Remember Weekly Spelling Lists? Friday morning would roll around after days of writing and rewriting 10 words. Friday morning, teachers expected correct spelling for those 10 words to come together in an instant – magically? And then, POOF…remain in one’s mind forever, each letter in perfect order.
I had Weekly Spelling Lists in public school. Throughout at least 10 years of 10 words a week, the magic trick never seemed to work out for me.
Friday would roll around and the correct spelling might have wheedled its way into my brain, but that POOF moment? All the words and their spellings were completely forgettable. Well, I should say, all forgettable except for one word.
Aggrandize – to make larger, more voluminous.
I can still remember Mrs. Craddock – 10th grade English teacher – standing at the front of the class, explaining the list of words for the week. What made this particular word stick? She told a story. The story described a TV chef who, when whipping eggs, used to say, “Aggrandize the eggs.” I have no idea about the chef. Neither did I know how to spell aggrandize (thanks spell check), but I will always remember the definition.
Now, I don’t think Mrs. Craddock would have been happy to discover her many Weekly Spelling Lists caused this former student to remember ONE word. And not even how to spell it!
Most homeschool moms and many “professional” educators believe spelling is innate – one is either born with “it” or she “isn’t.” This thinking led to generations of teachers to administer rote spelling drills and long lists of commonly misspelled words. The belief has also led to the practice of Weekly Spelling Lists.
If we want to better equip our homeschool students to spell correctly and to remember the why for spelling, something has to change. Let’s get rid of the lists of commonly misspelled words. Let’s throw out the model of Weekly Spelling Lists and actually teach students to spell.
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Here’s a Table of Contents for this post, for your ease of reading. You can jump directly to the topic which interests you, or read as normal.
- Say Adios to Weekly Spelling Lists
- Our Favorite Homeschool Spelling Curriculum
- Homeschool Spelling Method #1: Constant Review
- Homeschool Spelling Method #2: Critical Thinking Skills
- Homeschool Spelling Method #3: Haptics
- Homeschool Spelling Method #4: Creative Opportunities
- Reflections on Spelling in our Homeschool
Homeschool Spelling – Saying Adios to Weekly Spelling Lists
Since you now have an idea of the spelling abilities my public school education bestowed upon me, I am likely the LAST person who should be sharing capital S Spelling advice. But my homeschool experience has been one of “redeeming my education,” – learning the things I should have learned in my primary and secondary education. Thus, I have no problem sharing, “I have learned so much in elementary school!”
At first we tried another of the Weekly Spelling List curricula. I don’t think we made it past week 2.
Even as a new homeschool mama, I knew down deep in my toes, rote spelling drills and endless rewriting of lists of words, or coloring random “word pictures” would simply not apply in our homeschool setting.
Since I knew the Weekly Spelling List didn’t make an impact on me, neither did it produce a good speller, I knew IT would have to go and I would have to look elsewhere.
Who knew at the beginning of our homeschooling journey spelling would be one of my favorite subjects? Certainly not I! I couldn’t have imagined the richness of a spelling curriculum before we started using All About Spelling.
Homeschool Spelling – Our Favorite Curriculum
We embarked on our one-room schoolhouse journey with All About Spelling 4 years ago. In those 4 years, all three of my current students are phenomenal spellers! They are not simply “grade level” spelling proficient.
They are years ahead in some cases. Not because they can spell their spelling lists and check a box. Rather, because they are able to spell SO many words! New words, old words, hard words, easy words – they can take on the challenge inherent in any word, with confidence!
The confidence-building nature of All About Spelling has gotten better and better with each new level we attain. We are currently halfway through Level 7 with my 5th grader, and the later stages of Level 5 and early stages of Level 2 with our 4th- and 1st-grade kids.
Stated simply and collectively: we love All About Spelling
I have put thought into what makes All About Spelling work when other spelling curricula and methods don’t work. My list grew rather long. Here are the methods All About Spelling utilizes.
Homeschool Spelling Method #1: Constant Review
Consistent review is one of the hallmarks of a good education.
Not only is it a great way to ensure the student is ready to move on to the next step; it builds confidence. Students begin to realize they “know” the material and even begin to refer to it as “easy.” And easy equals GOOD!
All About Spelling offers constant review combined seamlessly with incremental development. If you have read any of what I have written on these topics in relation to Saxon Math, you know I am a big fan of this tag team. Students are not expected to learn a list of words and move on (whether they have learned them or not). Rather, they are taught common letter combinations and which words feature various combinations. They are also taught “Rule Breaker” words along the way, to much fanfare and vociferous policing around here – “Put ’em in jail!”
When they move on to a new set of spelling words (or take the next step), the students bring the knowledge with them. All the previously learned concepts translate and transfer to future steps in the practice sentences included at the end of each step. Parent-teachers are reminded to review concepts with their students at the beginning of each step, too.
The first lesson of each level offers a comprehensive review as well. If you follow the All About Spelling path, your students will get sufficient review, for sure.
Homeschool Spelling Method #2: Critical Thinking Skills
In All About Spelling kids are encouraged and taught to analyze the words they spell. (I love this part!) Warm-ups in each step ask the teacher to spell a word and work with the student the student to analyze it with a series of questions. In these situations students have a word spelled out for them, so the answers help them to see the “why” for spelling.
Then as they progress through the levels, the kids are taught to analyze the words they don’t know how to spell to “figure it out.” Analyzing the word, one of the Spelling Strategies offered to All About Spelling students throughout the program, provides a rubric for observing a word. Thus, when they analyze unknown words for spelling, they unlock the “how” for spelling, apply it to any given word, and simply become rock star spellers.
