spelling spelling spelling

A dozen or so years ago I bought a spelling book.
“Why are you teaching your kids those words?” a friend asked.
The answer was simple: because they’re what are in the book.

But her question was enough to make me think.
I decided to change tack. My kids would learn the words they needed to spell. And actually, for a long time I allowed them to write without even correcting the spelling at all – the creative process of writing became more important (IMHO) at that stage than perfect penmanship.

As they got older, those atrocious spellers expressed a desire to learn to spell properly. Taking their individual errors worked to a point. But it seemed so slow and pretty haphazard.
They worked through a  few word lists….which helped, but only to another point.
I kept quietly looking for something, praying for a direction that I felt we had not quite found.

An invitation in my inbox caught my eye. For the past half dozen years or so I’d tired of home ed conferences, seminars, workshops etc – not because I knew it all, but because I was just getting on with doing it. But, as I say, this one arrested my attention.
For a start, the white-bearded man was wearing a beret. And he looked about 80 (would turn out he was 78). He looked a character and was going to talk about reading and spelling, especially with dyslexics in mind. What was there to lose? If Don McCabe could give up an afternoon of his holiday cruise around New Zealand to give a talk, I was going to be there. And I’m so glad I went.

He was genuine, informative, humorous, a good storyteller, excellent teacher, enthuser, inspirer. He’s a modern-day Semmelweis, only instead of stopping death in the medical wards, he has the power to bring life to the classroom.

On his website, Mr McCabe has a plethora of articles to inspire you, even if you were not able to hear him speak. Read what he has to say about why kids can’t learn to read in two years, and simple, fancy, insane, tricky and scrunched up words (otherwise known as the five basic structures of English spelling), and research the foundation has undertaken. See for yourself if he should be as unpopular as he is (in the academic establishment).

I was convinced. I bought first book of Sequential Spelling and started it the very next day with my six eldest kids – from the seven-year-old to the sixteen-year-old. All together. And they all learnt something.
That mistakes are opportunities for learning.
That I am willing to help them all every day to do the work of learning to spell.
That they need to engage their brains, that simply copying will not make them successful spellers.
That I will draw a star on their work if they self-correct correctly (I’ve never given stars for anything!!!!!! Perhaps they don’t get the significance of stars being given for the correcting and not for getting it right the first time, but it’s a novelty anyway)
And the youngest two in particular were very excited at the prospect of being able to spell “beginnings” correctly by Friday without even seeing the word or learning it. They were eagerly anticipating the miracle, and resisting the temptation to look up Genesis 1:1;-) To be honest, the older kids looked a little dubious at first – in spite of being keen to invest the time into this process. They just had less enthusiasm. They could see the need to start at lesson one as they had also failed to spell “beginnings” correctly in the “pretest”, but I sensed a little resistance even though they wanted to be doing this. Not sure why.
But at the end of the first week, when everyone could spell *beginnings*, the older kids all decided to continue with two lessons a day. We’re all hooked. Actually, the little kids would like to go that fast too, but I’m being quite careful to not let it turn into a drudgery ~ and so they are looking forward to becoming big people and being allowed to do two lessons a day. What they don’t realise is that they may not need to by then!

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4 Responses to spelling spelling spelling

  1. CC says:

    I had reserved a couple of tickets for C and I to go to this and was gutted I had to then cancel as I had already volunteered at church to help out with Stars Party. As it turned out, I realised after my first S.P. that I actually loathe the whole thing. So thanks heaps Rach for the links.

    • Rach says:

      But don’t you dare even consider using the stuff with your kids for another half dozen years;-) Read it yourself to become familiar with the ideas so you can bring them up incidentally for now!!!!

  2. Leah says:

    If I had kids I homeschooled, spelling and grammar would be right near the top of my list. Just because I personally view it as important. But it depends on the kids I guess. I view the written language as crucial to social communication, and grammar comes in to play in the spoken language too.

    Not only that, but rightly or wrongly, (I think normally it is right), we are judged by our written language. If you hand in a resume or application with spelling mistakes all through it, it won’t get a second glance. If you submit a story for an assignment or competition, it doesn’t matter how good the story itself is – if the spelling is bad your result will suffer as a consequence.

    And I think it’s easier to start good spelling habits from a young age. I think it’s easier to start all sorts of good habits and skills from a young age 😛 Spelling becomes intuitive when you have the basic rules understood. Of course English is notorious for breaking its own rules, but I think this is demonstrated among a lot of people around my age and younger – it was when we were going through school that it became unfashionable to ‘fail’ students (in Australia at any rate) and make them repeat grades. Now the spelling abilities of so many people below 25 (and not just spelling – the problem is apparent in other areas too) is awful because they were allowed to progress through grades 1, 2, 3 etc without understanding those first basic spelling concepts. They ended up graduating from highschool with the spelling ability of a ten-year-old.

    Obviously in your situation you have the time and resources to dedicate specifically to your children to make sure they do understand those concepts. But I think, as a generalisation, it is important for younger kids to understand the basics of spelling so that they can develop them at a steady rate as they grow.

    • Rach says:

      How did I miss this comment?!!!! I agree totally with you about the importance of spelling and grammar. I guess where we might part company is on the methodology and perhaps even timing of when to teach these things.
      Your observation about being judged on spelling is spot on – my daughter entered a writing competition last year and one of the judge’s comments was that the writers needed to sort out their basic spelling and punctuation errors – of all people, you’d think they’d get it right;-) Could be why said daughter walked off with first prize!
      Interestingly, this spelling course we are using (Don McCabe’s – google him if you like!) shows very clearly that there are actually very few spelling rules that are broken in English – problem is, we are taught only the “easy” rules and not the more complex ones which govern the “tricky” words. English is not half as confusing as some people like to make out it is! I would be keen to see spelling ignored in schools for the first few years (shock horror) and then when kids are about 10, or even 12, start them on McCabe’s course- it can be completed in four years, or two if you do it twice a day….and lo and behold, you’d have good spellers.

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