Spelling

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Daily Spelling Practice is a phonetic approach to spelling, but it also includes sight words and words with unusual spellings. Each week focuses primarily on a group of words that share a common phonogram, but it also addresses other patterns and rules for spelling. Daily Spelling Practice avoids the spelling list approach where students memorize a set list of words each week. Instead, it aims at developing skills that that help students spell the majority of words, even those with which they are not familiar.

Starting with short-vowel words at the beginning of the first level, lessons progressively teach different, more-challenging phonograms as you move from Level 1 through Level 4. Books are ideal for grades two through six, but they are not restricted to those grade levels. Students who know the sounds of the letters and are able to read might be ready for Level 1. If you don’t have four years to complete the series, you might want to use the Daily Spelling Practice One-year Intensive. It condenses the lessons to cover the key elements of the complete, four-year course within a year. It should be especially helpful for older students.

The Teacher Guide and Answer Keys book for each level is essential. The student workbook for each level is optional if you are willing to write out each day’s activities for students. However, I think the inexpensive workbooks are a sensible investment for the amount of time they save. (There are also overhead transparencies that would save you both workbooks and writing things out, but they really only make sense for a group class.)

All four levels follow the same lesson sequence each week with daily lessons. Each week’s lesson is contained on a single page. Each week begins with the introduction of the week’s key word, found at the top of the week’s lesson with the phonogram to be taught underlined. The author identifies these key words as “keys.” Student workbooks have a series of from three to five “target words” to complete with only the key phonogram preprinted in their workbooks; the teacher dictates the target words which students are to complete. For example, for the phonogram “ai,” students complete the words to write main and chain. The teacher then helps students check and correct the spelling of those words. Next are a few blank lines for students to write their own choice of words that contain the key phonogram. The teacher will need to check these. The last part of Monday’s lesson is the introduction of one sight word which students write three times.

Tuesday’s lesson teaches “Adding on,” which might be adding a prefix or suffix, creating a compound word, or working with word roots. Often, a rule accompanies this exercise. Sometimes, the exercise requires dictation by the teacher.

On Wednesday, students study “confusables”—words and spellings that are easily confused. Sometimes these relate to the key word. For example, in the aforementioned lesson on “ai” the confusables are the words sail and sale. Sometimes confusables relate to the “Adding on” activity. Students will also write their own complete sentences using the confusable words.

Thursday’s lesson lists five pairs of words, directing students to underline the word in each pair that is spelled correctly. These words might be from previous lessons, or they might reflect the key or "Adding on" rule for that lesson, but they will not repeat the target or "Adding on" words themselves. (The goal is to teach students to identify and apply patterns and rules rather than memorize a set list of words.) After that, they peruse the lesson page to find and circle all words that contain that week’s key phonogram. Remember that the entire week’s lesson is on this page, so students are searching through instructions, rules, and sample sentences.

Friday is for assessment, but the author cautions against treating this like a spelling test. The teacher dictates the week’s key word, the target words, “adding on” words, memory word, and confusables. The teacher pulls these from each day’s lessons rather than from a “test” list. The author suggests including different words that reflect the rules or patterns to assess whether or not students grasped the concepts since that is the real goal.

Cumulative reviews follow every fifth week’s lesson. A Pretest/Posttest is included in each book.

The One-year Intensive has a different layout. Each day has its own lesson, and daily lessons are not connected to one another other than that there is a progressive sequence. There are three days’ lessons per page. Concepts are condensed. For example, the phonograms “oa” and “ow” that both make the long “o” sound are taught together on one day rather than in separate weeks.

Daily lessons, whether in Levels 1 through 4 or One-year intensive, should not take more than 10 to 15 minutes to complete, but they do require teacher involvement much of the time. Young students might need a little more time than older students. No lesson preparation is needed. Teacher guides have answers overprinted on student pages, so it is easy to quickly check student answers when they are predictable.

Daily Spelling Practice makes sense in theory. However, I think results might depend very much on each student’s ability to generalize from the relatively small numbers of words they practice for each phonogram as well as their ability to recall the “Adding on” and “confusable” rules they learn. On the other hand, I think learning spelling words based on common phonetic elements or structures works very well for many students. Additionally, Daily Spelling Practice does require more creativity than most spelling programs as students need to come up with their own words on Mondays and their own sentences on Wednesdays, another feature that will appeal to some students and not others. Overall, I expect that many students will like the variety in Daily Spelling Practice, and many will prefer the critical thinking activities over the memorization approach of most traditional programs.

Horizons Spelling and Vocabulary series for grades 1 through 3 presents spelling words within groups having common phonograms for the most part, so it provides support for children learning phonics. However, Horizons Spelling and Vocabulary's words have also been selected from the most frequently-used words, sight words, and words sharing common rhyming patterns so children learn to spell words they commonly encounter in their reading.

Each course has 160 lessons, providing daily lessons for 32 weeks. First grade lessons teach 12 basic list words per week and have space for adding two more words of the parent's or teacher's choice. Second grade introduces 17 words: 15 basic words plus two “working words” that are generally commonly-used sight words. Parents or teachers have space to add an additional three words. Third grade teaches 20 words each week: 15 basic words plus five “challenge words” with space to add up to four more words. You might choose to add words that students frequently misspell, words encountered in other subject areas, or words the child wants to use in his or her writing.

Words presented at each level are fairly challenging. While first graders begin with simple words by the end they are expected to spell words such as “rainbow, because,” and “children.” Third graders learn to spell words such as “disagree, discolored, beautiful, yesterday,” and “whistle.”`

There are three essential components for each level: a student workbook, a teacher's guide, and a dictionary. Lessons frequently require teacher presentation from the teacher's guide, so this is not an independent study program. Spelling and phonics rules that apply to the spelling words are only in the teacher's guide. The teacher will usually present them when he or she introduces the week's new words then review them as needed throughout the week.

Each week begins with an assessment of the student's familiarity with the new word list. While the teacher's guide stresses that this is not a pre-test since it is neither scored nor recorded, it functions as many pre-tests do to alert the teacher or parent as to which words a student might already know, which ones are troublesome, and to possibly highlight reversals or letter formation difficulties. After the parent or teacher checks and corrects the student's work, students practice writing words that needed correction. Students next use their words lists to write two sentences using some of their spelling words, and they practice writing all of their words. There are worksheets with a variety of activities for Monday through Thursday in the full-color student book. These activities help students to “examine and explore words,” “look at context and meaning of words,” and “apply understanding of words in writing.” Fridays are for assessment and evaluation, with second and third grade courses also providing periodic cumulative review. Pages for the assessments, sentence writing, and word list writing are all provided within the student book.

In addition, teacher's guides have one additional, reproducible activity page for each week which can be used as needed. The first grade teacher's guide also has a section of “Reproducible Phonics Rules Flashcards” that are full size pages you might copy and post on a bulletin board or give to students for reference.

Teacher's guides provide extended activity suggestions in the lesson plans. Second and third grade students might also create their own spelling notebooks where they can write sentences for all of their spelling words each week and definitions for any words the teacher or parent might have added to the list. I would caution you to watch the amount of writing required to ensure that it is manageable for each child.

Teacher's guides are printed in black and white and have reduced images of student pages with overprinted answers. Teaching instructions surround the images of the student pages.

The dictionaries for each course are substantial, full-color books ranging from 68 to 120 pages that serve as essential course elements. They feature words with sample sentences for first grade, while second and third grade dictionaries include pronunciations, identification of the parts of speech, and definitions along with sample sentences. Second and third grade dictionaries also have cumulative word lists from earlier grades. All books include alphabetized pages for students to write in their supplementary words each week. They also are instructed to look up their spelling words in the dictionary each week which helps them learn how to locate alphabetized words.

The first grade book presents spelling words only in manuscript printed form. Second grade continues with only manuscript for the first half, then adds cursive forms for the second half of the course; this corresponds to the point where cursive is taught in Horizons' Penmanship program. Third grade level shows both printed and cursive forms throughout the book.

Christian vocabulary and content shows up from time and some lessons work with Scripture verses, so it is clearly a Christian curriculum.

Overall, Horizons Spelling and Vocabulary offers a traditional approach to spelling with visually-appealing student books. Teaching instruction is easy to follow and requires little to no advance preparation. While some students might find the amount of writing required too demanding, others will find the practice and reinforcement helpful.

Catholic homeschoolers will appreciate the combination of a strong phonics emphasis coupled with Catholic doctrine and culture in this spelling series. My Very First Catholic Speller (reviewed separately) is intended to be used in first grade, with My Catholic Speller A being used in second grade and so on up through seventh grade.