Students of All About Spelling end up with two critical thinking skills.
- The ability to take a whole word and break it down to its smaller parts – analysis.
- The capacity to build a word “from scratch” – synthesis
With the Weekly Spelling List-based curricula, the analysis piece is usually missing. They expect the student to be able to simply synthesize. While some “natural spellers” can, most students can’t synthesize what they have not analyzed.
The Result: Confidence
Isn’t it exciting to know something? Not in a show-offy way, but simple confidence in one’s intellectual capacity. Students who have learned something and felt the sense of accomplishment are likely encouraged to learn more. I am convinced building confidence is the key to creating life-long learners.
Spelling confidence comes as a result of a balance between the two foregoing points – constant review and critical thinking skills.
When a student “knows” not only what she has already learned and can remember it, she’s confident. But when new material doesn’t intimidate a student because she knows how to analyze it, synthesize, and attack it, she’s on top of the world!
Success with Completely Different Students
I currently teach three different levels of All About Spelling to three vastly different students. The program works equally well for each of them.
A Reluctant Speller: My eldest student (fifth grade) is a perfectionist, who staunchly refused to even attempt spelling words until we started with All About Spelling. She’s our “reluctant speller.”
A Natural Speller: My second student (third/fourth grade) champed at the bit to start All About Spelling because she could already out-spell her reluctant older sister. She’s our “natural speller.” But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t had to struggle through spelling. She doesn’t like the time required to analyze the words, but the program stretches her in all the right ways.
An Enthusiastic Speller: My little guy (first grade) has insisted on doing All About Spelling for the past couple of years. I held him off from starting the program for a while. We could go over letter sounds he already knew a million times without introducing more. He recently finished Level 1 and is ready to move forward now that he will write the words. He’s our “enthusiastic speller.”
Each of these students learns in different ways, is at a different reading level, and spends different amounts of time with spelling lessons. But each of them is a phenomenal speller for her/his age! Not a bragging homeschool mom moment – promise. Each is a confident and strong speller because of this program.
Homeschool Spelling Method #3: Haptics
Haptic relates to the sense of touch and haptics have to do with the sensory input of a digital device – like the feeling you get when you type on a keyboard.
From the Greek word for “to grasp, perceive, or sense,” haptics happen when a person manipulates something with their fingers or hands (or feet, I suppose). All About Spelling involves haptics because students manipulate physical spelling tiles to spell out words.
Some parents have their students use the All About Spelling app, but I don’t like it. I have my students set up their spelling tiles every single day. In my opinion, this practice leads to connections in the brain. Simply moving the various letters of the alphabet, the vowel teams, and consonant teams into “order” each day helps the student learn to place things in an orderly fashion.
Moving the tiles around and searching out the right tiles to spell gets faster as they work through the levels. They create a physical “memory house” for their letters/sounds each day. Then they visit the “rooms,” scan the storehouse’s array of overloaded shelves, to pluck out the proper phoneme. Analysis of a word’s various consonant and vowel sounds, selection of a square tile (haptics), arrangement of the multicolored tiles into a correct order – all this happens in milliseconds.
The physical movement turbo-charges the students’ neurons firing in their brains.
Homeschool Spelling Method #4: Creative Opportunities
Beginning in Level 4 of All About Spelling, students are encouraged to write sentences utilizing their spelling words (and reviewing previous words). My older kids love this! I have them use scrap strips of paper to write their sentences at the end of each step. We have had some super silly sentences over the past couple of years!
In the midst of the fun and silliness which this activity can lead to, the students do something for themselves my 10-grade English teacher Mrs. Craddock did for me. They create a story for words. Since storytelling engages the mind and the memory, the student’s opportunity to create stories for these words to dwell in creates a bridge between the rote spelling and the meaning behind each word.
My older students delight in their opportunity to create minuscule worlds in a sentence or two. The practice kicks into overdrive at the right time in a student’s development: Level 7.
In Level 7, the kids are encouraged to write a paragraph with silly sentence prompts. The writing station gets a true elementary classroom update with a poster featuring prompts to select at the end of each step.
Level 7 Writing Station
The writing prompt, “created” in a choose-your-own-adventure way, develops when the student selects:
- The genre of writing (letter, poem, paragraph, advertisement, etc.) – the purple cards
- An adjective for the subject – the yellow cards
- The subject – the blue cards
- A special who/which clause to make the subject interesting – the green cards
Our fourth grader’s first prompt – “Write a short biography of a sensitive French chef who has the ability to fly.” She loved writing it so much, she decided to share it with you!
Isn’t it fun?! I told her to include words from her lesson. She understood my instructions to mean use ALL of the words from the lesson. And she did it! I was impressed!
Reflections on Spelling in our Homeschool
As you can see we have been impressed with All About Spelling at every level.
In fact, I wonder whether or not my 5th grader will be able to spell aggrandize now when I know my 10th grade self couldn’t. Since we have used a different approach with our homeschool spelling methods, she is better equipped to confidently spell anything.
I think she can! She remembers the rule for when a says “uh” at the beginning of a word. And the rest requires rather straightforward spelling.
My kids are officially better spellers than I have ever been. And because I am “redeeming” my education, I am completely fine with that!
Interested in more of what I have to say about All About Spelling?
Read these two articles:
Or, if you are using All About Spelling, check out these helpful resources: