Spelling

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Steck-Vaughn Spelling: Linking Words to Meaning is a spelling series that strives to connect spelling skills to applications in writing, grammar, usage, and vocabulary. The program is phonetically-based, teaching students to sound out words, identify phonetic patterns, and recognize possible spellings for phonetic sounds.

These spelling courses for grades one through six each have 36 lessons. Lessons are presented in six units with six lessons per unit; the sixth lesson always serves as a review.

Softcover student workbooks are very attractively designed and printed in full color. Font sizes gradually decrease from Level 1 to Level 6 but never enough to make pages feel overcrowded.

The Level 1 course for first grade differs from the other courses in some respects, but the courses otherwise follow a very similar pattern. Each week begins with a pre-test and concludes with a post-test. Children will immediately correct their pre-tests to determine which words present a challenge. Either page five or six at the beginning of each student book lists “Study Steps to Learn a Word,” and the following page lists “Spelling Strategies” students might use to try to figure out the correct spelling when they are uncertain. Parents need to work with students as needed to help them implement these study tools and strategies. Students should also learn to use the list of commonly-misspelled words, the spelling table, and the spelling dictionary that are at the back of each student book.

Each regular lesson in Level 1 has four pages, while all other levels dedicate six pages to each regular lesson. Review lessons have four pages each—three with review activities and a fourth page for a composition activity.

In Level 1, the first twelve lessons differ from the rest of the book since they serve as a phonics review. Beginning with lesson 13, they follow a similar sequence for each lesson with “say and write,” “spell and write,” “read and write,” and proofreading activities. The final activity in each lesson deals with grammar, dictionary skills, or composition. Level 1 presents six spelling words per lesson beginning with lesson 13.

For all other levels the number of spelling words gradually increases up to 20 words per lesson in Level 6. The sequence of activities is similar for each level: “say and listen,” “think and sort,” “spelling and meaning,” “spelling in context,” “spelling and writing,” and “challenge yourself.” Also, before the challenge activity there will be a grammar and usage, dictionary, or “using the spelling table” activity.

I realize that the activity titles are not very revealing. Many of the activities require students to fill in the blanks, but they do so in a variety of ways that stimulate critical thinking rather than simple memorization. In the course of the lessons, students think about phonetic elements and their spellings as well as definitions, synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, derivatives, meanings of words in contexts, and other concepts that relate to spelling. “Spelling and writing” activities include original composition assignments that encourage students to incorporate spelling words from the week’s list. Students learn to proofread, looking for spelling, capitalization, and punctuation errors. A “word story” in each lesson explains the origin of one of the spelling words. The “challenge yourself” activity presents four difficult words for students to match up with a statement, then directs them to write a sentence using the word properly to show its meaning.

In review lessons, students will take pre- and post-tests over words for the entire unit. They will complete reinforcement activities on three pages. The composition component of the review lessons provides significant instruction and practice in the writing process. For example, in Level 3 students learn to write various types of narratives, a friendly letter, a description, and a how-to paragraph.

Student books are very reasonably priced, but teacher’s guides might seem expensive if you are teaching only one student. While you might be able to figure out the bulk of the activities and answers in the first few levels, it becomes increasingly challenging and time-consuming to do so as the difficulty progresses. In addition, there are many very helpful resources in the teacher’s guides in addition to all of the answers overprinted onto images of student pages.

For example, for the post-test each week, students will write entire sentences that include the spelling words as they are dictated by the parent or teacher. Sample sentences are included in the teacher’s guide so you don’t have to come up with appropriate sentences.

Many additional teaching suggestions are included to address various learning styles and special needs as well as enrichment words that might be added for advanced students and enrichment activities that might be used by all students if time permits. The teacher’s guide also includes reproducible graphic organizers, a puzzle page for each lesson, and “Spelling at Home” pages (that were written to send home to parents for each unit) that have some creative games and activities that you might want to use. In addition, you might want to use unit review tests that are designed in a standardized test format with bubbles to fill in.

Summary

The Steck-Vaughn Spelling series should be an excellent option for those who want spelling lessons that link to the broader realm of language arts. This series accomplishes that with a variety of worthwhile activities that should enhance skills in critical thinking, vocabulary, grammar, and composition.

Success in Spelling reflects my belief that spelling should be taught after children have become fluent readers. Thus, this program recommends Level 1 for students "...in second grade and above, and only when the child is reading fluently." Phonics rules are reviewed, and spelling rules are taught throughout the program. Sight words and most-commonly-used words are also taught but separate from lessons emphasizing rules. Daily lesson plans explain how to introduce the spelling words (including the applicable rule), provide an activity (games, drawing, written work, etc.—something different every lesson), pretest, review, and final test.

