Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: Spelling Wisdom

Curriculum for learning spelling have come and gone at my house.  We've done several different curriculum, most of which used the list method; a list of words to study and then test on.  This worked...kinda.

I am trying to get away from the way I used to learn; just well enough to pass a test and then purge the information to make way for the new test material.  That, unfortunately, seems to be the way that spelling is traditionally taught.  And, actually, there's nothing wrong with that.  One learns how to correctly spell the word at least once and then, through practice, will relearn it until it sticks.  However, this just wasn't working for my son.  He could perform spelling well enough, but I wasn't seeing that ability in his daily work.

Then, one evening I attended a talk by a local reading specialist.  Her main topic was that of reading and difficulties some children have.  But, she did touch on the topic of spelling.  A few things she said really stuck for me.  She explained that when it comes to spelling, phonics only works to a certain point.  Once a student encounters the "rule breakers" it becomes very much more difficult for a child to learn spelling through phonics.  She also touched on the importance of spelling through context such as through copy work and dictation.  And, the last point that I can remember from her talk was that one's reading level was not necessarily the same as one's spelling level.  Her suggestion was to teach spelling words that were at least a level or two below the student's reading level.

Copy work and dictation; this was her suggestion for the best way of learning spelling.  And, teaching spelling that was below the student's reading level.  Interesting.  From this information I could already see where part of our problem was.  My kids had learned to read early and their reading level was quite high compared to their grade and age.  I had thought if they could read the word, surely they should be able to spell it.  But, apparently that's not how one learns spelling. 

I introduced copy work and dictation to my kids almost immediately. However, I had trouble picking out the appropriate level of text and found that much of what I was picking out was repetitive in the words that were being learned.  How fortunate then that a friend introduced me to Spelling Wisdom  put out by the Simply Charlotte Mason company.  This is a book specifically for spelling that uses the technique of copy work and dictation.

What I like:  The copy work with Spelling Wisdom consists of quotes and snippets of literature from a variety of sources; its interesting while also managing to teach spelling incrementally.  These books are relatively inexpensive.  We usually do two pages/ exercises per week which means that one book will last us about two school years.  The books are non-consumable which means that they will be available in good condition for my younger students.  I also appreciate that Simply Charlotte Mason offers a free sample to download and try before you buy.

What I don't like:  I really can't think of what I don't like about this.  We've been using this for spelling with my older son all year and I can't think of any complaints.  But, if you're not sold on this method of learning spelling, then this is not the curriculum for you.

How I use it:  The curriculum explains how best to use Spelling Wisdom.  We stick pretty close to their suggestions but have made a couple of modifications to fit us.  First, my son looks over the copy work for the exercise he's been given.  I don't go over it with him any more as he prefers to do this himself.  I then have him copy it.  I used to have him hand write his copy.  Eventually we switched to have him type it out.  I have him type it out in Notepad (a program found on almost all computers with Windows) as it doesn't have a spell check.  This is done on  the first day.

The second day, I dictate the exercise to my son while he types it out.  (Again, any typing we do for spelling is done in Notepad).  Ideally, I should point out and have him correct any misspelled words as they are being typed out.  However, we do it where he prints out his paper, I correct it, and we go over any mistakes.  If he makes more than 4 mistakes, I have him redo the exercise.  And, any particularly difficult words are repeated if he misses them, regardless of the overall score he got.

When it comes to practice, I have him copy everything including punctuation, capitals, etc.  However, when it comes to the test, I am testing for spelling, not grammar.  Therefore, I don't fuss over punctuation and such with his "test", I just focus on the spelling part.  I might tell him "capital" or where to put a punctuation mark during dictation so he can see the correct text, but I don't count off points or make him redo it if its not perfect grammar-wise.  I realize this is not entirely in line with what the authors of Spelling Wisdom suggest, but a personal allowance of mine.

My impression:  I really do like and prefer this way of teaching spelling now that we have implemented it.  And, best of all, I have seen a great improvement in my son's spelling.  It could be argued that his improvement has come because of maturity or practice or that he's done spelling for so long now its just finally set in.  Either way, I do see an improvement and this method of teaching spelling is working well for us.  I also appreciate that there is more than just spelling going on here.  With this, my son is also practicing his handwriting or typing.  We will definitely be sticking with this curriculum for the next year.


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