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Why We Teach Reading and Spelling Separately

You may have noticed that language arts programs can be divided into two types: all-in-one programs and single-subject programs.

  • All-in-one programs combine reading and spelling in a single lesson, and the lesson often includes handwriting, grammar, and composition as well. When the student learns to read the word bread, for example, he learns to spell the word in the same lesson.
  • Single-subject programs, on the other hand, teach reading and spelling in separate lessons. All About Reading and All About Spelling fall into this category.

You may be wondering why we don’t combine our programs into a single All About® program. After all, wouldn’t it be more efficient to teach multiple subjects in the same program?

That’s a great question! Read on to discover the two main reasons we teach these subjects separately.

Reason #1: Most Children Learn to Read More Quickly than They Learn to Spell

Simply put, reading is easier than spelling.

In reading, a child decodes the written word. Phonogram AY always says long A, so once a child learns that, reading words like stay and display is a straightforward task.

Even with a more complex phonogram—such as phonogram EA, which can say three sounds (/ē/, /ĕ/, or /ā/)—students can try out each of the three sounds to see which forms a real word. And the fact that students learn to recite the phonogram sounds in order of frequency is also helpful. In a word like thread, the student who tries out the first, most common sound of EA quickly realizes that /thrēd/ isn’t a real word, so she tries the second sound of EA, resulting in the real word /thrĕd/.

But in spelling, a child encodes the word. Ideally, there would be just one way to write each sound, but the reality is that there are many ways to write each sound. If a child wants to write the word great or neighbor, for example, he has to decide how the sound of long A should be written. Choices include A, AI, A-consonant-E, EIGH, EI, EY, or AY. There are some generalizations that can help narrow down the options, but the fact is that there are 250 ways to spell the 45 speech sounds of the English language.

So even though reading and spelling are flip sides of the same coin, reading is easier.

Here’s Proof that Reading Is Easier

Let’s do a quick demonstration. Read the words below.

Teach Reading Spelling Separately - All About Learning Press

You didn’t have any trouble reading them, did you?

But what if I asked you to spell them? (Without looking first, of course!) How would you do?

If you think you would have spelled all these words correctly, congratulations! You’re probably a better speller than most adults. Though most adults can easily read these words, many would misspell them.

Teach Reading Spelling Separately - All About Learning Press

The Same Is True for Your Child

With a basic understanding of phonics, a child should be able to read the word special without much trouble. But spelling the word special is a greater challenge because of that tricky /sh/ sound in the middle of the word.

  • Is it spelled speshul, just like it sounds?
  • Or is it spetial like martial?
  • Or should it be spelled spesial with the same word ending as controversial?

See what I mean? Is it any wonder that so many children struggle with spelling? And that leads to the second reason we teach reading and spelling separately.

Reason #2: All-In-One Programs Force You to Choose between Two Scenarios

When you try to teach your child to read and spell the same words at the same time, you guarantee only one thing: one of these critically important subjects will fall by the wayside. That’s because there are two possible scenarios with programs that combine reading and spelling:

Scenario #1. Your child learns to read the words in the lesson, but he can’t move on to the next lesson because he’s still learning to spell those words. Without knowing it, you have chosen to focus on spelling at the expense of reading.

Teach Reading Spelling Separately - All About Learning Press

Scenario #2. Your child learns to read the words in the lesson, but although he’s still learning to spell the words, you decide to allow him to move on to the next lesson. You’ve chosen to focus on reading, so your child’s spelling suffers.

Teach Reading Spelling Separately - All About Learning Press

As you can see, it’s a no-win situation. All-in-one programs force you to choose one subject to the detriment of the other. But I don’t believe you should have to sacrifice your child’s learning in any subject.

So, That’s Why We Teach Reading and Spelling Separately

With our single-subject approach, your child can succeed at both subjects. He can progress as quickly as possible in reading …

Teach Reading Spelling Separately - All About Learning Press

… and he can take as much time as he needs in spelling.

Teach Reading Spelling Separately - All About Learning Press

With this approach, your child can more easily achieve mastery in both reading and spelling, without sacrificing learning in either subject.

