PANDA SPELL

Since 2011, I’ve enjoyed plenty of success as a spelling bee coach, with many students working with me. A fair number of them have qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. A handful ended up among the semifinalists – the top 50 spellers in the nation. A few even qualified for the coveted finals. And one speller I’ve worked with even became a co-champion: Vanya Shivashankar, in 2015. Needless to say, this has been a great experience. Just as I loved being a speller years ago, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed helping…

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2017 DENVER POST SPELLING BEE

This Saturday, March 11th, was the 2017 Denver Post Spelling Bee. This is the spelling bee that would cover all of Colorado. However, Boulder County holds its own spelling bee as well, so Colorado gets two representatives at the Scripps National Spelling Bee instead of just one. I consider this progress. When I first went to the national bee in 1987, I represented all of Colorado...and all of Wyoming. It sounded impressive, but there just wasn't a sponsor in Wyoming at the time. But by 1989, Wyoming finally had its…

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WORDS WITH VARIANTS AND NEW WORDS

In the past, words with variants were seen as words to avoid when studying for the spelling bee, since they would not appear in a bee. I'm not sure of the original logic behind it, but if I were on a word panel, I would have rather kept the bee as fair and simple as possible by ensuring that all spellers received a word that had only one correct spelling. This would ensure that 1) all spellers had the same chance to get a word right, and 2) the judges…

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SPELLING AND…FASHION?

Who knew that people actually paid attention to the fashion sense that spellers were displaying during the Scripps finals this year? Because that’s really important to these kids during the finals: fashion. I saw this article (in Entertainment Weekly, no less), and was somewhat amused. I’m glad they started off the tongue-in-cheek analysis with a disclaimer that “no one is a fashion fail on this list.” Yet they still deride the presence of cargo shorts and a hidden LeBron James basketball jersey. Meanwhile, I roll my eyes and smirk. But…

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2015 NATIONAL SPELLING BEE, DAY 3

During an ideal spelling bee, the absolute best speller is determined, and wins; luck comes into play as minimally as possible. This year, like last year, a single best speller could not be determined, but the best two spellers undoubtedly could. Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam, both seen as favorites this year, quickly rose to the top during the finals, and stayed there for the last ten rounds of the bee, answering each other with correct spellings fired like arrows that always hit the bullseye. Bouquetiere? No problem.Cypseline? Done. Urgrund?…

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2015 NATIONAL SPELLING BEE, DAY 2

After a preliminary written test in which this year's competitors were asked to spell words ranging from collateral to perruche, and answer vocabulary questions like "When people expatiate, they...", all took the stage to spell aloud for the cameras. Round 2 was composed of words taken exclusively from Spell It, which is a word list comprising approximately 1150 words. Aside from a 450-word school list that changes every year, this list is the main list provided to spellers by Scripps, and it has not changed in years. As such, Round…

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2015 NATIONAL SPELLING BEE, DAY 1

As seems to happen every year, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has taken on some new twists, the likes of which send some spellers and parents to ask me if I'm familiar with the changes. In most cases, I have to tell them that no, this is just as new to me as it is to them. Some things remain comfortingly the same: Dr. Jacques Bailly's avuncular presence as the pronouncer, executive director Paige Kimble's confident smile greeting everyone at the beginning of the morning, program manager Corrie Loeffler's pleasant and sure…

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THE #1 RESPONSIBILITY OF A SPELLER

I can't really think of a great introduction to this, so let's get to it: The first and foremost responsibility of a speller is to communicate with the judges as clearly as possible. Surprising? Maybe, maybe not. You might think it has something to do with the pronouncer. After all, the pronouncer gives you the word by which you survive to spell another round, or fall by the wayside. So you have to hear the word clearly, and that is tremendously important. But think about it. When you are up on stage,…

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FOUR IMPORTANT LESSONS FOR PRONOUNCERS, PART 4

And our final lesson...at least for now. "The pronouncer is not a judge." This lesson could probably be extrapolated into this particular theme: Everyone at a bee has a certain role and set of responsibilities. With as little exception as possible, each person should attend only to their responsibilities. I coached a young man this year who made it to his district bee (which I did not attend). He received a word...and may or may not have spelled it correctly. Opinion was divided - not only amongst the judges, but also amongst…

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FOUR IMPORTANT LESSONS FOR PRONOUNCERS, PART 3

On to lesson #3: "The pronouncer should stick with the word list during the bee as determined prior to the bee." When I was competing in the regional spelling bee in 1988, I was the favorite to win, having won the previous year. In fact, I was so much the favorite, that when we went "out of the book," the pronouncer told me that "this next word seems too easy for you," and chose to move on to a more difficult word. (The word he passed over was "whirligig," and…

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