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Spelling FAQ

Spelling: Phoneme Awareness

Q. I have been told that my boys are weak in phonemic awareness. What is that, and how does The Spalding Method teach it?

A. Phoneme awareness is the understanding that spoken words consist of individual sounds. Weak phonemic awareness is considered the key difficulty for students who have trouble learning to read.

In The Spalding Method, teachers demonstrate that spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds in the following ways:

  • Say, "Listen to the word me. It is made up of two sounds." Hold up two fingers, then sound /m/ /e/ while pointing to each finger. (segmenting).
  • Say the individual sounds in words: /m/e/, then say the word: me (blending).
  • Count the number of sounds in spoken words: me = 2; (counting).
  • Identify beginning or ending sounds that are the same; me/man; tan/ten/tin/ton (matching).
  • Identify rhyming or non-rhyming words pairs: rope, soap, mope (rhyming), home, old (non-rhyming).

For each step the teacher coaches as needed while students perform the task.

Spelling: Phonograms and Handwriting

Q. In what order are phonograms introduced?

A. Phonograms that are formed beginning at two on the clock are always introduced first to establish correct directionality and to practice one feature - forming a circle.

After these are learned, line letters are introduced. The remainder of the phonograms are introduced in the order needed for writing Extended Ayres Words in the spelling/vocabulary notebook (text p. 39).

Q. What do I focus on when listening to students say or write sounds?

A. Listen for accurate and automatic pronunciation of sounds before allowing students to write the phonogram. This helps students blend sounds correctly when reading and spell correctly when writing.

Q. Why are the a and g on the phonogram cards different from the a and g used in writing?

A. Mrs. Spalding wanted children to easily associate the letters they write with the printed words in books. The letters a and g are significantly different. She solved the problem by printing on the phonogram cards the a and g they would see in their reading books. When writing they use the simpler manuscript form of a and g.

Q. How many phonograms should I review each day with a first-grader?

A. At first, provide daily oral and written reviews of all clock and line letter phonograms which have been introduced. Next, divide the 26 alphabet letters into two categories: review daily those that children have difficulty pronouncing in oral phonogram reviews and those they have difficulty spelling in written phonogram reviews. Periodically review the phonograms that students have mastered to develop and maintain them in long-term memory. Once students are familiar with the routine, oral review of twenty or thirty phonograms should be accomplished in five to eight minutes (text p. 39).

Q. Why does the Spalding paper not have a "dotted line" between the solid lines?

A. Spalding paper does not have a dotted line because it is much harder for children who have not yet attained fine motor control to form letters that both touch the base line and touch a midline (text p. 15). They may be able to form quite a nice circle, but it is slightly larger or smaller than the halfway point. They still experience success for a nicely formed letter. Children who have no difficulty with motor control quickly learn to form circles without the line.

Q. When my students pronounce the phonogram wor, should they say the sound w or just the sound er, and how do they underline it during dictation?

A. Students say the blended sound wor because w says its own sound, and it influences the or to say er. When writing a word using this phonogram in the notebook, underline only the or to show that those two letters say one sound er.

Q. When do I reinforce handwriting after the initial introduction?

A. Handwriting instruction is provided with daily written phonogram reviews. Teach students to focus on one handwriting skill at a time during these reviews. For example, when first practicing the clock letters (described on pages 19-21), have students focus on starting at 2 on the clock and placing all letters on the base line. When students are quite good at this, focus on making tall letters twice the size of short letters. In this way, students improve their handwriting before beginning the spelling notebook. For young beginners, provide additional written phonogram reviews to practice handwriting. No separate handwriting lessons are required.

Q. When giving phonogram quizzes, when do you have children write letters across the line, and when do they write them in columns?

A. Each day, after introducing first clock and then line letters, have students write letters across the line to practice writing the letters close to one another but not touching. This prepares them for writing letters within words. After the two-letter phonograms have been introduced, students write all phonograms in columns.

Q. Do you have students practice underlining or numbering phonograms when they are written by themselves, such as on a quiz, or when they are used in words, such as on a spelling test or in sentences they write?

A. Absolutely not. Underlining phonograms helps students think of single letters or letter combinations as representing sounds (not letter names). Phonograms are underlined in only two places: 1) when written within words in the spelling notebook and 2) when practicing the marking system in rule application activities. After having taught students a rule, give them two or three words that illustrate that rule, have them write the spelling word, mark it, and orally or in writing explain how the rule applies to that word. Do not have them rotely recite the applicable rule, but ask them to apply it to the word.