Do you think that teaching reading and spelling separately would make a difference for your kids?

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Gina

says:

Hello. I am new and about to start All About Spelling Level 1 and All About Reading Level 3 for my almost 9 year old son. Do you have any instructions or advice on how to teach both programs well daily? Should I just do 20 min of Spelling and 20 min of Reading program?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Gina,
Yes, we recommend 20 minutes of Reading and 20 minutes of Spelling a day. However, here is a blog post that shows how a mom taught both each day in one 35 minute session, Real Moms, Real Kids: Teaching Active Children.

For my children, I preferred to teach one, then do something else completely different like math or music, and then the other. I found breaking them up like that helped them to focus better for each.

Does this help? Let me know if you need more information or help with anything.

Beverlyn Teine

says:

MY NAME IS Beverlyn Teine,am always Having problems with my spellings ,can you help with this problem please. Thanks alot.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Beverlyn,
All About Spelling takes the struggle out of spelling! However, it is designed to be used with a teacher and a student. If you have a willing friend or family member that could work with you, it can make a difference. Let me know if you have any questions or need help with placement.

Cathy

says:

Thanks! I’m just putting my course work together for this year. My first child picked up both reading and spelling very quickly but number two and three – it’s not coming as naturally to them. I’m feeling a bit lost with it but your article is helpful in being more directive.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you found this helpful, Cathy. Let me know if you need help with placement or have any questions.

Nini

says:

Where do you cover grammar?

Linda

says:

Ah, the things we wish we’d known when we started………………………….. Because spelling was easy for me, I assumed good readers would automatically be good spellers; not always true! Love AAS!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Linda,
That is a common assumption and boy, was I surprised when my second child, who was reading years above grade level, was spelling years below grade level. It was then I found All About Spelling and it made all the difference for her!

Jemmy

says:

Hallo,

This makes sense. Quite on point.

Mama Bee

says:

I read that we should not begin All About Spelling until we’re done All About Reading Level 1 which we finished in the spring. We now have ALl About Reading Level 2 ready to go and All About Spelling Level 1. Are you saying that you suggest we don’t do that at the same time or am I missing something?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question!

We do recommend waiting until your student has finished All About Reading 1 before starting All About Spelling, so doing AAR 2 and AAS 1 at the same time is common. Then we recommend working in both All About Reading and All About Spelling each day. However, we don’t recommend trying to match up the topics. Just work for 20 minutes a day in reading and 15 to 20 minutes a day in spelling and allow your student to progress at his or her own pace in each.

Does this clear the issue up for you? Please let me know if you have more questions or need help for anything.

Mama Bee

says:

Yes, thanks so much.

Wendy Zamorano

says:

This is the first time to use AAR and AAS. I have both level 2 and 3 of AAR and level 2 and 3 of AAS. On both placement tests, my 8 year old read the phrases and words but didn’t really know most of the phonograms. I don’t know which levels to use so that when I use both AAR and AAS I won’t mess up anything . Please help.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wendy,
Have your student read the story “Rawhide” from this sample. Evaluate (without correcting your student) for the following…

– Your student’s ability to decode the words in the story.
– Your student’s ability to comprehend the story.
– Could your student fluently read the story with expression?
– Did your student understand the words from a vocabulary standpoint?

The story “Rawhide” comes from very near the end of All About Reading level 2, so if he or she does well with it, reading fluently with good comprehension, then you can be confident starting level 3.

If you are concerned that maybe All About Reading level 3 may be too easy as well, read this sample story, “Cedric the Brave Knight”. If your student can also read it fluently with good comprehension, then he or she would be better served with level 4.

The article Which Spelling Level Should We Start With? has more information on the concepts taught in All About Spelling 1 and will help you decide if your student can skip level 1 and go into level 2. Note, most students, even older ones, need to start in level 1.

Level 2 of All About Spelling 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.

If you find your student needs to start with level 1, I encourage you to “fast track” if he or she 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.

Please let me know if you have further question or needy anything else.

