A new idea for teaching spelling

It’s important to me that Ian become a pretty decent speller someday. In this day and age, he especially needs to know his homonyms apart, because most spell-checkers can’t catch them.

Lately however, we have completely ditched spelling as a separate course. It just didn’t seem like it was clicking for us. I remember a conversation I had with my husband about the topic. The fact is, there are only a couple of words that I remember the spellings for because I learned them from a list. They are (drum-roll, please): calendar and separate.

I think that’s it.

Now, I am usually a pretty good speller (although this particular post will probably be full of errors, just to make a liar out of me, lol). The thing is, I don’t actually remember learning the spellings of words. I just know how they’re spelled. In an effort to figure out a better way to teach Ian, I had to ask myself, How? How did that happen?

And then it hit me: I was an avid reader as a child. I saw commonly used words spelled over and over and over again. I’m no expert on teaching spelling, but I am pretty convinced that reading lots of books has more impact on a person’s ability to spell than any spelling curriculum.Spelling

So, part A of my method, if you’d like to call it that, is lots and lots of reading.

Part B is spaced repetition, and here’s how it came about:

After a while, reading, with no other review, began to seem like the lazy way out. I was still afraid that maybe I wasn’t taking an active enough role in helping Ian become the speller I want him to be. The beauty of being a homeschool mom is the fact that I love my child more than any other teacher ever could. So when I find myself second-guessing his future, I am quick to analyze our habits and make changes if need be.

Then we started dictation exercises. I have written about this before, but here it is in a nutshell: To help him improve the actual physical skill of writing (which is the hardest part for him), I used to read three sentences to him every day from a book that is slightly below his reading level. He wrote the sentences down as I read them aloud. I thought: here’s my chance to help him with his spelling! When he came to a word he didn’t know, he would attempt to spell it, and I would help him. Then, if there were any spelling rules that would help him understand better, we would review them immediately (such as the difference between hoping and hopping).

This method worked for months, and he has accumulated pages and pages of a hand-written copy of “Little House in the Big Woods.” However, being the kind of mom that I am, the kind that wants to over-prepare for life, maybe, this method still seemed to be lacking. Even though his spelling was improving as time went on, I felt drawn to a more traditional approach to spelling.

But I hate the traditional approach! Why? Because, you learn a list of words, whether you know them already or not, you study them for a mere four days, and end by taking a quiz on day five. Study is usually accompanied by mind-numbing oral repetition and hand-cramping copying of 5 times each. Then, poof! The word disappears. And, magically, you never have to spell that word ever again. Sorry, but I just think it’s a waste of time. His and mine.

Three or four days ago, we sort of stumbled upon the solution. It was actually more Ian’s idea than mine. He had missed a fairly simple word that day during dictation. It was a word I was sure he would remember if only he had a little more exposure to it. So, as the day progressed, I asked him how to spell it. I interrupted his dinner, his video game playing, his exercising – I made myself very annoying, lol. But he didn’t mind too much because I was only asking for 5 seconds of his time, three or four times for the rest of the day. (That’s what we have been doing with any difficult math facts he encounters every day, and it really works.)

The next day, right before dictation, I asked him again – he still remembered the spelling. Ian said: “I really like spelling, but I like spelling out loud.” Then I felt guilty. I thought I had been saving him from unnecessary repetition, but he truly enjoys being able to spell. He enjoys the feeling it gives him when he does it well. So, we stopped short at only two sentences that day, and reviewed the words he had just missed. We have been adding to the “list” every day, reviewing spelling rules as we go along. Some words he only has to review once, and he spells them right after that no matter how many times I ask him. So I don’t ask him those every day. I mark the ones that are particularly difficult, and I have been asking after those throughout the day, just like on the first day. And here’s the beauty of it: we only ever review words that he misses. No wasting time with things he can figure out on any given day.

Now we have both been using flashcard programs lately, and the spaced-repetition system is really working for both of us. We are both learning Spanish, and Ian is firming up his times tables. So I have decided to work out a spaced-repetition system, where he reviews words that he misses every so often, spacing the words out farther and farther with each successful spelling. Who knows, I might even create my own Anki or Memrise deck for him.

Wish us luck!

 

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4 responses to “A new idea for teaching spelling

  1. I’ve always done that with my kids’ seat work, corralling the misspelled words and requiring they write them 5 times, correctly, in the margins of their papers. But my daughter misspelled “them” all her live, even into college. She always put an “e” at the end, spelling “theme”. I do not know how many times she spelled that one in the margins of her papers, but surely it was thousands.
    The only words I recall actually learning because of ps programed spelling lessons were the very confusing-to-me: where, wear, and were. I was actually happy once I’d wrapped my poor young brain around those three. However, our spelling program in our home went beyond the mind-numbing stuff and opened the world of linguistics and word origins to them. I don’t know if they liked it, but I loved it. 😉

    • I love studying word origins! When I finally purchased a dictionary, I made sure to find one that included the etymology of words. Ian likes it too, and we are always “wondering” where words came from, although we haven’t made it a point of study. As we learn new words in Spanish, it’s fun to see the relationship between the two languages.

  2. Pingback: Christ-Centered School Subjects | Full Circle Homeschooling

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