In three experiments, we compared the effectiveness of rainbow writing and retrieval practice, two common methods of spelling instruction. In experiment 1 (n = 14), second graders completed 2 days of spelling practice, followed by spelling tests 1 day and 5 weeks later. A repeated measures analysis of variance demonstrated that spelling accuracy for words trained with retrieval practice was higher than for words trained with rainbow writing on both tests (η p 2 = .49). In experiments 2 (second graders, n = 16) and 3 (first graders, n = 12), students completed 2 days of spelling practice followed by a spelling test 1 day later. Results replicated experiment 1; spelling accuracy was higher for words trained with retrieval practice compared with rainbow writing (η p 2 = .42 and .64, respectively). Furthermore, students endorsed both liking and learning from retrieval practice at least as much as (and sometimes more than) rainbow writing. Results demonstrate that retrieval practice is a more useful (and as engaging) training method than is rainbow writing and extend the well-established testing effect to beginning spellers.
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Our data indicate that more correct spellings of a word were produced with rainbow writing (M = 7.4) than with retrieval practice (M = 3).
Only one student failed to practice all items with rainbow writing; two items were unpracticed. On average, each item was practiced nine times. Thus, observed differences in accuracy for retrieval practice and rainbow writing on the final test are unlikely due to insufficient practice with all items in the rainbow writing condition.
Two students’ retrieval practice data were misplaced. Thus, analyses include data from 14 students.
Using the first round of retrieval practice in experiment 1 as a baseline measure, performance was relatively high (M = 66.9%, SD = 22), similar to experiment 2.
Similar to experiment 2, only one student failed to practice all items with rainbow writing; two items were unpracticed. On average, items were practiced with rainbow writing 6.5 times. Thus, the nearly threefold gain produced by retrieval practice over rainbow writing is unlikely due to a failure in practicing items during rainbow writing.
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This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders [3RO1DC011 492]. We would like to thank Melissa Bishop, Dasom Kim, Soo Lee, and Brenda Wu for assistance with data collection.
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Jones, A.C., Wardlow, L., Pan, S.C. et al. Beyond the Rainbow: Retrieval Practice Leads to Better Spelling than does Rainbow Writing. Educ Psychol Rev 28, 385–400 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-015-9330-6
- Retrieval practice
- Testing effect
- Emergent literacy