what I've learned / what we do

question from the audience: spelling

A question from the audience:

Do you have any advice on how to teach a child spelling? My daughter is a terrible speller. She loves to write stories, but I can’t even read them because the words are so badly spelled. I have tried All About Spelling, but all the rules seem to confuse her. She is a struggling student in general. She is my creative, head in the clouds girl. School to her is in the way of her having time to be creative. She struggles with reading too. She completely confuses me in how to teach her. Any advice would be great. I’m at a loss right now. For other reasons, my motivation for school has decreased, however I have a husband and mother-in-law who are results people and they want my kids to be little Einsteins. EEEEKKKK!

Spelling. That subject came into closer consciousness this year as I watched our second daughter not spell at the level I thought she should. I got out the mental magnifying glass, watched closely, read about it, and attempted to help resolve this trouble.

I believe there is no perfect teaching approach to any subject, and no perfect way to teach each child, but parent-teachers are motivated to figure out what their kids need, and will find a way to piece together the puzzle of their child’s mind.

My first thoughts in response to the audience question were these:

1. Education isn’t about results. The education system is, but an education is not. This is a different blog topic which I have written about previously.

If ‘results’ mean continued growth and a curious mind, eager to pursue the world, then an education is occurring.

The notion of an education being proven by a series of papered results, grades, and exam marks is so ingrained in our culture that it’s awful hard to get the notion out of our heads. But if we would choose to think of education differently, there would be a lot less anxiety and a lot more freedom to be enjoyed.

2. Personal experience has taught me that force feeding ANYTHING doesn’t do anything more than damage relationships and little people. Though I really, really, really wish it worked. And I instinctively really, really, really still try. Surely my children will receive my mommy wisdom because I’ve learned a “few things”….ha ha ha ha. It simply does not work that way.

3. Feeling pressured by others’ opinions doesn’t have to translate into appeasing others. Just cause someone wants something from you, doesn’t mean you have to give it. Of course, the spouse’s opinion is mighty important, and equal in weight to yours, so learning to compromise or come to an agreement, is necessary. That’s another blog…

To those concerned that are not bound by a marriage certificate, stating simply: I understand you care about my children and I am thankful you do. These are my children. I welcome your ideas, will consider your feedback, even if it isn’t my way of thinking, but in the end, I will educate them and approach them as I see fit. Smile. Change subject. And let go of notion that all people will be happy with how you choose to live.

As for spelling…I will, in my non-conformist ways, share my perspective:

1. Phonics programs are more use to you, than your child.

There are a lot of phonics programs (which are essentially the origin of spelling rules). They’re all useful attempts at decoding the English language.

None of them do it perfectly, because the English language has too many exceptions. There is no precise formula or painstakingly perfect program. There is no internationally-taught English language system for a reason; everyone doesn’t agree on how to teach it. Curiously, everyone thinks their system is the best….until it’s not, and then they change it again.

Some of them cost a lot. Don’t spend the money.

Some of these programs take a lot of time to understand. And also to teach. Don’t waste your time trying to figure them out.

We reading adults take for granted spelling or phonics rules. Most of us know that ‘ph’ says ‘f’ or that ‘e’ says ‘ee’ sometimes, but mostly ‘e’ sounds like a short ‘e’ when surrounded by consonants…etc, etc, etc.

We know because we READ–we recognize those words because we see them A LOT.

We’ve likely been taught phonics, or possibly whole word approaches if we were in school when it was in vogue, but we don’t remember phonics rules (unless we teach kindergarten, or recently had our child in kindergarten).

So it would benefit us to study phonics;  phonics rules help explain a lot of words, so, in my opinion, it is useful when taught ALONGSIDE reading and writing. If we learn some of the rules, we can easily teach them to our kids.

Repeatedly reminding them of certain rules will reinforce their awareness of a concept that they can translate into other similar words. It needs to be assimilated with knowledge into their everyday experience though, not just random trivia that they don’t really care to know.

