Many people use All About Spelling with teens and adults. In a previous blog post, I demonstrated how AAS works with my own teenaged son. But sometimes parents and teachers aren’t sure how to get started with older students who need remedial work. Here’s what I did with my own kids when they started in sixth and fourth grades.
Why is it that language arts seems to be the most difficult subject to plan? One reason is that it encompasses so many related topics: phonics, reading, handwriting, listening skills, spelling, grammar, writing, poetry, literature, vocabulary, speech—it can seem overwhelming!
At the basic level, language arts is all about communication: taking in information and being able to communicate with others. If you think about it, you’ve actually been working on these skills with your child since babyhood. You’ve been teaching him how to speak and how to listen, as well as vocabulary, grammar, and syntax—even before he started school! You may not have realized it, but you’ve been busy.
After barn chores this morning, I took Oskar out for a short walk on a lead rope. As we walked, Oskar made that wonderful blowing noise that horses make through their nose. It’s a sign of relaxation, and I happen to think that it’s really cute when ponies do it.
I decided it would be fun to encourage Oskar to blow, so I “clicked” to let him know that I liked it. I make a clicking noise with my tongue, and Oskar has learned that the sound means that he did something right. The click is followed by a small bit of grain.
Oskar’s ears went up right away. “Oh, yay! What did I do right?” he wondered. He experimented a bit as we walked and tried to figure out which behavior I was looking for. He tried several things: he rubbed his head on his leg, he shook his mane…and then he blew. “Click!”
From time to time people ask me, “What are we doing wrong? My child knows the spelling rules and phonograms but still makes mistakes when he is writing.”
It’s a common problem.
When a child writes bobcat and brave correctly on his word list but later writes the phrase brav bobkat in his own writing, we shudder and wonder where we have gone wrong! So what are a frazzled mom and exasperated child to do at this point?
Automaticity is the solution.
Automaticity is the ability to do something without conscious thought. For example, as you read this post, you aren’t consciously thinking about how to decode every word. You’ve reached automaticity in decoding, so now you can read for content. When you scramble eggs for breakfast, you don’t have to think about each step, like how to crack an egg or whisk it in a bowl. You can carry on a conversation as you turn on the stove and start cooking the eggs. You’ve reached the point of automaticity, which frees up your mind for other tasks.
And that’s what you want for your child. You want your child to reach the point of automaticity in spelling so he can spell words correctly in various situations, not just in a dictated spelling list. You want spelling skills transferred to writing whole phrases and entire sentences. Eventually, you want spelling to become so automatic that your child doesn’t have to give conscious thought to spelling during periods of free writing.
Here are some tips for you as your child develops automaticity.
Being patient and understanding as your child develops automaticity can be hard, I know! Use these tips to get yourself and your child through this stage.
1. Understand that what is easy and intuitive for you may be challenging for your child. Sometimes just changing our expectations can take the frustration out of a situation.
My son will be taking driver’s ed this year, so I recently let him try out the car in a seldom-used parking lot. I neglected to tell him that the car would move even without pressing the accelerator, and that the brake pedal needs a light touch. Oops! Explicit, step-by-step instruction doesn’t always come naturally to me! Little tidbits of information like that help set a student up for success, but a subject can seem scary when those tidbits are missing! So when things are frustrating for a child, take a step back, consider what information might help him, and have patience.
2. Understand that spelling mastery comes in stages. Don’t expect perfection. Instead, begin to teach your child about editing. One thing I do with dictation is to say, “There’s one mistake. Can you find it?” Children can often find their mistakes upon re-reading a phrase or sentence. Praise your child for any mistakes found or corrected.
Sometimes an error is phonetic, as in brav. Have your student say exactly what he wrote. If he doesn’t see the error, you might say something like, “I would read this word as brav, but we want brave. Do you know how to fix it?” This strategy can work for missing letters as well.
Other questions you might ask include “Do you know any rules that apply?” or “What’s the root word?” and so on. The Spelling Strategies Chart introduced in All About Spelling Level 4 will help you teach your child to analyze his spelling.
