Thursday, March 2, 2017

Should I Do All Seven Levels of All About Spelling?

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Sometimes people do three or four levels of All About Spelling and then wonder if they should complete the program or move on to something more independent for their children. I always like to say--if it's "not broke, don't fix it!" But sometimes there’s only so much of mom to go around and parents wonder if it will be time well spent. We decided to do all seven levels, which takes students up to high school level spelling (the last level includes 9th-12th grade level words). So I can say without reservation, it was definitely worthwhile for us! 

So, how can you decide what you should do?

First, consider your children’s abilities. Do they tend to pick up spelling concepts easily? If so, they might be fine moving to something that’s more independent. On the other hand, if their current successes are due to being directly taught (All About Spelling is working), or if they tend to need lots of review and a mastery-based program in order to succeed, then continuing on is a good idea. 

Second, consider your goals and your children’s interests. Are they enjoying the program? Do you find that learning the rules behind why we spell words they way we do is helping them to be successful? If so, these can be good reasons to continue rather than try an independent program. I loved several aspects about the upper levels:
  • Everything starts to come together in level 5. Students learn the rest of the phonograms and can start spelling longer and harder words. The upper levels helped me address many more spelling mistakes.
  • There is more focus on word analysis. In the lower levels, students are told which spelling method to use, but in the upper levels, they learn how to decide this for themselves so that they can learn how to study any word actively. (My kids used to want to skimp on the word analysis, but this is some of the most important work in the program—this is where kids’ really learn to appropriate the concepts for themselves. If you have a student who isn’t actively applying what they know, work more on word analysis skills.) 
  • There are a number of helpful rules in the upper levels (one rule in level 6 helped me overcome one of my spelling bugaboos). Students also learn how morphology (or word parts) can help them spell tricky parts of words. A word like local where the A is muffled is easy to spell if you know the word locality, because you can clearly hear the short A sound.  Many “shun” endings (-tion, -sion, -cian) become clearer to students when they understand how morphology can help.
  • We loved learning Greek and Latin roots in level 7 and how that knowledge impacts spelling. 
  • I was able to get “double duty” out of Levels 6 and 7 by teaching a lot of vocabulary at the same time that we did spelling. 
  • The seventh level includes creative writing prompts—my daughter had a lot of fun with those!
Older students can sometimes move on from the tiles and do all of their practice in writing. Or, it might be time to consider the Letter Tiles App if they still benefit from the hands-on practice and demonstrations but feel they've outgrown the physical tiles. 

I also found I could tweak my approach in the older years and do one or two independent days each week. I taught them one-on-one Monday-Wednesday, or sometimes Thursday if needed. At the end of Wednesday's lesson, I gave them the words for the Writing Station activity, and had them do that for Thursday's work. On Friday, they used a page or two from the All About Homophones book. 

Finally, think through your priorities and time needs. Where do your children need the most help? If your child has never struggled with spelling or seems to learn words without any practice, an independent program is worth considering. In our case, I knew that my children really needed that support in spelling and to continue working on automaticity in writing through spelling practice and the dictation exercises. People use spelling and writing skills on a daily basis, so they are critical skill areas like reading and math. 

However, my time already felt pressed on all sides with students who also needed ongoing support in reading and math, vision therapy for one, and a husband who is disabled. So, sometimes I had to get creative in making everything work! 

For example: one year for science I used an audio-book for my 7th grader (so he could read along or just listen if the volume was too much), and I let my fifth grader basically “unschool” for science. She helped pick the books, and I told her to work on science for 30 minutes each day. She could: read, copy a diagram into her science notebook, do an experiment, go in the back yard to do nature studies, or draw or write about science in her notebook. We do a one-on-one time daily, so I was able to check in on her progress and hear about what she was up to. I was a bit nervous about this "hands-off" approach at first, but ironically it turned out to be a great year. A budding little scientist emerged who took part in science fairs for the next 6 years!

Some families find that they can restructure priorities in other ways. Maybe Dad can take over a subject such as science experiments, reading history, checking math, or another subject that can lighten the load. Other families use audio- or video-based materials for history, or choose to outsource a class.  If spelling needs to be a priority in your family, think outside the box about how you might restructure your time to meet this need.

I’m glad we worked through all seven levels. All About Spelling has given my kids a great foundation for life-long spelling. When my kids went to college and needed to take essay tests, they were really glad for the years we spent working on spelling and writing! What has worked for your family?

All About Spelling

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