Cherie

says:

This is exactly the reason I ended up choosing AAS. My daughter was reading at a very early age but has dysgraphia and had extreme difficulty with spelling. AAS eased her struggle and did not carry that struggle over into subjects that she was not struggling with.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great point, Cherie! We are pleased to hear that All About Spelling allowed you to help your daughter with her area of struggle without holding her back in any other area.

Mahua Roychoudhury

says:

Thank you Marie, I agree with you. I understood this last year when my son started learning spellings. So I took up teaching spellings separately.

Ndileka

says:

Very helpful. Thank you.

Zaphina Hosein Chin

says:

I am a teacher in a kindergarten class and I have parents who are totally against the concept of invented spelling. Any suggestions on how to defend my position?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Zaphina,
I’m sorry, we cannot give you suggestions on how to defend invented spelling, as we agree with your students’ parents. Here is our article on Invented Spelling.

abd

says:

hello
english is not me first language and I’m 30 years , I know i’m old .
can you have advice about improving spelling , or any source can help.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Hello,
Spelling English is difficult for even native speakers; it can be very difficult for those learning English as a second language.

Our All About Spelling program has been successfully used with English language learners and with adults. However, All About Spelling is not designed to be used independently. Do you have someone that can work with you with All About Spelling? Even just an hour a week would work.

Please let us know if you need help getting started.

abd

says:

thank you for answer , did you have online course ? what you sagest for self-learning ?
many thanks

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

We do not have an online course or any program designed for self learning. One of the key components of our programs is the interaction and immediate feedback from a teacher, which isn’t possible with the self learning model.

Catia

says:

At what point would grammar begin being taught? Or is it something incorporated into your programs?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Catia,
All About Reading and All About Spelling only cover grammar as it relates to reading and spelling. For example, when the suffix -ed is taught, students do learn what past tense means and how some words change completely instead of simply taking on the suffix. However, the programs do not discuss parts of speech, punctuation, and so on.

As for when grammar should be taught, you may found this article on planning the sequence of Language Arts helpful. You want your child to be doing well with reading and spelling before beginning formal grammar.

a reply

There are a number of grammar programs available that have either multi-sensory components or an incremental approach. Some of the programs focus exclusively on grammar, while some include writing as well. Here are a few suggestions:

Winston Grammar is a hands-on program with color-coded cards, and is generally aimed at students in 4th to 7th grades.

Easy Grammar features an incremental approach and includes topics such as usage and punctuation, for 2nd grade and up.

Essentials in Writing is described by author Matthew Stephens as a Math-U-See approach to writing. In the elementary levels, this program incorporates grammar with writing. The lessons are presented in short video segments of 3 to 5 minutes and then the student works on the concept that was taught. This is a multisensory and incremental program that is very easy to use. There are levels for 1st-12th grades.

The Sentence Family is a simple and fun program aimed at 3rd through 6th graders. The program uses drawing along with a story line to teach the nine parts of speech and how they relate to each other.

Fix It Grammar is incremental and uses very short lessons. Each level teaches grammar using sentences from a single story, so there is the additional fun of seeing the story slowly unfold. The teacher’s manual is very comprehensive, and even includes advanced concepts so the teacher can answer questions a curious student may have. The youngest the program is recommended for is 3rd grade, although it is appropriate for older students as well.

Hands-On English with Linking Blocks is an intriguing program that uses wooden blocks and flash cards for a truly hands-on approach.

Analytical Grammar teaches a mastery of grammar by working on it for short grammar focused units once a year for 2 to 3 years. Junior Analytical Grammar is for 4th or 5th graders, with Analytical Grammar for 6th to 9th graders.

Hopefully this gives you some to consider!

Sharon Ebersole

says:

My weakest area is grammar, out of the 7 companies you recommended is there one for a parent like me to implement.

I am having huge success with the programs my students are using in AAS and AAR. You have helped me feel like a super star! Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sharon,
I can only give you my personal experience, but since I consider grammar my weakest subject by far, my experience may help.

