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Automaticity in Reading and Spelling

child riding a bicycle

Automaticity is the ability to do something without conscious thought.

For example, as you read this post, you probably aren’t consciously thinking about how to decode every word. You’ve reached automaticity in reading, which helps you pay attention to the content.

It’s like riding a bike.

When you jump on your bike, you don’t stop to think about every move you make–like adjusting the handlebars to make a turn or pushing the brakes to come to a stop. Because you’ve reached the point of automaticity, you can wave to your neighbor or carry on a conversation with your child as he rides along beside you.

And that’s what you want for your child with reading and spelling.

In reading, you want your child to be able to decode words effortlessly and rapidly, to make the shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Automaticity makes that shift possible.

And in spelling, you want your child to be able to write words correctly in various situations, not just on a dictated spelling list. Ideally, spelling becomes easy and doesn’t require much conscious thought. This allows your child to communicate in writing without difficulty.

Automaticity is one of the main goals in All About Reading and All About Spelling, and every lesson brings your child closer to that goal. Since a child may need to encounter a word thirty times or more before achieving instant recall, we provide lots of practice. The word banks, decodable stories, spelling dictations, and hands-on activities all provide engaging practice in a vast variety of ways.

4 Tips for Developing Automaticity

You know that automaticity is the goal, but it can be difficult to maintain patience and understanding as your child works to develop automaticity! The tips below can help you and your child get through this stage.

  1. What’s Easy for You May Be Challenging for Your Child

    Sometimes just changing your expectations can take the frustration out of a situation. When things are difficult for your child, take a step back and consider what information might help him. Be patient.

    Think about taking a teenager out driving for the first time. If you neglect to tell him that the car will move without the accelerator being pressed or that the brake pedal needs only a light touch, you might have a bit of an uncomfortable ride—or worse!

    Giving explicit, step-by-step instruction doesn’t always come naturally, but little tidbits of information help set up a student for success. An activity or subject can seem scary when those tidbits are missing!

  2. Helping Kids Achieve Automaticity in Reading and Spelling - from All About Learning Press
  3. Understand that Mastery Comes in Stages

    Don’t expect perfection. Instead, begin to teach your child to recognize and correct his own mistakes. For example, during spelling dictation exercises or reading fluency practice, you might say, “You made 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.

  4. Additional Work May Be Needed on a Concept

    Achieving automaticity is not automatic; it requires regular practice and review. That’s why we’ve built review into every All About Reading and All About Spelling lesson. But if more review is needed, there are lots of ways to provide additional practice without discouraging your child. Remember that learning to read and spell is hard work, so keep review time short and sweet!

    Here are a few ideas:

    • Reread the short stories in the lessons to provide extra practice.
    • Don’t be afraid to jump back a few lessons if needed. Do reading activity sheets or reading games again, or practice spelling the words with letter tiles.
    • Make review fun! Try some of the ideas in these blog posts to incorporate practice and review sessions that your child will love.
    • Take advantage of the simultaneous multisensory instruction used in the All About Reading and All About Spelling lessons. The SMI method—which teaches through all three pathways to the brain—really helps learning “stick.”
  5. Don’t Overload Your Child’s Funnel

    As tempting as it may be, don’t try to teach too many things at once. When you pour too much information into your child’s “funnel,” it becomes difficult for him to retain what he has learned. If your child is struggling with reading, hold off on spelling lessons for a time. And don’t spend too long on reading and spelling lessons. Keep lesson time short—twenty minutes tops!

It’s really no wonder that many children make mistakes as they are learning to read and spell. They are novices who need lots of encouragement, patience, and practice. Remember, you didn’t always know how to ride a bike or drive a car! With time and practice, your child will achieve automaticity in reading and spelling, too.

Do you ever get frustrated while you wait for your child to achieve automaticity in a skill? Leave a comment below and download our free report for more tips!

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Larae

says:

So I assume I don’t necessarily wait for automaticity before moving on, but I don’t want the amount of words to be reviewed to get overwhelming for my 7 year old son either. Where’s the balance? We are at the very beginning of level 1. He can finally sound out 3 letter words, but it seems like the only word that is automatic is “the”. He has to sound out a word that he just finished reading in the previous sentence. (I do plan to have him tested for either dyslexia and any other possible learning disability.) Any other ideas or suggestions? Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Larae,
It sounds like you and your son are doing well. Correct, do not expect perfection before moving on. Reaching the goal of fluent reading will be a gradual process over many lessons. Students may need to read a word thirty times before they can read it fluently without having to sound it out!

The Word Cards allow you to track what has been mastered and what still needs work. Keep word cards in daily review until he can read them easily, without needing to sound them out. Here are some fun review ideas for word cards. The Word cards will stack up as you go, so just rotate through a portion for 2-3 minutes each day and then pick up in the book wherever you left off previously.