I know there are phonics systems to introduce kids to dipthongs and blends and word families and all that stuff, but I have not seen my kids learn to read, write or spell because of those little lessons; though I really hoped they would, because I thought it would be simpler if someone else could do it through their system or book.

I have seen them learn to read, write or spell because they wanted to read a story, or because they ask repeatedly, “mom, how do you spell…” when they want to write their stories, or a thank you card, or a letter, or a theatre playbill for their next homemade drama production.

2. Read with your kids. So my approach is super simple: read with them, and explain some of the rules as you go. Focus on a few words that you know they struggle with.

Help them to slow down and see the word, see that “February” sure is a strangely spelled word, because almost no one pronounces it as it’s spelled. Or explain a phonics rule or ask them which word explains the rule “the first vowel does the talking, the second one does the walking”. Make it a game.

And point these things out occasionally. Not every single word, or they won’t want to read with you. Definitely don’t scold. Gees, lesson learned. They’ll definitely not want to read with you.

Kids do want to sit on their parent’s lap, cuddle under a blanket, taking paragraph turns while reading something THEY want to read.

3. Get them writing. This is my second approach to spelling. Get them writing. Your daughter is writing and writes even when not asked. This is a sure sign that she’ll grow up to be a great speller. She loves words. Perfect. Be confident, and patient, it will happen.

Writing prompts get their creative juices flowing. They know that there’s no wrong answer to their stories. They can have fun finishing a story start, or come up with ideas to where they would go in outer space, or share with you their own stories.

You can oooh, and ahh, over their clever little minds and their funny stories, or their ability to paint a picture with their words, or their well-crafted dialogue. Enjoy those stories together.

Then the next day, you can help them flesh out their stories. What happened to that other character…can you write about that? How might you show me that your main character is happy, instead of saying, Jane was happy? Did you know that every sentence has a stop sign? Did you know that “Wednesday” is not spelled the way most people say it?

Watch closely that you don’t overwhelm their senses so they question if their writing is a failure. But their written work becomes fodor for their grammar, writing, and spelling lessons.

4. Dictation exercises

Dictate a sentence, or a word to start, from their favourite book. Have them write the word in their spelling book. Have them do that a couple times a week. They will begin to recognize that word, memorize it. Point out the phonics rules that make that word what it is.

5. Spelling cards

Then reinforce those words with spelling card review.

Charlotte Mason believed that to come to understand the spelling of words, the child must repeatedly be exposed to the correct spelling of a word, not mindlessly guess at the wrong spelling of a word once a week for spelling tests.

Our girls have a spelling notebook with letters A to Z on the upper corner. When they misspell a word, I have them write that word in their notebook. Then they write the word a flashcard, review it once a day, and at the end of the week, we decide whether they know that word. They’re essentially memorizing the correct spelling of that word.

6. Spelling games

Boggle, scrabble, and Bananagrams. Fun, and actually reinforce spelling, and new vocabulary.

Spelling City is a fun site for games and introducing new vocabulary. There are grade guidelines for spelling words, which gives you a rough idea where many kids are at…not all kids, but enough to warrant a grade label. My kids like playing on here.

Spelling apps like A+ make spelling tests easy. I have my kids type in their spelling words into the program (and check the list to make sure they’re inputted correctly), and they use those words in unscramble games, practice tests and even quizzes. An excuse to use the iPod gets their attention.

7. My policy: sound it out!

When asked the question, Mom, how do you spell… I require them to first attempt the spelling so I can see what they understand about it. No honey, there are always vowels in words, or there’s more than way to spell an “ee” sound…I can reinforce the rules then. But they must first spell it out.

When I shared my notions of teaching spelling to one mom, she said incredulously, but I don’t WANT to answer my kids constantly about how to spell words…she’d be asking me ALL the time. Indeed.

My approach to educating my children is intensive, not a portion of the day in a workbook; however, it reaps results. In months, I have seen that second daughter’s spelling soar…she wouldn’t win the spelling bee (but she would win other awards), but she’s definitely become comfortable in a whole host of words now.

I want to know what you think. Let me know.

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