Q. When and with which activities do you grade handwriting?

A. With beginners, check handwriting on the daily written phonogram reviews and on the sentences which you assign to practice spelling words that need vocabulary development. Soon, you may wish to grade handwriting on these sentences or on other assignments, such as a composition, but it should be a separate grade unrelated to the content of the sentence or composition.

Q. Should I be concerned with a third-grader's ability to write correctly? Students are so programmed to write the way they were taught in first grade it is hard to change their habits. Is it all right to just require that their handwriting be legible?

A. Handwriting is an important subskill of reading and writing. It is true that motor habits once formed are difficult to change. However, there is a high correlation between remedial readers and poorly formed handwriting. Require students new to Spalding to focus attention on one subskill at a time. With explicit handwriting instruction and an explanation of its importance in school and adult life, students over time can and do improve their handwriting dramatically. (See answer to question about reinforcing handwriting.)

Spelling: Vocabulary (Dictation)

Q. Why does The Writing Road to Reading say first graders should write an average of 30 Ayres words a week?

A. Writing the most frequently used words teaches students the English spelling rules and language concepts so they can spell, write, and read an infinite number of words. The more words they analyze and read from their spelling/vocabulary notebook, the more familiar they become with language and spelling rules. By teaching first graders an average of thirty words a week, they can quickly begin reading aloud. Maintaining this average enables first graders to read the first 700 words which "are in the spoken vocabulary of most five and six-year-old children" (text p. 42).

Q. How do you get children to improve their accuracy when writing in the notebook?

A. Explain the importance of accuracy in reading an author's words, in mathematics, science, and social studies.

Provide daily handwriting feedback on written phonogram reviews. This daily practice prepares students for writing words in the notebook.

Next, monitor students while they write the words. Point out errors and have students fix them immediately.

Then, have students proofread their work after the day's words are written. Finally, check their notebooks for any remaining errors which students then correct before studying their words. (Place a tiny checkmark next to the words the child needs to fix.) .) (Refer to pp. 7-8 in the Spelling Assessment Manual.)

If students are consistently held accountable for accurate notebooks at the beginning of each year, they develop the habit of being accurate and taking pride in their work.

Q. Why is spelling dictation taking an hour to do thirty words? What can I do about it?

A. Spelling dictation should average about one minute per word. Here are some tips to speed up the dictation process.

  1. Provide daily oral phonogram reviews of difficult phonograms just prior to dictating the words in which they appear. Knowing phonograms automatically helps students say and write words more quickly.
  2. Give sentences only when needed to clarify meaning (text p. 48).
  3. Provide vocabulary development or rule explanations in the integrated spelling and writing lesson rather than during dictation.
  4. Have students progress from saying individual sounds to saying syllables, in multisyllable words. When students learn to hear individual sounds within syllables they no longer need to say multisyllable words by sounds. Only difficult syllables need be said by individual sounds.

Q. What do you analyze on spelling quizzes?

A. After each spelling quiz, check each child's test to determine the type of errors being made.

  • Is the wrong phonogram (for example, ee instead of ea) used? If many children miss a particular phonogram or fail to apply a rule, the teacher must reteach.
  • Are letters missing?

Q. How is a child's spelling progress determined?

A. A child's progress is determined by weekly spelling tests and by accurately using the spelling words in written sentences that demonstrate word meanings. Each month, students are tested on the Morrison-McCall Spelling Scale. During ILA 1, teachers are trained to analyze individual student progress as well as that of the entire class. Page 189-190 in The Writing Road to Reading explains how to use these tests to track student progress and determine how to adjust instruction. (See answer to previous question.)

Q. When a child scores 2.8 on the Morrison-McCall Spelling Scale the first month and a month later scores 2.1, what is happening?

A. Perhaps some sight words were recognized the first month. The child may not be sounding out the phonograms sequentially. Be sure to have daily written phonogram reviews and reread the words for spelling (by sound or syllable). Reinforce the rules as explained above. All these activities provide practice necessary for monthly spelling gains.