The fluency pages can be re-used as well. You might enjoy our “Top Tips” for using the Fluency practice pages. (And check out the comments as well–lots of fun suggestions in there!)

The appendices in the level 1 and level 2 teacher’s manuals have lots of ideas for reviewing word cards and fluency pages; be sure to check there for more ideas.

Students who struggle with fluency will also benefit from rereading the same story two or three days in a row to gain fluency and confidence. Buddy Reading can be very powerful in helping students who are in this stage of struggling with fluency.

I hope this helps! Please let me know if you have additional questions.

Katherine

says:

Just a month ago, my daughter (7) was so frustrated by spelling and, though I coach my kids to remember that it’s okay to make mistakes, she was afraid to even try. Though she can read really well and she spells well *when she does jumping jacks*, she struggles with letter-reversal and switching letters when she writes. And she refused (flat.out.refused! I mean, picture sit-down-strike, arms crossed, brows pinched, teeth clenched, teary refusal.) to simply sound out a word, which I felt could be the key to helping her relax and not worry so much about spelling incorrectly.

At a loss, I Googled “top 10 homeschool spelling curriculum” and “top 10 spelling curricula for dyslexia”: All About Spelling was the ONLY curriculum on both lists, with wonderful reviews.

Now, just two weeks after beginning level 1, she’s excited to learn about “segmenting,” one of those little sounding-out things that I do automatically. As she pulls down a chip for each sound in the word (definitely a kinesthetic learner), I’m seeing big smiles and big success. She is so excited!

The biggest problem is, my 4-year-old keeps jumping into the middle of our lessons. She wants to do All About Spelling, too!
Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Katherine,
Thank you for letting us know how helpful segmenting has been for your daughter! It is a great skill that really opens spelling up for students.

As she moves out of level 1, she may be able to segment by pulling down imaginary chips or tiles. Sometimes it is the movement, not the object, that makes the difference. Be willing to bring the objects back if you think she needs them, however.

Leah Johnson

says:

I would really love to try All About Spelling with my son. I hear wonderful things about it and it seems very thorough.

Alicia

says:

There are phonics and grammar rules explained in a way I’ve never heard. It makes so much sense and helps teaching the littles, a little easier. I’m incredibly grateful for AAS and AAR!

Misti

says:

Enjoying this curriculum with my 2nd grader

Tanya Montgomery

says:

Great tips! I had a reluctant reader and she still struggles but is definitely getting there.

Sherry

says:

When my daughter isn’t getting a concept in spelling, when she is actually struggling with it, sometimes we invent spelling games to review what we already know. In a week or so we come back to the new concept that is causing anguish. Usually she is ready for it by then since she was introduced to it earlier. If not, more review of what we already know to gain confidence and then back to trying it again. Eventually it does come.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sherry,
This is a great way to approach difficulties! Thank you for sharing this.

Nicole Young

says:

Great reminders to give them time and space when learning! Thank you for this article!

Susan

says:

My 5 yr old struggles with automaticity. We started in AAR1 with her. It took her a couple of weeks to blend her letters to make words. We are on lesson 22 now and she still sounds out most words. She understands the sounds of each letter and the blends with no problem. We have stopped and reviewed, we do the cards and fluency sheets and she still sounds everything out. Is this normal? Will in click? Do I need to stop the lessons and just review until she stops sounding most words out even though she’s sounding it all out correctly?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Susan,
Reaching the goal of fluent reading will be a gradual process over many lessons. Students may need to read a word thirty times before they can read it fluently without having to sound it out.

The Word Cards allow you to track what has been mastered and what still needs work. Keep word cards in daily review until she can read them easily, without needing to sound them out. Here are some fun review ideas for word cards. The Word cards will stack up as you go–just rotate through a portion for 2-3 minutes each day and then pick up in the book wherever you left off previously.

The fluency pages can be re-used as well. You might enjoy our “Top Tips” for using the Fluency practice pages. (And check out the comments as well–lots of fun suggestions in there!)

How does she doe with the stories? Consider having her read the same story two or even three days in a row, to help her build fluency in her reading. Often children that must sound out almost every word the first day can read the story fluently on the second or third day. This is not memorizing the story, as some assume, but is becoming familiar with the words to the point that they come easily and fluently.

I hope this helps give you some ideas. She will get there!

Julie

says:

Thank you for the driving comparison, I’m currently experiencing that with my 15 year old. I’m guilty of forgetting that a new skill isn’t automatic and that needs to be learned and becoming frustrated too quickly. My 7 year old is moving slowly through AAR level 1, some days he does great and the next he can’t read ‘cat’, without sounding it out. Thanks for the reminder that it will come.

Christine H

says:

This is interesting information. My son can read when we are practicing words and even with his readers but when it comes time for him to read books, he says he can’t enjoy the books if he is reading it. I guess this means that he has not achieved automaticity yet.