My older two children used Winston Grammar in junior high. They used it independently and I simply corrected their work. Both did fairly well with it, but if they disagreed with the answer key they could bring up a strong argument as to why they were right. They were convincing, but I didn’t know grammar well enough to defend the answer key and the answer key never had explanations or discussions to expand the learning. My biggest problem with Winston Grammar, however, is that after my students completed it they still struggled to be able to discuss grammar usage or misusage in their own writing. To me, the point of learning grammar is to have a vocabulary and understand with which to discuss your own writing, so I felt let down a bit with Winston Grammar.

With my younger three students, the ones that have struggled greatly with reading, spelling, and writing, I knew Winston Grammar would not work well. I researched grammar curriculum for a year before deciding upon The Sentence Family followed by Fix It Grammar. I’m not sure The Sentence Family was necessary, but it was a fun and very hands-on primer on parts of speech and my kids loved it. We were able to complete it in a month without hurrying.

We are now within a month of finishing the first book of Fix It Grammar and I am confident I made the right choice. My children are understanding it, as am I, and the Teacher’s Guide has lots of information for questions or advanced concepts that we might wonder about. It takes only 5 to 10 minutes a day, so it fits in with the short lesson philosophy of AAR and AAS too.

The one change I make to Fix It Grammar is that I allow my kids to mark parts of speech with the color they learned in The Sentence Family. For example, nouns are blue and verbs are red. They are learning and using the names, but I have found that thinking and marking sentences in color helps their understanding and makes it a bit more fun too.

On the other hand, Analytical Grammar, starting with the junior level, was my second choice so I think it is worth looking into as well. Excellence in Writing looks like a great choice if you would prefer to combine grammar and writing into a single curriculum. Hands-On English with Linking Blocks is very intriguing, but it was not written for classroom use, so it seemed to me to assume the teacher was confident in grammar. As I said, grammar is my weakest subject, so I felt that Hands-On English with Linking Blocks would be way too difficult for me to implement. My only experience with Easy Grammar was that my girlfriend used it for years. I looked it over and quickly dismissed it as an option as it was just workbook pages without anything to make it hands-on and my kids need hands-on.

There are so many options out there; it can be overwhelming! When I evaluate programs I look at several things:

What worked about what we used previously? Did we like anything?
What didn’t work and why?
What do I need as a teacher from a grammar program? (Do I need scripting, examples, teaching helps etc…?)
What do my students need? (Think about visual layout, color vs. black & white, mom-taught vs. independent or DVD teacher, hands-on, and so on.)
Look at samples online (or in person if possible), and let your kids look at them. Even young students can have opinions on curriculum that can give you insight that can be very helpful in your decision making.

I hope this helps some.

Jennifer Gacka

says:

Thank you for articulating this. I never knew the two were not to be taught at the same time.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Jennifer. We do have important reasons for it.

Bethany

says:

This is very helpful! I used AAS with my older son (who was already a fluent reader), but instead started AAR with my daughter who is learning how to read. Now I’m also tutoring a 10yo boy in reading and spelling and was tempted to try to teach reading through AAS, but now I won’t! I’ll be reading the post about how to do both subjects one after the other.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Bethany,
I’m glad this post was helpful to you. Please let us know if you have any questions or run into any difficulties.

Elizabeth Childers

says:

My daughter is progressing much better now that we separated reading and spelling.

Belle

says:

At what point of AAR should you start Level 1 of AAS? My 5-year-old just finished AAR Pre Reading level.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Belle,
We recommend waiting to begin All About Spelling 1 until after your student has completed All About Reading 1. While learning to read, students pick up basic skills that will enable them to spell more easily. This article, All About Spelling – The Right Time to Start, has more information.

B

says:

Thank you, Robin. I looked for that information but did not look hard enough on your blog. I apologize.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

No problem, Belle. I just linked to that blog post as it has all the reasoning why we recommend waiting, in case you were wondering why.

Cheryl

says:

As my son said, “Doing All About Reading makes you a great speller!” All About Spelling is going great for him after 2 years of AAR.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

We love hearing this level of confidence from our students, Cheryl!