Level 1

Level 1 has daily lesson plans for 19 weeks, plus another 17 lists of sight/common words that can be used for weekly lessons. The book itself is the teacher's manual, and there is no student workbook. Instead, you reproduce the "Spelling Pretest" pages. These pages are divided into three columns. The spelling words are in the left hand column. Students study the words, then the page is folded so only the center column is visible for the pretest on day 3. Misspelled words are rewritten in the third column. The final test encompasses only the words missed on the pretest. The vocabulary is wider ranging than that found in typical second grade books, including words like smite, whine, clasp, and bane.

Level 2

Some third graders will begin with Level 1, while others will be ready to move on to Level 2. There are 46 lessons beginning with long vowels and working through blends and digraphs. Accented syllables and simple diacritical markings are also taught. The level of difficulty is slightly higher than most spelling programs for third grade level with the exceptions of A Beka's, Rod and Staff's, and Christian Liberty's.

Level 3

Level 3 has 57 lessons which build directly upon lessons taught in earlier levels. It continues with "...digraphs, vowels under the accent, trisyllables, diacritical marking and special spelling rules." Daily lesson plans are sometimes grouped when lesson plans are almost identical; for example, Lessons 1-3 follow the same lesson plans but use a different list of words each week. The word lists are significantly more challenging than other mid-upper elementary programs in terms of both spelling difficulty and vocabulary. Examples of some of the more challenging words: plenitude, rectitude, derogate, immolate, plausible, chancery, and debauch.

Level 4

Level 4 has 66 lessons detailing homophones, accented syllables, special spelling rules and short and long vowel spelling possibilities. Emphasis is placed on diacritical marking and syllabication."

Level 5

Level 5 has 75 lessons with from 3 to 12 words per lesson. There are daily lesson plans (five per week) for each lesson/word list, although most of us will move more rapidly through some of the lists. If we actually spent a full week on each list, it would take 820 days! So adapt the lessons, using suggestions as is appropriate for each student. Level 5 covers homophones, suffix and prefix meanings and spelling rules, exceptions to spelling rules, accented syllables, six- to seven-syllable words, and hard-to-spell words. The word choices grow increasingly unusual. (They began to do so in earlier levels.) Examples of unusual words: flagitious, absolutory, circumjacent, disembarrass, cognoscible, and flageolet. Although I find no directions for vocabulary study, students are required to write the words in sentences in their final tests. Because many words are likely to be unfamiliar, you will probably need to develop some method for vocabulary study on your own. Even though Level 5 is recommended for sixth graders, I suspect that many older students will struggle through some of these lessons.

Whatever spelling method you choose to teach, this book is likely to be a handy accessory. If you are using any of the Writing Road to Reading-inspired systems, it will be doubly valuable. The Alpha List features alphabetically the 2000 words in the Wise Guide for Spelling. Included are the most frequently used and many of the most frequently misspelled words in English. But these are more than simple lists. Words are written in syllables and marked with special spelling highlights. To the right of the words are several columns. The first tells us which chart in Wanda's own program, Spell to Write and Read, teaches each word. The second designates which of 29 spelling rules apply to that word. (The list of rules is at the back of the book.) The third adds a helpful comment—maybe a trick to help remember the spelling, related forms of the word to learn, or the root word.

The foundational rules are spelled out in The Alpha List so you need not use any specific program to benefit from this reference book. Included are the 70 basic phonograms, 29 spelling rules, an explanation of the spelling highlight system used, rules for syllabication, prefixes and suffixes, rules for doubling consonants and spelling plurals. Words wrongly considered rule breaker words are explained—e.g., why we drop the "e" in tracing but not in traceable. In addition to those using Wanda's Spell to Write and Read program, I think this book will be most useful for students who have already been introduced to spelling rules but who still make occasional errors in their writing. You can look up the word in this book, mark the error with spelling highlights that apply, and hand your student the book to determine how to correctly spell the word and why.

Mary Pecci, author of At Last! A Reading Method for EVERY Child!, has created a companion spelling program, based on the same simplified phonics principle. "Teach only the reliable facts." Pecci illustrates her approach with a stairstep hierarchy of language skills beginning with listening, then moving up through speaking, reading, and spelling, ending with written language. Thus, she stresses the need for children to learn to read before learning to spell, although she is not demanding total reading mastery before spelling begins. (Spelling begins one month after reading instruction.) A good example of how this works is that rather than having first graders do any creative or independent writing, Pecci has them copy or follow closely along with teacher instructions, receiving step-by-step guidelines as they learn how to produce correct sentences. This approach contrasts with whole language theory that would have children writing anything for the sake of learning to express themselves without regard to conventions.

