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JTB_5, December 19, 2018 in 4-6 Upper Grammar Forum
Although I teach at a classical school where my own kids are enrolled, I am often helping my own children at home. My fifth grade son has great difficulty spelling. When he works hard to memorize words on a spelling list, he can often remember them for that test, but then he cannot apply those same words on a history assessment or in a writing assignment. Also, words that he has been using for years he will misspell (sometimes multiple times and in different misspelled forms) on writing assignments or assessments.
One of my colleagues still has difficulty spelling, and her son (who graduated a few years ago) always struggled with spelling. Does anyone have any spelling routines or practices that work well for people who have trouble simply remembering how to spell words they've seen many times? Is there any alternative path of learning that I'm missing out on?
Are you familiar with Charlotte Mason's approach to spelling? I think your son's experience--memorizing words for a test but not really being able to use them in other contexts--is a common one.
As with all things Charlotte Mason, it's not a quick fix--but beginning with transcription/copywork in the earliest grades, she teaches children to visualize a word in their minds before they write it--so that they copy word-by-word, not letter-by-letter. Later, about your son's age, the children do dictation (this is actually still a very common practice in European schools). The children look over a paragraph that is going to be dictated to them, and focus on visualizing whole words in their minds, then write it as it is dictated to them. When I do this with my (homeschool) students, I have them compare their own writing to the original passage, to find and correct their own errors.
Over time, this is an effective practice--I know of nothing that works in the short term--but also, in my experience, the kids who are not natural spellers come into their own around age 12/13, and while they may never be great, their spelling becomes more generally correct.
English spelling is incredibly difficult and irregular, and I think it just takes longer for some kids to develop the habit of seeing. My own son was an appalling speller--as a fluent reader who would never stumble over "of," he would still write "uv" (really) at 7 and 8. He followed the path I described--becoming a much better speller at age 13 or so--and as an adult, he's fine.
Thank you very much for these tools! Our school doesn't use Charlotte Mason formally, but I suspect several of our teachers are familiar with and use some of her methods (the lower grammar does copy work, for example), but the dictation method is new to me. I will give it a try over the rest of this year and the summer and see how things progress. I have made it a point to tell my son to try and see the word in his mind and when he reads so that he can remember it when he writes. It is odd to me that he struggles because with pictures he has a great eye for detail and can reproduce what he sees in his drawing really well. I'll update here as we see how things go. Thanks again!
I thought it was funny from sixth grade forward, that on my CAT tests, I would max out in everything but spelling. It remained at a "10th" grade level, even when I graduated. Not until I became an adult who cared to write things in emails and on public forums in my late twenty's did I begin to improve my spelling.
I will say having training in root words, prefixes, suffixes, and spelling rules did matter to me and came back when I wanted to spell better. I began to see the various patterns. For words that didn't fit a pattern I would memorize or think of a memory aid. So for a word like "beautiful" I would say to myself, "BE-E-A-YOU-ti-ful". Or friend - "I" am a friend - to remember "i" is in there. Memorizing all the "kn" words with something like, "The knight knows how to throw a knife." IEW has an auditory program of spelling that puts lists together according to their rules and exceptions. Spelling Power has lists of the 1000 most commonly used words. I read something while we were in CC about some people being natural spellers and some not. And the best thing you could do was to help your student master that 1000 word list.
Having your child copy a short passage every night - 5 minutes - may really help. As you see a work crop up work on that rule or that "sight" word. "Of" is just "of". But, he will more likely improve its usage using it than on a list. The IEW lists are part of remembering the rules governing the list.
I do believe a good portion of spelling success boils down to desire. My son wants to do well, but he hasn't developed the grit to buckle down in crunch time (at least not yet!). We talk about it and work on it continually, though.
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