I remind my children over and over that even professional writers need to edit their work. I dearly love a good editor!
3. Consider whether additional work is needed on a concept. If your student doesn’t remember any rules that might apply to bobkat, walk him through it. For example, you might ask, “What are the ways we can spell the /k/ sound?” and then, after hearing the answer, “Which one do we always try first?” and finally, “Does c work here?” You might go back to the spelling lessons covering that rule and work through them again with the letter tiles.
For visual errors, have your student spend more time working with the Word Banks. I also show my kids the Word Cards after they spell each word, for visual reinforcement.
For suffix errors, you can have your child practice the correct steps by using the blue Key Cards that ask students to identify root words. Say the word, have the child identify the root, and then have the child make the root with the tiles. Finally have him add the suffix. Do a couple of words each day until your student has mastered the procedure.
5. Consider the working memory constraints of your child. Some students struggle with remembering a variety of tasks at the same time. This is a fairly normal struggle, especially for kids in early elementary school, as well as for older remedial learners.
Some students may be able to spell words correctly with tiles but not in writing. These students may still be struggling with remembering letter formation in addition to phonograms and rules. Solidify the individual areas to help strengthen your student’s ability to put these skills together into writing a word.
Some students may be able to write individual words from a list, but will struggle with dictation sentences. Here the difficulty has been increased—the child has to remember letter formation, a greater variety of phonograms and rules, capitalization, punctuation, and word spacing, and must also remember all the words.
Say the dictation once and have your child repeat the phrase or sentence. Note to yourself at what point your child struggles to remember the words. When I started with All About Spelling, my youngest could remember four words in a phrase, and my oldest could remember six words. That told me that when they had to hold a lot of concepts in their working memory, something would likely be forgotten or pushed out.
Understanding working memory can positively impact our parenting, too. For example, it might look like a child is disobeying if he or she can’t follow a simple statement like, “Put on your pajamas and brush your teeth,” which contains eight words. Instead, it may be that the statement is just too long for the child to accurately remember. So when you find your child half undressed and playing with Legos instead of brushing his teeth, it may be worth reconsidering how you give directions!
Dictation is a wonderful tool for improving working memory, and All About Spelling gradually increases the sentence length so your child can grow in this area.
Independent writing will reveal yet another layer of spelling difficulty. Here the child has to remember all the previously mentioned skills, plus come up with correct or creative ideas, remember important subject information, consider audience and the type of writing, organize his thoughts, think about syntax and grammar and usage rules, and…whew! There truly is a lot that we have to hold in our minds in order to be able to write.
It’s really no wonder that many children will have multiple mistakes in their writing. They are novices who need lots of encouragement, patience, and practice, not only in individual skills but also in achieving automaticity.
Do you ever get frustrated while you wait for your child to achieve automaticity in a skill, whether it’s spelling, math, or driver’s ed?
Do math lessons make your child want to throw her pencil across the room? Do tears seem to go hand-in-hand with learning to read? Are you walking on eggshells, wondering how the “dreaded spelling” will go today?
When kids struggle, moms tend to blame themselves (“I must not know how to teach this subject…maybe I shouldn’t be teaching!”) or their child (“She’s just lazy. He doesn’t pay attention. My children don’t apply themselves.”).
It’s truly difficult to work with a child who just shuts down. Here are some things I have found to be helpful.
Don’t be afraid to take a break when your child has reached a critical point. Stop and have a snack or eat some lunch, then sit down later and have a casual conversation. “So, I’ve noticed spelling really upsets you sometimes. Why is that?” Dig around until you find some of the frustration points, and don’t necessarily try to solve the problem right then—mainly listen and sympathize. “You’re right, that part of spelling is really hard.” During the course of your conversation, you might find out something that will help you address issues with your child in the future. He might make a comment about a particular curriculum that pushes him over the edge, or you may be able to get an understanding of what he thinks your expectations are. You might even learn something about how he views himself.