Rachel Armock

says:

Great article, it’s good to know that repetition is key and 20 minutes is a good amount of time to spend on a lesson!

Paula B

says:

We recently started All About Reading Level 2 with my child and we are working on reading more fluently. He reread a story from a lesson as suggested above and the 2nd reading was very successful. We love all aspects of All About Reading. Thank you for a wonderful article and suggestions!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Paula,
Thanks for letting us know that rereading a story helped your son be more successful!

AN

says:

Great article! Ty for the information .

Lorna Seadore

says:

We have used All About Spelling for the last three years and it has made a huge difference for my daughter who really struggled with spelling.

Sharon

says:

I love this. You are a mom’s mom. I can teach my child to read easily and I enjoy it!

Jennifer S.

says:

I never thought about it that way. It will certainly help me to be more understanding, especially when my children don’t”get it” as fast as I think they should. Great comparison with driving, as I am teaching that, too!

Angela

says:

I cannot tell you how thankful I am for this All About Spelling program! It has been such a blessing to my children. I have a daughter who was diagnosed with severe Dyslexia in 6th grade. She has struggled all her life in school and was often made fun of. Last year(her 7th grade year), I homeschooled her and started using the AAS program with her. Immediately, her confidence was boosted, she began to feel like she was smart, and she actually wanted to do school! She has made tremendous progress in just one year of using this curriculum! Thank you!!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Angela,
Thank you so much for letting us know how well your daughter has progressed in such a short time! This is touching, and we are so happy to have been a part of it. I’ll be sharing this with the whole AALP team!

Rachel

says:

This is SO helpful! Thank you!!

Pamela Heaberlin

says:

My child is just starting 1st grade and these techniques will help tremendously.

Sherri

says:

I’ll use some of these tips with my son this year! I do get easily frustrated waiting for my kids to master a skill so I hope to work on changing that this year.

Alicia Mitchell

says:

Great article!

Jennifer H

says:

We are just getting started on the journey to reading and it can be very tempting to try to teach a lot at once. A reminder to not overload a child’s funnel is always helpful!

Rosanne

says:

This looks great. Thanks

Margo Aston

says:

The guide cards really helped me facilitate my students readiness for the next concept. This program has great sequencing.

Elizabeth

says:

Do you have any suggestions for someone who has a 6th grader who is still having a tremendously hard time at spelling? I wouldn’t even know where to start in the program to help him. I would love for him to be able to just get it and move forward.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Elizabeth,
We recommend that struggling spellers start with level 1 to build a strong foundation in spelling.

All About Spelling is a building block program with each level building upon the previous one. The rules and concepts learned in Level 1 are applied in Level 2, and then those are applied in Level 3, and so on. Placement for spelling is based on the student’s knowledge of spelling rules and concepts rather than grade level, reading level, or the words a student has memorized.

For example, we find that many students simply memorize easy words like “cat” and “kid” but have no idea why one uses a C and the other uses a K, or that the same rules that apply to these words also apply to higher level words such as “concentrate.” Other students switch letters or leave out letters entirely. This usually occurs because they don’t know how to hear each sound in the word. Level 1 has specific techniques to solve these problems.

The article Should We Start in Level 1 or Level 2? has more information on the concepts taught in level 1 and will help you decide the appropriate starting level.

Level 2 of AAS focuses on learning the syllable types, when they are used and how they affect spelling. This information is foundational for higher levels of spelling. Three syllable rules are introduced in Level 2, and then more in Level 3 and up. For this reason, we don’t recommend starting higher than level 2.

We do encourage you to “fast track” if the student knows how to spell most of the words but does not understand the underlying basic spelling concepts. In this case, very quickly skim the parts that he already knows and slow down on the parts that he needs to learn. Pull out several words as examples. Make sure he understands the concept being taught, and then move on. This blog article has a good example of how you might fast track.

Christine

says:

Such good recommendations and reminders…. meeting a child where they are with encouragement fosters such a better experience for all and brings forth the best growth!! Appreciate where they are and grow together! Needed to remember these today in my planning time!! Thank you!

Krystil

says:

I needed to hear this today- I’ve been half convinced my oldest is pretending she can’t do things. I guess we’ll see how she does when I let her set the pace!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Krystil,
It is difficult to know sometimes when something is a problem or just a child not wanting to comply. One good test I have found is if the child has a similar problem with non-academic things, like chores. If a child is normally compliant but balks at school, it’s time to take notice. Also, it is best to have the most grace and patience with children in academic things.

Mary S.

says:

All great points to remember! We are taking it much slower this year :)

Andrea M.

says:

Sometimes it is hard not to be in a hurry to get to the next stage. It is good to be reminded to have realistic expectations and to be patient!

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