Nicole

says:

Wonderful post! Thank you so much! I’m already learning so much just by reading your blog. I self identify as stealth dyslexic. I fell through the cracks in school. I picked up that my daughter struggles with much of the same things I did (and sometimes still do). I’m excited to get started with my DD with AAS and AAR. Much needed. I’m hoping to learn along side with my daughter.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Nicole,
I glad that you are finding our blog so helpful. Let us know if you have any questions, or if you need help with placement or anything else. And many (most?) of us parents find ourselves learning along with our children, even if we didn’t struggle with school!

Karen

says:

I used AAS when I homeschooled my daughter, and found this program to be exactly what I was looking for. My daughter was reading two grade levels above her age, yet her spelling was atrocious. She is an excellent speller now, and I attribute this to her early exposure to AAS. Thank you for such an excellent product!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

We love to hear about students’ spelling successes! Thank you, Karen.

Sara Johnson

says:

I love this article. Tis true separating the two gives them their own power and significance within the eye of the child. I too teach the two separate for this reason.

Thank youfor this confirmation.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Sara!

Britney

says:

Enjoy seeing concrete reasoning on why spelling and reading should be taught separately.

Melissa

says:

Thank you! It’s so helpful to hear that Spelling and Reading don’t have to progress at the same pace.

Patsy Foy

says:

I’m using both with my special needs daughter. It’s too soon to tell a huge difference, but there is a huge difference in her interest & enthusiasm while doing spelling & reading.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Patsy,
Interest and enthusiasm go a long way toward success! I hope to hear great things about her progress soon.

Heather

says:

Is there a recommended schedule for teaching both subjects in the week? (since they are both teacher-led). We have a large family, love AAR & AAS, but I struggle with teaching everyone…any tips?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Heather,
We recommend spending 20 minutes per day for All About Reading and 20 minutes per day for All About Spelling. This blog post explains how a mom taught AAR and AAS in one 35 minutes block a day to her kids, which might be a good option for you.

I have found that I need to make keeping transition times down a priority in order to work with everyone one-on-one. I suggest stacking everyone’s spelling and reading things up at your spot at the table (or your desk, or wherever you work with the children) and have each one come to you. Explain that you won’t be waiting for them to finish what they are doing when it is their spelling or reading time, but that when you call they need to stop and come (if you have a kid who struggles with transitions you could give them a 5 minute warning while you are finishing up with the previous child). You will have to decide which order to work with your kids, as you know them. Some little ones cause less disruption if they work with mom first, others do better if they get to play until mom is ready for them. That sort of thing.

While you are working with your children on spelling and reading, they need to have things they need to be doing when it is not their turn. They could be doing school things, like handwriting and math. If you have to teach a lesson for math before they do it, you could try teaching the math lesson the day before. Some kids will be fine with this, some will not. Or they could be other things, like chores or piano practice.

I don’t know how many students you have or how many of them are in AAS, AAR, or both, but with this minimizing transition times, you can teach 3 kids AAS and AAR, 20 minutes each, in just 2 hours. More students in your homeschool obviously means more time, but that is true no matter what curriculum you use.

I hope this helps some. I know it’s hard to juggle the demands of teaching many students with the demands of home, but it can be done. Mostly I think it takes either great organization and scheduling, or it takes a lot of trial and error. I fall into the second category. ;D

Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Meg Hutsell

says:

I’ve been looking at this curriculum for a while. My daughter has auditory processing difficulties and her speech therapist recommended the Orton Gillingham approach. There are a few other programs out there but this one keeps coming back to me. We’re going to take the plunge and see what happens. I’m praying for great results!

Sara

says:

Thank you so much! Incredible resource!

LLW

says:

We struggled with reading comprehension but couldn’t figure out why. It turned out to be a spelling issue. Once she knew the rules of spelling the words in front of her came alive and we jumped multiple grade levels worth of comprehension between AAS books 1 and 3.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

LLW,
A similar thing happen with my son too! He told me that reading is easier when he uses spelling.

Hoosier Mom

says:

I’m looking forward to the multi-sensory approach of AAS for my son. He loves to read, but the spelling curriculum we’ve been using is rather dull. It’s reassuring to me that he doesn’t have to be at the same level with reading and spelling.

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