After listening to your child’s frustrations, open up dialogue with your child. Ask him what would help when he gets frustrated. Sometimes my children weren’t sure what would help, so I would talk with them about a “self-control toolbox.” We all have frustrations, but how do we deal with them? How does Daddy deal with them? How does Mommy? I remember one day I was late for something and couldn’t find my car keys, and suddenly it clicked—I was modeling how to have a full-blown temper tantrum!
Yup, that’s me, having a full-blown temper tantrum.
Normally, I’m pretty calm and pleasant, but overwhelm me in a few ways, and there I was ranting and crying over lost car keys. (I laugh about it now!) So the self-control toolbox was a good reminder to me, too! Am I perfect? Nope. Are you perfect? Nope. Let’s not expect perfection from our children, either. Can we grow and learn to be more self-controlled? Absolutely—I started working on it and continue to do so.
For our “self-control toolbox,” I suggested a number of items, such as get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, go for a short walk, shoot some hoops for five minutes, lay down for five to ten minutes, ask for help, pray, and so on, and then we would come back to try again. A mini-tramp or regular trampoline would be good in this situation, too. These activities let children burn off some adrenaline so that they can relax. My son would say he felt like punching something, so I suggested his pillow. But mostly I try to encourage my children toward exercise or appropriate chores—something they can use their muscles to do or something to accomplish. We tried jumping jacks and marching, too. I found marching to be particularly helpful, and any exercise that encourages right-left brain connection might also be useful.
Discuss the concept that we all have different gifts and abilities, and we all have things that we really have to work hard at. Good examples could include swimming or music lessons, learning to ride a bike, learning to tie shoelaces, and so on. Try to find something that your child can relate to. Then give examples of things that you have to work hard at yourself. For example, I was recently trying to figure out how to change some things with my website, and I had to read some articles multiple times to even understand whether the “solution” applied to my situation! This type of example can be helpful for a child.
Keep the funnel concept in mind. Some subjects can require multiple steps, and when a subject brings in new concepts, you might need to spend the first day or two reviewing previous concepts. Then, on the third day, you might be able to work through the new teaching. In the case of All About Spelling, some students may need explicit demonstrations of all ten new words after doing some review. Take time to help your student as much as needed. If you need to walk through every math problem with your child before he or she tries out a new algorithm, that’s okay. If reading is a struggle, find out why 34% of children struggle with learning to read, and then see what you can do to help. Remember, children with learning disabilities are working ten times harder to accomplish less than those without disabilities. Sometimes it doesn’t look like work on the outside, so it’s good for us to try to remember that it is work for them.
Try to be a bit intuitive and “predict” problems before they happen. If you can make the exercise seem “game-like” and not “test-like” for your child, it will really help. Some kids are such perfectionists that they hate for anyone to see them mess up—and when you combine that kind of trait with learning struggles or a disability, it’s a tough combination to work through. Sometimes you can head this off by clearly defining your expectations ahead of time.
Experiment, think through what you do when frustrated, and see if those things could help your child—or maybe you’ll find things to work on yourself, as I did! Think of it as trying to find your child’s “reset button.” What will help your child reset when he or she feels out of control like this?
Let your children know you are on their side, and that together you can find ways to make things work. Spelling, math, and other tough subjects aren’t optional, but you can work together to find solutions. I told my kids that this meant that I would listen and make accommodations—and it also meant that they would try to learn self-control, be willing to try hard things, and try to communicate with me when things were too difficult.
You may find additional help in our online Resource Center. We also provide free lifetime support for all our programs. If you hit a trouble spot, please don’t hesitate to email us, and we’ll help you come up with a solution. Some days are really rough. Hang in there!
Have you ever had tears and frustration over schoolwork at your house? How do you handle it?
If your child has dyslexia, a change is taking place that could affect you personally. Please read on to find out what is happening this week—and what you can do about it.
As you may know, doctors use DSM codes to diagnose learning disabilities. If a disability doesn’t have a DSM code, most insurance companies and schools don’t view the disability as “real.” Dyslexia hasn’t had its own DSM code in the past, and that’s one of the reasons why it has been so hard for many kids to get the remediation they need to overcome the symptoms of dyslexia.