Another unique feature of this spelling book is a focus on high-frequency words (e.g., dog, the, run, can, big) rather than lists consisting of rhyming words (e.g., cat, sat, hat, rat) or topical words (e.g., colors: red, yellow, blue). This enables children to write intelligible sentences using familiar words.

She uses fewer rules, treating words that don't follow the rules as "study words." Pecci uses her own very simple system of marking digraphs and "study" words. Rather than simply memorizing the spelling of words that don't follow rules, students learn to analyze them in ways that will help them remember their correct spelling.

Daily lessons help students to master weekly spelling lists, beginning with five words each week, but increasing to ten per week by the end of the year. Lessons are directed by the teacher with daily lesson plans provided in the book. There is no student workbook. Students begin writing isolated words in their daily practice, but increase to complete dictated sentences. Sentences include only words that students have already mastered. Periodic reviews are built into the course.

As they learn to write sentences, students learn the four types of sentences and basic punctuation. Lessons include weekly additional practice activity such as filling in the missing spelling word, unscrambling, and adding punctuation to sentences, beginning after lesson 3.

Little to no lesson preparation time is required, but parents must work with children each day. Super Spelling should be good for the child (and, perhaps, the parent) who is easily overwhelmed by numerous rules. While it can be used alongside most other phonics programs, it will work best with those using Pecci's reading program.

The Phonetic Zoo, also called Excellence in Spelling, is an unusual spelling program targeted at children ages 9 and up. It is offered at three levels of difficulty, with the third level geared for students at least sixth grade, but more likely high school level. An introductory video presentation demonstrates how the program works. It is possible to figure out how to use the program from the eight-page booklet that comes with it, but the video clarifies and demonstrates exactly how it works.

The same set of flashcards is used with all three levels. There are 47 lessons/flashcards in the set.

These half-page size flashcards feature pictures and names of animals on the front that exemplify particular spelling rules or hints for each lesson. On the back is the rule, a jingle, or hint to be learned. There are also three lists of words, arranged by levels A, B, and C. Children only work with those words that are on their level. Every fifth flashcard is used for personal spelling words that are collected from other spelling challenges a child encounters during the week. Parents can introduce each flashcard and work with children, especially introducing each new lesson. Or children can work with the flashcards independently.

Instead of a workbook, children work with words by listening and writing. Five CD's for each level direct the child in independent study through most of each lesson. Rules, jingles, and hints are presented. (This might be a repeat of a parental presentation, but that's not a problem.) Students are encouraged to study the words on the flashcards before beginning to listen to the lesson on the CD. On the CD each of the fifteen words is pronounced and used in a sentence. Children prepare a piece of paper upon which they will write the words as they hear them. After all fifteen words have been presented, children check their own work by listening to correct spelling on the CD.

One technique I don't see explained in the directions, but which is demonstrated on the video, is to have children write the correct spellings as they listen to them on the CD in the process of correcting their own papers. I would have a child ONLY write the words from the pronounced spelling (next to each word they wrote on the first time through the lesson that day) and not try to check words at this point. After they have written all of the words, they should compare their original and the correct spelling. A child might not SEE his misspelling until the correctly spelled word is written next to it. Students repeat each lesson, writing the words each time, continuing until they are able to score 100% two times in a row with the same list.

Children should use headphones to help them concentrate on the auditory input and to keep them from being distracted. The CD presentation also frees parents from lesson preparation and presentation while still providing children with the focused input they need.

This program should be especially good for children who are strong auditory learners. The idea is that as children listen to the words being spelled to them, writing as they listen, the sequential order of the letters is reinforced in the brain. The authors do not claim this is the best program for every child, and they offer a money-back guarantee if it does not work for your child.

The independent nature of this program might work very well for some children. (Parents should check from time to time to ensure honesty.) This removes some of the embarrassment children experience in other programs. It also allows children to go through each lesson as many times as they need with no stigma. If they score 100% the first two times, they can complete a lesson in only two days.

The selection of words seems to have been determined by the need to use words as exemplars of rules. Thus these are not the most commonly used words but an eclectic mix. For example, lesson 26 includes the following words for level A: "true, bluebird, avenue, have, value," and "due"; level B includes "groove, eave, mauve, tissue, flue," and "cue"; level C has "continue, queue, subdue, valve, dissolve," and "starve." Canadians will appreciate alternative spellings in parentheses such as "neighbor (neighbour)."

For high school students, you might want to check out Advanced Spelling & Vocabulary that uses a similar approach.

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