10.10.2009

Spelling in Earnest

All About Learning Press (AALP) is a publishing house that produces several unique and extremely effective language arts products: the All About Spelling and All About Reading series, All About Homophones, and the Beehive ReadersIn early 2009, I was personally invited by Marie Rippel, AALP's founder, to serve as a regular contributor to AALP's first interactive website, The ChatterBee, which she ran from February, 2009, through September, 2011. This was one of my articles.
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As November nears, we are approaching our one-year anniversary with All About Spelling.

Sometime last September, I reluctantly admitted to myself that my older daughter - now eight years old - was just not "getting it" with the "word family" approach I'd been using. My now-seven-year old was doing better because she seems to have been gifted with a more natural ability to spell, but even she would make mistakes on previously-studied word lists because she didn't think in terms of word families when she was writing.

I'd previously done a bit of research into the Orton-Gillingham method and seen a link for All About Spelling. It seemed promising - I really liked that it's multi-sensory and employs OG techniques. But I was reluctant at first to buy it, if only because, on our three-year homeschool journey to that point, I'd already spent quite a bit on curricula that didn't work. I just didn't want to waste more money.

But I couldn't get out of my head the thought that AAS was what my older daughter needed so I finally "bit the bullet." And we started the first week of November, 2008, right from the very first page of Book 1.

I'm happy to report that my eight-year old is making great strides. We're now in Lesson 4 of Book 2, and with just a bit of reminding she can correctly apply almost anything she learned in Book 1. She takes special pride in her ability to remember and use the initial c- or k- rule ("C says /s/ in front of e, i, or y."), beaming every time an applicable word comes up. In fact, she's much more confident with all aspects of literacy now; I can't prove it empirically, but I'm certain AAS has helped her to solidify a lot of phonics skills that had been previously hampering her reading ability.

My younger daughter is probably picking up some of her ability to spell "by osmosis" from the books she reads; remember, she is clearly a more natural speller. But she enjoys her AAS lessons a great deal, and I'm glad she's learning the logical rules behind what she knows, rather than someday having to succumb to the "I know how to spell just because I know it" idea.

But I had to laugh the other day when I saw a sign Abigail made for a game she and her sister were playing. Apparently, they were pretending to live a long time ago in France and - in true imaginative form - they added in a detail from a story about my childhood, deciding as a result that their manse must have a milk chute.

When I asked about the sign, she very earnestly explained that she had spelled it herself, without looking at any books for help.

"How did you know how to spell 'shoot?'" I asked.

"Well, 'sh-' is obvious," she said. "And 'oo' says /oo/, of course, so..."

I love that her spelling is a perfect application of the lessons we have thus-far studied. Because of that, I didn't feel it necessary to point out the homophone she had neglected to consider. She'd done a great job with what she knows; the homophone lesson will come later.

And regarding her rendition of "millk?"

Well, I grinned about that, too. The -ff, -ll, -ss rule has been one of the trickiest for both girls to consistently apply because it's rather specific. And so, of course, Abigail was doing just what toddlers do when they learn to speak: overgeneralizing a rule she is trying to internalize and master. What I love is that it shows me that she was segmenting and thinking when she was making this sign. She had to have been thinking in order to stop at the "l" and wonder: "Now, what is that rule about 'l?' Oh, yeah!" And then she did her best to apply it to make a sign she was proud of.

Over the last year, I've seen both my girls' spelling ability improve dramatically. I'm excited that we have such a solid program through which they can continue to refine their skills. One day very soon, Abigail will make a sign for a "Milk Chute," and she may laugh at her silly misspelling from this past week. But I'm going to save the first sign because it's a great example of a child's sincerely earnest progress in the process of learning to spell.

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