Q. Does Spalding teach word families in addition to the Ayres list of high frequency words?

A. No. Mrs. Spalding used high frequency words (the Ayres words) to study the structure of the language because the Ayres list accounts for 85% of the words encountered in daily speaking, writing, and reading. These words are used to teach not only spelling, but also meaning and usage. Children use these words to learn the parts of speech, how to build derived words, and how to write simple, compound, and complex sentences and apply capitalization and punctuation rules. In contrast, words listed in word families often are low frequency and therefore not of immediate use in students' daily reading and writing. To read, write, and spell a year above their grade placement, students need to concentrate on high frequency words. However, students having difficulty remembering a particular phonogram may benefit from two or three similar words, (for example, paw, saw, and law,) to help them remember the sound.

Q. In two-syllable words, if children cannot easily distinguish which syllable is accented, should I just encourage them to use the dictionary for words that apply rule 15 or 29 or is there another teaching strategy?

A. During introduction of these words, clap lightly for the unaccented syllable and more sharply for the accented syllable.

For example, when teaching the word begin (rule page 3), say be gin and clap more sharply for gin. Students recognize that this word fulfills the criteria 1) accent on gin, 2) gin ends in one consonant with one vowel before it, so they should write another n before adding a vowel ending.

When dictating words, such as little (rule 29), students say both t's for spelling (lit tle) so they do not forget to write both. When rereading the Ayres words for reading, they pronounce only the t in the accented syllable ( lit' le ).

Q. Why are baby and other words pronounced with the first (short) sound of i when most people say the second (long) sound of e?

A. The Spalding Method teaches children to analyze the written spelling of words. Spelling has remained relatively constant over the years while pronunciations vary among geographical regions and countries. In the English spelling system y and i are used interchangeably, but y and e are not. For example, in the words gym, rhythm, system, we use y to represent the first sound of i.

When teaching children to spell, pronouncing the word ba by (short i), helps them to write y, not e. Note that the accent is on the first syllable. When reading the word for speaking, you have a choice: have children pronounce the word as spoken in your region or maintain the original pronunciation which is consistent with the spelling. Children have no problem with the difference. They understand that pronouncing words two ways helps them spell and read.

Q. My students know the phonograms, and they are reading quite well, so why do they continue to misspell words when they write?

A. Spelling is more difficult than reading because students must hear the spoken word, break the word into sounds or syllables, then write the phonograms/syllables which represent the speech sounds. They must determine whether there are alternative spellings for a particular speech sound and whether a rule governs which phonogram to write.

Spelling requires higher-level thinking and two types of practice. First students read the Ayres words daily for spelling and reading. When students read for spelling, they say individual sounds in one-syllable words and syllables in multisyllable words. This process trains students to think sequentially for spelling and writing. Students also need the opportunity to "work with the difficult words" after the dictation lesson is over. Have students write sentences using those words and explain how English rules determine the spellings. Given practice reading Ayres words for spelling and using these words in original sentences, students will soon be writing the words correctly as well as reading fluently.

Q. Why do you use the Ayres word list for reading vocabulary? Isn't it a spelling list?

A. The Ayres list is the foundation for vocabulary instruction. Children learn the meanings of high-frequency words as well as word parts (text p. 156). As students "work with" the Ayres words, they learn spelling, meaning, and how to use these words in oral and written sentences. The Ayres words account for 85% of all words used in speaking, writing, and reading. Students who can fluently read and understand the meaning and usage of these high frequency words can comprehend science and social studies material with ease.

Q. Why does Mrs. Spalding mark the word carry with a 1 above the a?

A. Numbers and underlines are visual signals that connect speech sounds with their printed symbols. In the word car ry, we expect the two letters a and r to say ar as in the word car. Mrs. Spalding writes a 1 above the a to help students remember that there are three separate sounds, c a r, in this syllable.

Spelling: Rules and Concepts

Q. On the Morrison-McCall Spelling Scale pretest, my third-grade students began missing many words at Section P. How do I ensure that they learn the rules which were introduced prior to that section?

A. Dictate rule pages 1 and 7 of the spelling notebook before beginning Section P. When you come to the first word that requires use of a rule taught on one of the other rule pages, dictate that rule page. Provide meaningful application activities using words from that rule page. Follow that procedure until all rule pages have been entered. Teach the other rules as they occur in the Ayres words. Spalding Word Builder Cards also are helpful.

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