Friday, November 22, 2013

Spelling Thoughts

In homeschooling, there are so many different ways to approach spelling.  Many people choose a line of yearly spelling workbooks that their children work through each year.  Others use Spelling Power as a guide.
Last year, I wrote a post with my spelling plan.  I use Spelling Power as my foundation for my oldest daughter.  For the words that she misspells, I use a plan similar to what my students used when I taught in public school.  Spelling Power includes a long explanation of how to teach spelling in the beginning of the book (in very small font!).  This program has worked wonderfully for my oldest daughter who rarely gets a word wrong from the lists.

My second daughter is a different speller and so she needs a different approach to spelling to help her.  I wrote this post in August as I prepared to tackle spelling in a different way this year with her.  Much of it has been successful, but some of it has not.  I discovered as we settled into a busy fall that because I hadn't assembled the phonics component beforehand that I only did it sporadically.  So, now I am taking a step back and figuring out what I have or need that is preassembled and that I can pick up and teach from.  Because I have three children that I'm teaching at the same time and engaging, I can't assemble as I go.  There simply isn't time.  But, the modifications I've made in my approach to spelling have been very successful!  She is feeling much more successful at spelling and is hopeful!  I realized that my sweet daughter needs direct instruction.  Where my oldest daughter understood spelling rules implicitly, my younger daughter needs to be taught these rules and when they apply.  So, now when she misspells a word, I explain why.  We talk about long vowels and short vowels.  And my daughter thinks about what she's spelling.

When I taught school, it was a common practice to add misspelled words from a student's writing to their spelling lists.  Some teachers I knew were able to integrate this practice and some weren't.  It's difficult in a classroom of thirty children because then you have thirty spelling folders or lists to keep track of!  I assumed this would be easier in homeschooling and yet it is something I haven't integrated into my homeschooling until this year.  When I considered how to improve my daughter's spelling, I did a lot of reading from a lot of sources and then I culled through to collate the ideas I thought would be useful to me.  It would have been nice to have a book at the time that was easy to read and understand...

And of course there is a book out there, right?  Yes, of course.  There are
probably several, actually.  But, recently I found one of them.  It is titled How to Teach Any Child to SPELL by Gayle Graham.  There is a companion book, Tricks of the Trade: A Student's Individualized Spelling Notebook.  Ms. Graham's book is very easy to read and does summarize a lot of what I learned in the course of my reading.  There are a few minor differences like the practice of penciling--underlining syllables instead of using Phonemic Sound Boxes (Elkonin Boxes).  But, the ideas are the same.  It is nice because the spelling rules are all there.  The spelling notebook is for students to use as they categorize the words from their own writing that they misspell.  Using a notebook can be a tedious process.  But, some children sincerely can benefit from it--especially when grouping words together according to rules clicks for them and helps them to spell more correctly consistently.

I began writing this post and then decided I needed to think a little bit more about teaching spelling and what to say in this review.  I realized that it's easy to give a child a workbook on spelling and let them learn on their own--if spelling comes easily to them.  But, any spelling program aimed at teaching the rules of spelling takes time.  The idea behind Ms. Graham's program is to underline the words that are misspelled in a child's writing and then find where they fit in a notebook of spelling rules.  She includes a daily spelling plan.  That spelling plan includes a daily phonics review.  The worksheets from my previous post on Carl's Corner would be a great tool to use.  I like her plan.  Begin with phonics, move on to reviewing child's spelling notebook, then reading and observing spelling, and finally daily writing.  

