Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Breaking It Down- Spelling

Spelling has given me more headaches than any other subject. Some people are born natural spellers and some aren't. One of my children is a natural speller and spending time on that subject is a complete waste of time for her. At eight she spells at least as well as my high schoolers. 

The rest of us? Well, not so much. 

Some say if a child is a reader they will be able to spell. I can testify that is absolutely not true. The belief is that a reader will recognize when a word doesn't look right, but they all look wrong to me if I look at them long enough. So that just doesn't work.

Spelling can be done the same way as penmanship; Just put ten to twenty words on their assignment page per day for them to write five or ten times each (depending on the age of the child. I begin spelling at around seven). You use the simplest words they misspell in their other writing or related words. For example, if they miss the word fall, you would put all, ball, fall, stall, call, etc. on the list. I like to have them practice and test everyday instead of once per week. Daily testing just fits our family better. 

I usually let them spell the word out loud to me during testing if they wish. I figure that is harder and if they get it correct that way, they will spell it right in print.

You can have them write the relevant rule in their notebook in a “Spelling Rules” section if you know it. This will not only help with the current missed word but they can apply the rule to any other words with the same sound (shower, flower, cloud, owe; ”ou and ow make the sound you say when you get hurt.”)

Rules for Spelling
A syllable is a vowel sound and all the consonants pronounced with it. Every word (and syllable) must have at least one vowel- and only one- vowel sound.
A vowel at the beginning or in the middle of a word or syllable
 is usually short. (cat, dog, met, as, on)
A vowel at the end of a word or syllable is usually long. (go, he, she)
 The k sound followed by an e, i, or y is spelled with a k. Followed by an a, o, or u or any other letter is usually spelled with a c.
Short vowel, use ck to end a word. Long vowel, use ke. (back, bake)
L, f, and s are usually doubled at the end of a short vowel word.
i before e except after c, or when sounded like a as in neighbor and weigh (most of the time)
An e after an s in some words is there to distinguish it from the plural of another word (1 plea, 3 pleas, please do this).
A v sound at the end of a word must be followed by an e (keeps the v from falling over, you see). Have, gave
To make a plural, add s to most words (dogs), es to words ending in the s sound or o (foxes, potatoes). Change the f to ves in words ending in the f sound (wolf = wolves, wife=wives).
See the phonics chart for more rules.

Using their missed words encourages them to learn to spell correctly. The sooner they quit misspelling words the sooner they don’t study spelling anymore. Less work.

When they ask how to spell a word, I help them sound it out; “Cot. What are the first two sounds you hear? Do you put a c or a k before an o? What do you hear next...”

Older children can be required to look up any words they miss and fix them themselves. You just circle them. Later, you could just tell them “You misspelled three words in this paragraph and two in that one.” They will sharpen their editing skills by having to find them themselves.
A few different strategies have helped me improve my own spelling and thus my children’s;

I bought The ABC’s and All Their Tricks from Mott Media ($25.00). It is an alphabetical list of all phonics rules and how to use them. 

Why would Phonics help spelling? Spelling is just phonics in reverse. All those words really do obey the rules. A computer analysis of English found that, contrary to common belief, 90% of the language very much obeys the rules. By learning the rules I was able to figure out how to put each sound down correctly instead of just wildly guessing as I was doing when I first graduated high school.

The second thing I have done is to set my computer to underline all the misspelled words, but instead of automatically correcting them with the machine, I usually try to fix it myself. If I do have to look at the computer’s list of possible words I try to memorize the correct spelling so next time I get it right. I can even spell “necessary” without help now!

Most formal spelling programs follow the “assign words on Monday, study them Tuesday through Thursday, test Friday” format. If you like this, there are several good programs (Abeka, Rod and Staff, Spelling Power, Spelling Works) out there if you would rather buy something. This format irritates me for some reason so it doesn’t work well for us.

There are now several programs based more on a daily than weekly approach. Sequential Spelling by AVCO is a list of words for each year divided up phonetically. For example, the first few lessons in first grade has;

The first words are repeated in each other word, showing the child that there really isn’t much to remember.

You test them every day on what they know, carry the missed words over to study and test tomorrow.

You can keep sections in your notebooks for tests, rules, definitions, prefixes, suffixes, root words and their meanings and maybe even language origins if you want.

I have recently discovered “All About Spelling.” This was written by a professional Language Arts tutor whose son was diagnosed with Autism.

Each of the seven Levels has twenty-four “Steps” (lessons- allowing you to take more than a week to go through each one). Each child receives phonogram (yellow), sound (red), key (blue) and word (green) cards, dividers, and a nice box to store them all in. I have added a stout rubber band to keep the box closed when dropped or taken by toddler siblings. 

There is also a kit of tiles with two complete alphabets plus other sound tiles and labels.

Each step reviews putting the alphabet in order, and all cards under “review” dividers. When the child knows the card pat, it is moved to the “mastered” divider of the matching color. If they haven’t got to the lesson teaching that card yet, it goes under the “future lessons” divider.

After the review, the lesson is taught. These are “scripted” lessons, meaning, all the parent does is read as if reading a script for a play. The book tells you exactly what to do and say. The corresponding cards are then put under the “review” dividers.

This program is based on the spelling rules. The spelling words are almost incidental. It proceeds at a slow pace, (which can always be doubled for older or advanced students,) and is VERY thorough. By the time a child is done with this program they understand the rules of spelling and how to use them.

All About Spelling can also easily be adjusted for a school-week of absolutely any length or arrangement.

Currently, I have four children of spelling lesson ages. 

  • My 15yo copies her weekly list from AAS onto 3x5 cards, alphabetizes them, defines them, finds out the parts of speech, and then has me test her (she prefers to work on the same list for roughly a week, though it varies).
  • My 13yo likes to do her list, also from AAS, on SpellingCity.com. It has her do the same things my older daughter is doing, but in game format. She is learning so I'm good. 
  • My 12yo stagnated with AAS after two years, so we went back to AVKO for her. At the moment this is working well, though I have no problem switching it around if it quits working. 
  • My 8yo, well, I have her studying one rule a week in the Bludorn's "Encoder Decoder." This is spelling/phonics rules written for high school or adult level. She studies the rule and explains it to me later. Honestly, she is such a good speller I just do this to make me feel better.  

Don’t be afraid to experiment. I have heard of mothers using sand, shaving cream (to draw the words in), flash cards, word searches, and many other mediums to teach their children to spell. 

Whatever works for you is right. If it doesn’t work, even if it is the most recommended method in the world, it is wrong. Don’t be afraid to experiment. `

Summary-after they are reading some:

  • Take the 5-10 easiest words they misspell in their daily writing and have them memorize them.
  • Teach the spelling rules.
  • Keep a list of new vocabulary words, suffixes, and prefixes and their definitions.

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