Each inexpensive book is self-contained with answer keys in the back of books B-F (none needed for A). Although printed in black-and-white, these books are nicely formatted and illustrated. The newest editions have full-color covers and plastic spiral bindings.

Each level teaches phonics and word structure rules, with increasing amounts of instruction as students move to higher levels. Even at the upper levels, this series teaches spelling through common word elements rather than by selecting "most frequently used" words or some other approach. Books include a variety of activities for children to work with their list words: identifying rhyming words, fill-in-the-blank, alphabetizing, crosswords, identifying words with common elements, and more.

Book C features both manuscript and cursive models and book D has only cursive. Lessons in Books B and C each include memory verses tied to important doctrinal issues. At the back of these two books are apologetic sections highlighting false doctrines and the biblical response. A reproducible certificate at the back of each book can be used as an incentive/reward for children who memorize these verses.

Book D incorporates quotes from early Church Fathers that, again, support doctrinal positions, although these are not intended as memory verses. 

Book E expands vocabulary activity to include Greek and Latin roots.

Book F continues the focus on common word elements (e.g., "ient, ience") and the additional Greek and Latin roots. It also has an interesting section after the last lesson that outlines a short course in Marian apologetics that can be incorporated into each lesson.

How to Teach Any Child To Spell and its companion, Tricks of the Trade: A Student's Individualized Spelling Notebook, are designed for children who struggle with spelling. Some children work through spelling workbooks and memorize word lists yet still frequently misspell words in their written work. Often, the problem is they can't see that words look "funny," a natural ability for the good speller.

Gayle Graham offers a solution by combining Ruth Beechick's suggestion to create individualized spelling lists of words each student misses with focused instruction on the pertinent spelling rules. She stresses the need to keep the rules simple, pointing out that most children struggle with only a few key rules.

How To Teach Any Child To Spell is a small teacher's manual that outlines the approach, presents the phonics rules for daily structured phonics review, and lists the six key spelling rules.

Put Gayle's ideas into practice with Tricks of the Trade, purchasing one book for each student with whom you will be working. Tricks of the Trade includes "Clue Sheets" showing phonetic sounds and essential rules for spelling. This is followed by the bulk of the book, the child's personal spelling "dictionary." In this dictionary, children write the words they miss under sound or "rule" headings rather than in alphabetical order. They then concentrate on studying only the rules that apply to those words.

Gayle outlines four-step, daily spelling lessons that include general phonics review, review of the misspelled words following Gayle's strategy, oral reading incorporating exercises to help the child develop visual perception, and writing time. This system works best for children who have already learned to read and write, but whose spelling skills lag behind. It should even work for teens who might have decided that spelling skills are not in their repertoire, but who really do want to be able to spell words correctly.

Catholic families might want to use this with kindergartners or first graders who have already learned all of their letters and sounds, understand how to combine letters to form words, and have learned how to print lower case letters. The words God and Mass are the only two introduced with upper case letters, so you could teach “G” and “M” when you encounter them if need be. Children do need to be able to recognize upper case letters for some of the other activities even if they haven’t mastered printing them. While My Very First Catholic Speller is recommended for first grade, you might begin the book part way through kindergarten after a student has mastered the prerequisites then complete it in first grade.

My Very First Catholic Speller consists of a single worktext that includes an answer key in the back. Brief teaching instructions for each lesson are at the back of the book. Lesson activities vary from week to week but include printing, drawing, matching, word searches, cutting and pasting, unscrambling letters, filling in blanks, and writing sentences. (Some students will need help writing complete sentences.) Letter tiles printed on card stock at the back of the book are to be cut out and used to form spelling words each week to add a kinesthetic dimension to learning. Spelling tests are not utilized at this level.

Lessons follow a general phonetic progression, beginning with short-vowel words, and gradually moving on to long-vowel words. Phonetic elements featured within each lesson’s list of six words are shown at the top of the lesson.

The content is clearly Catholic with references to God, Jesus, the Church, prayer, Mass, Mary, and other words not typically found in spelling books.

Lines for student writing are appropriately large with a dotted line in the middle. The book has a color cover while inside pages are printed in black and white and include a few illustrations. This is a consumable book, so you need one for each child using it.

With 27 lessons, the book should take most of a school year to complete using one lesson per week.

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