When making homeschooling curriculum choices, spelling might have caused me the most grief. I had so many questions going into the homeschooling convention I attended in April:
- Did we even need to teach spelling or would being a voracious reader cover it?
- If we did teach spelling, did we really need to start it with a 4 1/2 year old or would that somehow taint her love affair with the written word and cause her to be an even more timid writer?
- Finally, was there a good way to teach spelling? There are a dozen or more different choices on the homeschool market… why? How did they differ and which made the most sense?
- Yes, we need to teach spelling. It is a dying art among those using spellcheck as a constant crutch but I personally feel like misspellings make a poor impression on those with whom you are communicating. Spellcheck can only get you so far. There are too many homonyms to trip us up and many people find they can’t even get close enough to the correct spelling for spellcheck to “guess” which word they mean!
- Yes, we need to start with our particular 4 1/2 year old because I recently discovered one of the reasons she is timid about writing is because she isn’t sure how to spell the words she wants to write. If she dictates words to me and then I write them and give them to her to copy for a thank you note, for example, she writes much more willingly. This is just part of her personality. My gut says learning how to spell words will free her to put pen to paper.
The thing that sealed the deal for me, though, was that the spelling program I found helps strengthen reading skills as well and she’s at the perfect spot for that.
- Nearly every program I looked at followed a similar pattern for teaching spelling: A word list each week, with various games and exercises to present the words in different ways over and over again to make them “stick” before the test at the end of the week. Depending on the program, the lists may be more or less logically organized and may or may not even mention a spelling rule or pattern such as “y sometimes says ‘ee’ at the end of a word as in ‘baby’ and ‘shady’ “.
Not one of the programs I looked at felt right to me.
Enter The Logic of English
My friend watched Denise Eide present at the homeschooling convention and talked me into paying her booth a visit. After watching this video, I was sold enough to buy her book, Uncovering the Logic of English for $10 at her booth.
The book was pure gold for me. It was concise and laid out all the phonograms and spelling rules necessary to explain 98% of English words.
As so many things go, once I was in the club and realized she based her methods on the “Orton-Gillingham” research, I found lots and lots of information on it online. The underlying principles have been around for decades in dyslexic teaching circles but typically required extensive teacher training to apply in a classroom. The Logic of English method is only novel in that it channeled the method into a simple, straightforward and easy-to-teach program.
What sold me on this method
I taught Mackenzie to read with “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” and I plan on using the same book with future children. It was a great start and truly easy to use. However it has two major drawbacks:
- It introduces many words as “funny words”. Children are instructed to sound out “his” as “hisssss” and then say it “hiz” and just remember it’s a funny word. This didn’t phase Mackenzie because she’s an intuitive learner. But for a logical/analytical learner who internalizes a rule and has a hard time accepting exceptions, this is a serious stumbling block and causes frustration as they are forced to memorize an increasing number of funny words as they try reading on their own.
- It uses some phonics and empowered Mackenzie to try sounding out ANY word she encountered. However, it leaves a lot of phonics out and I had to discover those holes and teach Mackenzie myself as she progressed.
The Logic of English gives children (and adults) the whole toolbox. Instead of teaching “S says sssss”, it teaches “S says ssss or zzzzzz”. Suddenly, the word “his” is not a funny word you have to memorize! It is a perfectly valid word that follows a predictable pattern.
In addition to 72 phonograms (including “wr” and “kn” and “oi” etc.), it has 30 spelling rules and they are the missing piece of the puzzle.
The first rule that sold me was “C softens to a ssssss before i, e, and y. Otherwise it says “k”‘
The lightbulb went on for me. Mackenzie was continually having to learn how to properly read words like “success” “circus” “circumcision” (her daddy’s a doctor remember?) and so on.
Every. Single. Time she encountered a new word like this, she would try to say the c with its hard sound because that’s how she was taught in Teach your Child to Read. If we were lucky, I would hear her mistake and correct her before she internalized the wrong way of saying the word. After a few corrections, she would catch on fine but I can understand where many analytical thinking kids would continue to struggle because they try to apply the only rule they know: “C says k as in cat”.
I happened to be reading Uncovering the Logic of English when Mackenzie stumbled over one of those words. I simply read her the rule and she said “oh! So the word is… ” and pronounced it correctly. I’ve reminded her of the rule twice in the last month and she has completely stopped struggling with reading those types of words.
Do I believe it will help her when it comes to spelling? Absolutely.
Another aspect that resonated with me is that most people have realized the “whole word” approach to reading is a terrible one, but most people persist in teaching the “whole word” approach to spelling. Basically for reading this means that you teach a child to read “apple” by putting a picture of an apple by the word “apple” and repeating it a lot. Instead of teaching what “a” and “pp” and “le” say, you just teach them to memorize what the word looks like. The problem with this, of course, is that each new word must be learned the same way and by the time they get several grades into reading they cannot memorize at a fast enough pace to maintain fluency.
The same can be said of spelling. If we teach children how to spell one word at a time, they will do fine for a few years but quickly drown in the onslaught of new words they must memorize individually. If we give them tools, they can confidently tackle new words just like they can by sounding them out when they have been taught to read phonetically.
How it Works
Between the phonograms and the spelling rules over the course of 42 lessons, each of which will take two weeks for Mackenzie’s age, children and adults will have a complete toolbox to take on any word. In addition, each lesson includes a spelling list of ~15 words to reinforce the rules and phonograms being taught. Far less time is spent with gimmicks like plugging the words into crossword puzzles or drawing pictures about them. Far more time is spent talking about why they are spelled the way they are and how we can use that to spell related words.
Today we talked about syllables, which will play a major role in applying the spelling rules. I had no clue that humming a word is the best way to count its syllables but Mackenzie is now a pro.
Did YOU know that every syllable needs a vowel when you spell it? Now there’s no more guessing whether “angle” or “apple” or “little” have silent e’s at the end. Ap-pl would break the rule!
Worth the Money?
After reading her book, I knew I wanted to take this approach in teaching spelling to my children, but I was balking at the price tag on the curriculum: close to $200 between the textbook, the $25 consumable workbook, the game book, the flashcards and the game cards. For about two days, I tried to talk myself into coming up with a plan to systematically teach the phonograms and spelling rules and come up with relevant activities and spelling lists on my own. After all, she had given me all the tools in the book “Uncovering the Logic of English”!
But, I ended up springing for the curriculum and I’m glad I did.
Even using her curriculum, I could have cut costs by making my own flashcards and game cards. In fact, I could have even just made up my own games and had my kids record their work on plain paper. Then I would have only been out the price of the $100 textbook. But for me it was worth the extra $100 to have everything ready to go and each additional child will only be $25 when the time comes.
Rather than pay $10-$15 dollars a year per child for a succession of spelling workbooks, this program covers about 2 years but gives all the tools that can then be applied (for free!) in future years to the myriad of word lists available online.
We are only a week into actually using this, so I’m sure I’ll need to update this review down the line with more gushes and gripes. But so far, this is my story and I’m stickin’ to it! :)
If you’re interested, I highly recommend starting by watching this video.