Last fall, dyslexia was given its own DSM code in the draft of the DSM-5 manual, which is due to come out in 2013. Over the past several years, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has been revising the DSM manual and, in the draft, dyslexia was recognized as a real disability and given its own code of 315.00. That was great news, but the news didn’t last for long.
Unfortunately, the most recent draft of the DSM-5 no longer includes a diagnostic code specifically for dyslexia. This is a HUGE step backwards for our children, because if dyslexia isn’t considered a real disability, why would anyone treat it?
Dyslexia is a real disorder, and it can be diagnosed and treated. But when a disorder does not have a DSM code, it is very difficult to get a diagnosis and treatment. We at All About Learning Press strongly support the inclusion of dyslexia in DSM-5, andwe feel that the current revision represents a grave mistake.
Take a minute to sign this online petition to get dyslexia back in the DSM-5. Public comments on the DSM-5 are being accepted through June 15, and the International Dyslexia Association—which works tirelessly to help those with dyslexia—is collecting signatures to present to the decision-makers.
Once you’ve made your voice heard, please spread the word! Feel free to link to this blog post on Facebook to increase awareness, and please encourage your friends to take action as well. But don’t wait! The window of opportunity for public comments on the revisions to DSM-5 will end this Friday, June 15.
Then share below! Is it important to you to have dyslexia recognized as a real learning disability?
Several people have emailed us wanting more information about the IDA’s rationale for wanting to change the DSM-V. Some have concerns that dyslexia is being labeled as a psychiatric condition, while others just want to know what practical value the coding has.
Dyslexia is neurological in origin—a fact that is affirmed in the actual definition of dyslexia that is accepted by both the National Institute of Health and the International Dyslexia Association. (You can see that definition in our article, What Is Dyslexia?) The fact that it is coded with a DSM code does not change that. The DSM is the resource for coding learning disabilities, sleep disorders, and other conditions that we might not readily consider under the umbrella of “mental health.” Without a code, dyslexia will not be as readily identified, and educational treatment will be more generic or not be offered at all.
The researchers on the International Dyslexia Association Scientific Advisory Board who are requesting the DSM-V change have backgrounds in pediatrics, neurology, cognitive science, educational intervention, and cognitive neuroscience, including neuropsychology. Check out their well-written (and not too long) position paper for a full explanation of their rationale.
Here at AALP, we hear from parents over and over that their school districts won’t acknowledge dyslexia as a real problem. The schools say that the child is just a slow reader. If we don’t name dyslexia, it is hard to relay that it is a legitimate problem that needs a specific treatment (namely Orton-Gillingham-type instruction).
In an ideal world, parents and teachers would know the signs of reading difficulty without ever having to put a name to it. They would sense what the problem is, and automatically know how to fix it. But that type of knowledge isn’t common in our culture yet.
The DSM names other learning disabilities, and by putting dyslexia in the same category, it will enable more kids to be diagnosed and receive the proper educational intervention.
If your child is educated outside the school system, it most likely isn’t necessary to have dyslexia officially diagnosed. I strongly support parents who notice their child’s learning difference and educate themselves on how to best help their child at home. That’s what I did with my own son. But for every child who is home educated by parents who are knowledgeable about learning differences and dyslexia, there are hundreds of children in the school system who are sadly left behind without the education that they desperately need and deserve.
Today’s guest post comes from Merry Marinello, a homeschool mom who uses All About Spelling with her own kids and is part of our Customer Care team.
As a Customer Care rep for All About Learning Press, I think I have one of the best jobs in the world – talking to other moms about teaching their kids how to read and spell.
Moms often ask me what a typical day with All About Spelling is like. I thought it might be helpful to show what happens in our homeschool and give you a peek inside our lessons.
Right now we’re in Level 6, and a step (lesson) usually takes us a week to complete. (In the early days, a step often took only 1-3 days. We went through Level 1 in about three weeks because my kids were older and already had all the words memorized – they just needed to learn the concepts.)
