistent system and routine of spelling practice, which ultimately benefits the pupil.
For parents, there is a dedication 'Parent Zone' to really help parents understand the key processes they can undertake at home to help their child better understand and learn a spelling rule. The parent zone is crammed with step-by-step processes, simple activities to try and general advice to equip parents with the knowledge and confidence to support their child with spelling.
8. Will Spell Like a Ninja help child to enjoy, as well as understand, spelling? And what's your favourite joke in the book?!
The biggest element that will make a difference to any speller, alongside understanding is just practice. This is central to any level of success, daily 10-15 minutes practice and any child should be able to master spelling. Whereas dedicating 10 minutes on a Sunday prior to a test, may yield some success, but only really a superficial one without any real in depth understanding.
I personally think enjoyment comes from that personal belief that you are either are successful at something or are at least improving. No one wants to do something that they aren't very good at, that's just human nature. Often, we will give up because we don't really know how to improve or how to get better, and again that just makes sense. The more we can support pupils to understand a rule, the more likely they will become more confident with spelling the rule, and thus the more they will enjoy it. Success comes from practice.
My favourite joke within the book is 'My poor knowledge of Greek mythology has always been my Achilles elbow!'
9. Is it ever too late to become a good speller? What words do you find hardest to spell?
The book will 100% help as it takes all the prep out of focusing on rules and as older learners, the book becomes even more accessible as the content should be easily digested. I think with Y6 learners and older learners, it's not just about looking at a spelling, it's looking at the wider aspects of how often they read and the writing opportunities they have to apply this understanding - all of this has an impact on spelling.
As with lots of areas of the primary curriculum (for pupils aged 11), there is nothing beyond the contents of this book in terms of spelling to really learn. There are no more advanced rules for secondary school and beyond, which does seem little strange when you think about it. But yes, this book really is a comprehensive overview of spelling and overviews the whole spelling curriculum, putting any learner, child or adult in the driving seat with spelling.
Honestly, my own personal journey with spelling is always ongoing; there have always been words that have haunted me. 'Practice or practise' is one example. Quite often I'd just use rehearse instead, because I knew I could spell that one. I think everyone has their own words and rules that they find hard to grasp, quite often though it really just comes down to that personal endeavour to gain a better understanding and to learn something new.
10. How much difference has your approach to words and spelling made to schools and families that have adopted it? What other books or projects are you working on?
Many schools across the country use my resources and publications especially around spelling to support the process of embedding consistent teaching and learning routines, which then positively impact on the spelling abilities of learners.
My main mantra is 'Teaching Simplified, Learning Amplified'. Anything I publish or produce really does have to exemplify this mantra that the resource must simplify the learning process and have a significant impact on the learner.
With supporting schools and families at the heart of everything I do, yes, we have more exciting 'Like a Ninja' titles that have already been written. Firstly, SATs Like a Ninja which aims to support with the process of KS2 SATs and will be the essential toolkit for subject knowledge, strategies, hints and tips, parent zones and much more. It really is epic! And finally, Read Like a Ninja has just been finished. Read Like a Ninja aims to provide a content-rich experience that will actively improve any child's reading ability. It's an exciting publication and one that I am certain will be a huge hit in the world of education!