Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spelling Made Easy in the Early Years

I'll be honest from the start here, spelling has never been a problem for me. I have siblings who struggle with it but honestly until I read Charlotte's writings on spelling I could never figure out what their problem was. As I've studied teaching approaches and learning styles I have figured out that my learning style (60% visual and 40% auditory) plays a large part in why I don't struggle with spelling and why others do. The more of a visual learner you are the less trouble you will likely have because you automatically "see" the words and remember them.

But the fact is, the gift of spelling depends upon the power the eye possesses to 'take' (in a photographic sense) a detailed picture of a word; and this is a power and habit which must be cultivated in children from the first. CM vol 1 pg 241

Of course as a teacher though, the last thing that I wanted was for it to be a problem for any of my children, so I have always been interested in the various programs and curriculum that tout complete success in this area. And while most of them seem to be on the right track and do probably accomplish the end goal I had a hard time swallowing the amount of money and time most of them required. Having a large family with children close in age has forced me to look at all things in the view of "how much time will it take?", "how much does it cost?" and "how simple is it?". Upon reading Miss Mason's spelling methods and instructions my criteria questions were answered satisfactorily. Not only is her method a logical approach to spelling success it is very easy to implement, takes very little time, cost nearly nothing and the results can be seen quickly.

Transcription (copywork) should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory. CM vol 1 pg 238

A Fertile Cause of Bad Spelling.––The common practise is for the teacher to dictate a passage, clause by clause, repeating each clause, perhaps, three of our times under a fire of questions from the writers. Every line has errors in spelling, one, two, three, perhaps. The conscientious teacher draws her pencil under these errors, or solemnly underlines them with red ink. The children correct in various fashions; sometimes they change books, and each corrects the errors of another, copying the word from the book or from the blackboard. A few benighted teachers still cause children to copy their own error along with the correction, which last is written three or four times, learned, and spelt to the teacher. The latter is astonished at the pure perversity which causes the same errors to be repeated again and again, notwithstanding all these painstaking efforts. CM vol 1 pg 240-241

The plan that Miss Mason lays out is very simple and this is how we have put it into practice in our home.

  • During phonics lesson there are always words that the child needs to write, I pick 2-3 of these words and after the child reads the word I ask them to look at the word closely and take a picture of it in their mind. I generally try to block out the other surrounding words to help them to focus better as well. Once they have the picture in their head I ask them to close their eyes and see it and then write it on their paper. I keep a very close watch on each letter they write and if I see them starting to write the wrong letter I stop them and have them re-take a picture of the word. At no time are they allowed to misspell the word.

  • I also implement spelling practice during the child's reading practice time. After they have completed their reading I pick out 2-3 words and have them take a picture in their mind. Instead of writing this word out though, I have them spell it out loud to me. Again I stop them immediately if a mistake is made and have them re-look at the word for another picture.

At first some of my kids were frustrated and didn't want to try, but after some encouragement and starting with 3-4 letter words they began to gain more confidence and have gradually increased their abilities.

When they have read 'cat,' they must be encouraged to see the word with their eyes shut, and the same habit will enable them to image 'Thermopylae.' This picturing of words upon the retina appears to be to be the only royal road to spelling; an error once made and corrected leads to fearful doubt for the rest of one's life, as to which was the wrong way and which is the right. CM vol 1 pg 241

Once the eye sees a misspelt word, that image remains; and if there is also the image of the word rightly spelt, we are perplexed as to which is which. CM vol 1 pg 241

A mistake that I made in the beginning was to allow the child to say the letters under their breath and then close their eyes and spell. This is not the way to train their eyes to see the word and should not be allowed to take place. I have also not put into practice these very easy steps for most of first grade and I do regret putting it aside for other topics. Kindergarten is a great place to start having the child practice seeing the words they are beginning to read and will give them a cause for much celebrating upon their success:)

Spelling must not be lost sight of in the children's other studies, though they should not be teased to spell. It is well to write a difficult proper name, for example, on the blackboard in the course of history or geography readings, rubbing the word out when the children say they can see it. The whole secret of spelling lies in the habit of visualising words from memory, and children must be trained to visualise in the course of their reading. They enjoy this way of learning to spell. CM vol 1 pg 243

Miss Mason also lays out how to continue increasing the child's ability and practice of spelling through dictation. She advocates not starting this until the child is 8-9 years old or 2nd to 3rd grade. I think the timing of this may depend a lot the child's maturity level but I would say that most children are capable of much more than we as their mothers ask of them. I will not comment much on dictation as we are just finishing up first grade right now, but as I learn more and begin using it I hope to share how it is working in our house.

Steps of a Dictation Lesson.––Dictation lessons, conducted in some such way as the following, usually result in good spelling. A child of eight or nine prepares a paragraph, older children a page, or two or three pages. The child prepares by himself, by looking at the word he is not sure of, and then seeing it with his eyes shut. Before he begins, the teacher asks what words he thinks will need his attention. He generally knows, but the teacher may point out any word likely to be a cause of stumbling. He lets his teacher know when he is ready. The teacher asks if there are any words he is not sure of. These she puts, one by one, on the blackboard, letting the child look till he has a picture, and then rubbing the word out. If anyone is still doubtful he should be called to put the word he is not sure of on the board, the teacher watching to rub out the word when a wrong letter begins to appear, and again helping the child to get a mental picture. Then the teacher gives out the dictation, clause by clause, each clause repeated once. She dictates with a view to the pointing, which the children are expected to put in as they write; but they must not be told 'comma,' 'semicolon,' etc. After the sort of preparation I have described, which takes ten minutes or less, there is rarely an error in spelling. If there be, it is well worth while for the teacher to be on the watch with slips of stamp-paper to put over the wrong word, that its image may be erased as far as possible. At the end of the lesson, the child should again study the wrong word in his book until he says he is sure of, and should write it correctly on the stamp-paper.

A lesson of this kind secures the hearty co-operation of children, who feel they take their due part in it; and it also prepares them for the second condition of good spelling, which is––much reading combined with the habit of imaging the words as they are read.

Illiterate spelling is usually a sign of sparse reading; but, sometimes, of hasty reading without the habit of seeing the words that are skimmed over. CM vol 1 pg 242-243

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