Here’s how we divide up our week:
Day 1: Review and New Teaching
I actually set a timer for the lessons: 15 minutes for my seventh grader and 20 minutes for my ninth grader. Each day starts with 2-5 minutes of review. Here I am trying to review the Phonogram Cards with my jokester.
After the review, we begin the New Teaching section. This section is scripted, so I know immediately how to demonstrate new concepts with the letter tiles on the magnet board.
When my kids were younger, we set the magnet board against the wall or couch because I didn’t have room to hang it in our school area. After the first year, I realized I could reorient the tiles vertically, so now the magnet board hangs on a nearby closet door.
Day 2: New Spelling Words
I make sure that the new material we covered yesterday is totally understood, and we do our 2-5 minutes of review. Then it’s time to meet the ten new spelling words.
I dictate the new spelling words and several sentences that contain the spelling words. After the dictation, I put the new Word Cards behind the Daily Review tab in the Spelling Review Box so we can review them tomorrow.
All About Spelling has a philosophy of “we don’t just teach it and forget it,” which I totally appreciate. I mean, after I put in the time to teach my kids something, I want to make sure that they remember it later, and that’s where the built-in review really helps.
Day 3: Reinforcement
We review older flashcards with just a couple of the new ones mixed in, because I like to spread the new ones out over a few days. Then we quickly review the new concept we’ve been studying, followed by reinforcement words from the More Words section and more of the dictation exercises. If my kids miss any of the reinforcement words, I make Word Cards for them and put them behind the Daily Review tab.
Day 4: Writing Station
Here’s where we fit in the Writing Station activity (which starts in Level 3 of the program.)
In the Writing Station, students make up their own sentences with words that are dictated to them. Sometimes my kids like to make a little story using the words, sometimes they try to be funny, and sometimes they try to squeeze all the words into just one sentence! Here’s one that my daughter wrote:
This exercise makes a nice bridge between dictation and longer writing assignments that kids will do outside of spelling. I love how AAS gradually prepares kids for writing.
Day 5: Wrapping Things Up
Whatever we don’t get done on Days 1-4, we complete on Day 5.
If my children misspelled words in the dictation exercises during the week, I tucked those Word Cards behind the Review divider. If any concept needs to be re-taught, now’s the time to do it before we move on to the next step of the program. All About Spelling is mastery-based, so if my kids are confused about something, we fix it before moving ahead to the next lesson.
So that’s our typical week with All About Spelling. You may go faster or slower depending on your child’s needs and ability…and that’s the beauty of using a fully customizable program!
What about you? Are your days with AAS similar to mine?
I had this great idea to explain the five reasons for Silent E. I took my camera out to the horse barn to visit Kjarkur and Oskar, my Icelandic horses, in their warm winter woolies.
This is Kjarkur (pronounced Kee-yar-kur). He’s a sweetie. I thought he could help me explain the Silent E in words like love and thick mane and snuggle bug.
Doesn’t he look sweet and cooperative?
Imagine that a teacher brings to her class a bag of flour, a packet of yeast, a bowl of tomato sauce, and various piles of cheese, sausage, and dried herbs.
She unceremoniously dumps the food on an empty desk in the front of the room. All the ingredients are wholesome, but her students know that they are expected to eat that mess, and they aren’t looking forward to it. Can you blame them?
Now picture a different scenario.
The other day, one of my sons was excited to notice I had chosen to dress him in a red shirt with a tractor on the front. Before I could get the shirt over his head, he uttered a couple of pre-verbal squeals, pointed at the tractor, then slid off the bed and ran toward the living room with great purpose.
“Now where in the world is he off to?” I wondered. Rather than follow him, I decided to wait and see. I listened to the sounds of building blocks scuttling across the floor and a bit of rummaging in the toy box, until finally he came barreling back down the hall with an object clutched in his hands. And then he proudly pointed to the tractor on the shirt again and set his own red tractor on top of it.