This evening I’m going to share with you a homeschool curricula that I’m very excited about. A few months ago, I received a spelling curriculum called All About Spelling. They graciously sent me levels 1, 2, 3, and 4 to try with my oldest son Nicholas, who is eight years old and in third grade.
To give you a little background, Nicholas is a voracious reader but a mediocre speller. At first I figured spelling would come naturally as he read more and more, but then I decided maybe I should help him a bit. I bought A Reason to Spell a little over a year ago. It’s a good program but written for use in a classroom setting. It’s hard to follow a teacher’s manual intended for 30 kids when I’m just working with one.
After about five or six months, we gave up on A Reason For Spelling and started our new school year in August 2008 without a spelling program to use. So I was very happy to receive All About Spelling in the mail in September. I have not been disappointed at all!
Though Nicholas could spell simple words, I went ahead and started out at the beginning of level one with him. All About Spelling is set up in a sequential manner. Each lesson builds upon previous ones and, because the teaching technique is different from other curricula, it’s best to just begin at the beginning. We breezed through level one in about a month and a half.
One unique aspect of the All About Spelling Program is the use of letter and phonogram tiles. The levels come with pages of colored letters and letter combinations (such as “wh” and “tion”). You can see a sheet of the tiles to the right. They are bright, pretty colors and are color-coded to help students easily remember the various types of phonograms. For example, vowels are red and consonants are blue.
I did have to cut all the phonogram tiles apart and put little magnets on the back of each, which was very time consuming, but I understand that the company is going to be making perforated tile pages very soon.
During each lesson, we use the magnetized tiles to spell the new words and I use them to demonstrate the concept that is being taught. For example, in Step 18 of Level 1, the student is taught that the letters f, l, and s are usually doubled at the end of a one-syllable word that has a single (or short) vowel sound. I demonstrated with the tiles the words off, tell, and dress.
Nicholas and I talked about how each one has a short vowel sound (called “single” in the All About Spelling materials) and is a one-syllable word. I then showed him some common words where f and s are not doubled (such as gas, if, this) and told him that if the final s in a word makes the /z/ sound (as in was), then it is not doubled.
After the demonstration/instruction portion, each lesson has ten new words for the student to spell based on the material that was just learned. First the parent/teacher dictates the words and has the student spell them using the tiles. Sometimes a word from the instruction portion will be repeated in the spelling list. After successfully spelling the words on the magnetic board with the tiles, the student writes them on paper.
Each lesson also includes additional words to spell for more practice and phrases (“big glass,” “best dress”) for the teacher to dictate and the student to write. Later levels have simple sentences instead of phrases.
Because of the hands-on nature of All About Spelling, Nicholas is thoroughly enjoying it. He actually says, “Oh, good,” when I say it’s time for a spelling lesson. He’s told me more than once, as we stand at the magnetic dry erase board where we do the lessons, “I like when we do this.” I’ve seen his spelling, and most importantly his understanding of spelling concepts, improve since we started this program.
There is a comment on the All About Spelling web site that I think sums up so much of what happens to students in ordinary teaching situations (and I don’t mean just public school): “Poor teaching methods create obstacles for learners and lead to bad spelling habits.” I can see that the “ignore and hope for self-learning” approach I was taking to Nicholas’ spelling was only leading to bad spelling habits. He had no idea about rules and commonalities that govern how various words are spelled. The step-by-step approach that All About Spelling takes teaches all of the bits of information needed to lay a solid foundation for successful spelling.
One thing I didn’t anticipate when we began All About Spelling was the effect it would have on four-year-old James. The first lessons in the level one book review basic phonograms, such as /b/ /s/ and /z/. Even though Nicholas knew all of that, I wanted to go through every lesson so we spent a few days on this very basic information. Everyday, James sat at the kitchen table watching what we were doing and repeating each phonogram with Nicholas.
Here is a portion of an email I sent to Marie Rippel (the author of All About Spelling) regarding James:
Now this little boy has been a relunctant learner at best. I’ve been trying to teach him the names of the letters for several months. Our exchange usually sounds like this:
Mom points to A. “What letter is this?” Boy: “E” Mom: “No, this is A.”
Mom points to B. “What letter is this?” Boy: “E” Mom: “No, this is B.”
Mom points to C. “What letter is this?” Boy: “E” Mom: “No, this is C.”
Mom points to D. “What letter is this?” Boy: “E” Mom: “No, this is D.”
Mom points to E. “What letter is this?” Boy: “A.”
I’m pretty sure he does it on purpose. Since I know he’ll learn his letters eventually, I haven’t pushed him about it. I figured I’d keep working with him from time to time over the winter and next spring. Then when he “officially” begins Kindergarten next year, I planned to start teaching him the phonograms. Well, imagine my surprise when he started repeating some of the phonograms while I was reviewing with my older son.
I decided to see how he would take to learning all of the phonograms, so I started introducing him to two per day. It is amazing how he’s picking them up effortlessly. He’s up to ten phonograms now. He still can’t tell you the letter names, but he knows their sounds (which I suppose is actually more important anyway).
I’ve been wanting to send you a big THANK YOU for sending this program for my family to review. I know it’s a spelling program at its core, and we are enjoying it for that purpose. But it has put my four year old on the road to reading a year before I ever dreamed he’d be there, and I thank you deeply for that!
Marie wrote me back and said that she uses the All About Spelling program every time she has taught a child to read. I can confirm that it works! James has learned over two dozen phonograms now and can read simple words like cat and hum. He has even read his first book on the Rime to Read website. We were all very excited about that!
In short, I can’t recommend this program enough. It’s written with homeschoolers in mind so you’ll never have to fool around with trying to tweak 30-student lessons to fit your family. The teacher’s manual and student materials (phonogram cards, sound cards, key/rule cards, word cards, dividers, five colorful tokens for added fun, a progress chart, and a completion certificate) are available for $29.95 per level. The letter tiles (essential, but you only need one set for all levels) cost $9.95, and the magnets for the back of the tiles (optional) are $5.95.
All of the materials are non-consumable. There are no workbooks to write in, only glossy cardstock letters tiles to spell with and phonogram cards to look at. The writing is done in a plain notebook or we sometimes use our dry erase or chalkboard.
© 2009, Cindy. All rights reserved.