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!