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.

Language Skills Series 1: Spelling is the first of what I expect might be a series of books in The Joy of Knowing How to Learn series by Joyce McPeake Robinson. However, this spelling book can be used on its own with a range of students from about grades four through eight and maybe into high school.

Rather than a typical spelling course, this book narrowly focuses on the 100 most-commonly misspelled words, words such as ache, built, cough, separate, Wednesday, and won’t. Most of these words should have been introduced to students in grades one through four, so some fourth graders might be encountering a few of the words for the first time. These are words that students should master by junior high, yet they often prove troublesome for students even up through high school.

Pre-tests help students identify which words they need to study. Pre-tests have multiple-choice questions, and students can complete these tests independently.Results might not be definitive because of the style of testing. Robinson tells parents and teachers (on page 15) that they might, instead, dictate spelling words in a more traditional fashion.

Checklists provide a place for students to transfer the results of their pre-test onto five pages so that they (as well as a parent or teacher) can see at a glance which words need attention. Assignments should be made from the checklists.

Students can then tackle the study sheets—one sheet for each of the 100 words. Each study sheet follows the same format with ten steps. The ten steps have students: read a sentence with the word, then write the word correctly, read a definition of the word, write it correctly once more, fill in missing letters for the word, complete the same sentence used in step one by filling in the spelling word, write the word again and identify the number of syllables, write the syllables (or complete word if it has only one syllable) separately, say the word carefully pronouncing each syllable, picture the word in their mind with their eyes closed, write the word three more times, and write a new sentence using the word correctly. Students should work on only those words that they missed in the pre-test unless a parent or teacher thinks working on additional words would be helpful.

As you can see, Robinson tries to focus the student’s attention in a number of ways, but writing the word correctly is the strategy used most frequently. This is not a phonetic or word-family approach as we often find in spelling courses.

The design of the book makes it easy for students to work independently for the most part, although parents should be paying attention to ensure that students don’t misspell a word at the beginning of a lesson and continue to reinforce that same error throughout the lesson.

Post-tests offer students multiple-choice groups of words from which to choose the one that is spelled correctly. While pre-tests present words within sentences, post-tests do not. For example, one post-test multiple-choice group for the spelling word coming includes the four options: coming, comig, comeing, and coming. As with the pre-tests, parents or teachers might dictate spelling words instead of using the tests.

The book is not reproducible, so you will need one for each student. Answer keys are included within the book. Because of this, I recommend removing pages from the book, and giving them to students as they need them. Pre- and post-tests are printed back-to-back on pages, so you’ll need to preserve pages if you spread out testing over a number of sessions. Similarly, study sheets are printed back-to-back, so you will need to ensure that students don’t “lose” one on the reverse side of page they have completed. Because of these issues, this is a book that should be available in PDF format, but it isn’t.

Aside from layout inconveniences, Language Skills Series 1: Spelling should be helpful for students who struggle with the correct spelling of common words. Many of the commonly-misspelled words defy phonetic rules, and an approach such as this might be the solution.

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