I have to admit that How to Teach Any Child to Spell is quite general.  It has enough guidelines to give you a framework, but then you have to fill in the content.  So, here's what I'd do with this little book...
1) Read it completely.  Make a shortcut guide for the daily lesson plan.  
2) Assemble phonics worksheets from Carl's Corner.  Begin with the blends ch/sh/th/wh and other sounds that the child doesn't recognize from the consonant list included in the book.  My advice is to assemble a notebook ahead of time so that you can follow from one digraph to the next.  Then teach short vowels and long e.  Use the Clue Sheets from Tricks of the Trade as a guide for what phonics combinations need to be taught.
3) Read Aloud.  Pick a book you both enjoy or a poem each day.  Poems are nice because they are short and have many word patterns.  Point out the rules you've been teaching them about.  I like Ms. Graham's explanation of how to do this.  
4) Place a mini word wall page in the front of your child's planner for them to use as a shortcut spelling list when they are writing.  As they use words from it, ask them about the rules that tell them how to spell those words. How do they know?  Here is a link to the one I use.
5) Use the Tricks of the Trade to catalog the words with spelling errors from their writing.  This is the most time consuming part.  I would use an adhesive tab (or make one) for the front index of where to find the pages for each rule in the book.  That's the problematic and time consuming part of this.  If your child is young (3rd grade or younger), you will need to begin by helping them categorize each individual word.  As the child is more independent, instruct your child to write a few words in themselves.  Independence will come gradually though.  First check the words after they done them one by one, then check them as a group.  Ask your child to reason and explain why they put each word on the page he/she did.  The child's explanation is an important assessment of whether or not he/she understood the spelling rule applied. 
The Tricks of the Trade clue sheets in the front are very helpful because they can be a guide to you about how to teach the phonics sounds (and how many combinations there are!).  

Ms. Graham also identifies a tool that I've realized is very important for my daughter--learning to break words into syllables.  In order to do that, a child must be pronouncing words correctly.  I ask my daughter to repeat a word to me to make sure she's hearing it in her word correctly.  If she's not, I repeat it back to her and emphasize where the pronunciation needed to be corrected.  Explode the Code does a wonderful job of teaching the syllable rules in Books 4 and 4 1/2.  I would recommend using those two books even if you don't use the whole series.  But, don't make the mistake I did at first.  Don't give your child the book and let them work through the rules on their own and just plug and chug.  Talk through each syllabication rule and take it slow.  Review the rules as you go through the book if you can.  Juggling three learners at the same time means that this can be difficult for me at times.  And I know many more moms that have more learners working simultaneously than me!  It's tricky.  But, spelling rules are important for multiple ages.  Children can be grouped for reviews and for reviewing syllabication.  

Is syllabication necessary?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It doesn't help all students.  But, I think part of that is because some children need a lot more practice with it than they get and instruction on how to break apart syllables.  Not all children hear that natural breaks in words that syllables form.  They have to learn to listen for them.  And learning comes through practice, I think.  I've noticed that the worksheet I made for sound boxes really helps my daughter pause and think about the sounds.  Here's a link to the worksheet I made.
With her spelling words, she writes the letters that make one sound in each box.  So, Were takes two boxes: w and ere.  Now that she's thinking more about sounds, she can chunk them together to form syllables.  

I am thankful to have found this book combination by Ms. Graham.  It reinforced some of the conclusions I'd drawn myself about spelling this summer and fall.  But, it also has renewed and challenged me to consider the time Spelling needs from me.  I am going to implement the practice of daily reading and observation that Ms. Graham recommends.  Most programs for children that struggle with spelling are quite expensive.  These books are not.  The two books together cost about $16.  It isn't a complete program without phonics supplements though.  This website  can give you worksheets and expansive word lists that can be used a long with Ms. Graham's approach to spelling.  

As a homeschooling parent, I've realized that the best way to become a good homeschooling teacher is to be a student of your student.  This spelling program fits with that idea.  It will require some preparation.  But, most spelling prorams that teach the rules do.  That was something I was reminded of as I thought about this program and asked myself if I have the time I need to teach spelling well to my daughter.  I have to adjust my expectations of how long spelling will take and give it more room.  She needs me to do this and as her teacher, I need to do just that.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Tricks of the Trade and How to Teach Any Child to Spell from Common Sense Press for review.  

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