Friday, May 25, 2007

A Few of My Thoughts on Teaching Spelling

I just blogged a movie review of Akeelah and the Bee, you can read that here.

On the topic of how spelling was taught in Akeelah and the Bee, I wanted to share some thoughts on teaching spelling.

In the movie when they study for the bee they teach and practice learning the roots of the words, using Latin and Greek roots. This completely makes sense to me and it is something I am using in our homeschooling. That is also the way I learned to spell in public school, a combination of learning the roots with learning the phonics rules and general spelling rules.

It bothers me that many elementary schools in America no longer teach spelling in that way. Some, including the public school in my own town, teaches instead, random words taken from books or a story the class is reading that week. The words have no grouping in a phonetic manner or by spelling rule, and roots are not being taught. An example from first grade spelling would be “beach, sand, sun, boat, waves, hot” which was, as you can guess, culled from a fiction story of a visit to the beach. I saw a list of words once from a child’s homework and the story was a mystery. There were very simple “first grade” words like “hat” and then there was “detective” and “mystery”. The words were all over the place in both simplicity, phonetic spelling and “grade level”. Some words were way below the child’s “grade level” while others were way above. There was no logic, no rhyme or reason.

I have been told by teacher friends of mine that the reason they do this is the philosophy of teaching words in isolation is stupid and bad, and instead, a child will learn more if what they are learning is being learned in context and if it has a meaning. I can debate that just because a child was forced in class, to read a story about a beach doesn’t make memorizing the spelling of those beach words interesting or fun or easy for the child. The fact of the matter is if the child already knows how to spell that word they will get it right, and if they don’t know they will have to learn it. I would argue that learning those words is taking them away from learning in a more logical manner using phonetic rules, spelling rules or focusing on roots.

Let’s take apart the word monochromatic.

Mono = single or one
Chrom = color
Ic = of, or relating to

Monochromatic = has one color

I feel that a seven year old or, if you are doubtful, an eight or nine year old can therefore decode the meaning of the word that might intimidate some adults, like the word monochromatic. If they know the roots and if they can break the words down by syllable, they can figure out how to sound out the word, spell it and know its meaning. This is not rocket science, people. Why then, are the schooled children learning unrelated simple words like mystery and hat is really beyond my comprehension.

Besides being a good thing to know for lifelong spelling knowledge, knowing the roots and phonics and spelling rules is good preparation to get a higher grade on the SAT. I just don’t understand why public schools then, who want their students to do well on the SAT that helps them get into better colleges (which makes the school and the town’s educational system look good in the eyes of not just the NCLB evaluators but in the eyes of the town’s taxpayers and real-estate agents, would abandon the old fashioned way of teaching spelling. That is one of the mysteries of public education in my eyes: why they take the old fashioned way that works and abandon it for some new theory that is not moving the students in the direction to achieve the goal: mastery of spelling, the ability to break down a word and to put it back together again, to be able to decipher the meaning of a word by its spelling clues and meaning of the syllables, and a higher score on the SAT. At times like this I am happy to be homeschooling. I’ll teach my own children the way I want and I’ll work with them until a topic is mastered (learning has been achieved), as to me the purpose of education is to learn, to really learn something and to remember it.

Spelling Power
If you would like to supplement your schooled child’s spelling education at home you can use the Spelling Power program and short lessons (less than 15 minutes per lesson). Of course homeschooling parents also can use this as their spelling curriculum.
The program is easy to use and the one teacher’s manual is for grades 1-12, it is a one-time investment. Many homeschoolers use this program with success and satisfaction. Spelling Power was revised in 2006 and the new cover is a pretty orange cover with a close up photograph of a child’s hand writing with a pencil. The new editions ISBNs are: ISBN-10: 1888827394, ISBN-13: 978-1888827392. The old edition has just an orange cover with huge font letter. If you are going to buy this product new I’d advise that you get the most recent edition.
The interesting thing about Spelling Power is that you test your child and then you teach and they learn at their ability level. They are not just matched up with a word list labeled for a certain grade. The child may end up working below their grade, on their grade level, or above their grade level. The levels are given alphabetic labels instead of numbers so maybe your child won’t figure out what they mean, to see if they are working below, at or above their grade level. Some parents complain that to have a child working always with words they find difficult or that they need reinforcement on is harder than just working with a group of words which the child may already have memorized. This is something you have to figure out your philosophy on and also the temperament of your child about. I personally love the idea of only studying what needs to be learned. However some parents feel it can negatively affect their child’s self-esteem to be so aware of their areas that need improvement.

English From the Roots Up
Some other products to consider are the two volumes of “English From The Roots Up” by Joegil K. Lundquist or just buying the already-prepared flash cards for one or both volumes. (You can buy the books and make your own flash cards or you can buy the already-made flash cards and the book. You actually don’t need the book and the cards, you can just buy the cards if you want. It is up to you and also based on if you are trying to save money or if you feel you want to buy everything!)

English From the Roots Up, Volume 1, spiral comb bound paperback edition

• ISBN-10: 0964321033
• ISBN-13: 978-0964321038

English From the Roots Up Volume 1, flashcards only
• ISBN-10: 1885942133
• ISBN-13: 978-1885942135

English From the Roots Up, Volume 2, spiral comb bound paperback

• ISBN-10: 1885942311
• ISBN-13: 978-1885942319

English From the Roots Up Volume 2, flashcards only

• ISBN-10: 188594229X
• ISBN-13: 978-1885942296

Rummy Roots
You could also buy and play the card game “Rummy Roots” to help learn the word roots.

Rummy Roots Card Game
• ISBN-10: 0012046779
• ISBN-13: 978-0012046777

To see what else I've blogged about with my thoughts on spelling and teaching spelling, click on the label below “teaching spelling”.

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