Spelling Trouble

Spelling TroubleThere comes a time when you just have to face facts. What you’re doing just isn’t working, and it’s time to move on. For two of my children, spelling is getting the best of them. I think we need a new game plan.

We’ve tried various lists. We’ve tried games. We’ve tried many methods of learning spelling words. All to no avail. My two youngest children are still struggling with their weekly lists. (sigh)

I’ve come to that point in time when I need to ask myself a question. (One which goes against my innermost person, who loves tests.) What is more important? I could force my children to continue testing each week, growing more discouraged with every exam. Or, I could remove the exams and focus on exposure. 

Perhaps if we removed the stress of tests and instead spent more time naturally introducing new vocabulary we would make better progress. So, we’ll read more and vary our reading to include increasingly challenging words. We might also focus on writing, as I’ve noticed they give greater attention to their spelling when they understand the words have purpose. 

Does this mean we will abandon our lists altogether? Not likely. We will still review our spelling words, encouraging our children to develop new vocabulary. However, for these two, we’re going to remove exams for the time being.  

The voice in my head wants to tell me I am failing my children by not continually quizzing them on these arbitrary words. But, wisdom is telling me differently. My children will learn these words. At the right time, and when they are ready. 

🔔Time to Chime In: At what age did your children begin formal lessons in spelling, and was testing a problem for them? 

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21 thoughts on “Spelling Trouble

  1. During the elementary years my son was in school and memorized for the test easily, but struggled with phonetics, so never retained them. He had a very innate ability to gauge when a word was misspelled even if he didn’t know the correction. This lead to his not wanting to write as he’s a perfectionist. After fixing the lack of phonetic awareness, I concentrated on reading and exposure rather than going back to lists for him to memorize for testing. After 3 years we are buckling down on writing and will see how this worked. I also have him doing an online vocabulary builder, Membeam, which he writes new words on note cards to reference for recall later in the program. I think you are wise to move on from testing and try an immersion method. Your children are blessed at your insights and willingness to change!

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  2. I have had extensive experience with teaching spelling. My oldest was the main subject but also as a youth, I had to find a way to not only spell but know the definition. There is no single correct method of teaching spelling. Some children are oratory learners – my oldest while others are visual learner – my youngest.

    There is one condition I have noticed in which I believe is hereditary and this is spelling with boys. My brother is a poor speller as is my son. In fact, I can track back further to see that males on my side have had difficulty with spelling. To lend more credence, I know of another family with a similar issue. At least one of their sons cannot spell. Others have indicated similar problems. This spelling issue appears to be a hereditary issue. One solution I have found or should I say my significant other is an oratory spelling practice where there is a list of words and my oldest had to spell each word correctly. If he missed one word we went back to the beginning. He could verbally spell the words to us.

    We began spelling from the earliest age. It is never too early to teach spelling. My youngest has always been an excellent speller and actually assisted his brother. As for testing, we didn’t test specifically but did spelling daily. There was no end game and was solely dependent upon each child.

    The key is identifying what type of learner your children are and educating through that method. I have found that reading a lot does not necessarily translate to excellent spelling. My sons are perfect examples. The oldest loves to read but can’t spell while the youngest hates to read and can spell.

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  3. Their time, their way, their experience. I couldn’t agree more. I have a friend and her daughter loves her lists and workbook pages etc…and mine is like a butterfly. Picking up bits here and there. Both are equally valid learning styles and are getting them where they want to go. Love fluid homeschool/Unschooling ❤️

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  4. We dropped spelling from our curriculum a couple of years ago. I found these weekly lists and quizzes to be of little value in our family. The ago old method of copywork and dictation has done wonders for my crew’s grasp and retention of language arts. I do understand the frustration of trying to find the best method of education for each child.

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  5. We started spelling in first grade with the simple words they read. I continue with these pre made lists until third grade. In third grade (because that is the recommended grade to start the program) we start sequential spelling. We really like it because it uses the basic words they’ve learned from the beginning to spell big words. As an example: in>install>installing>installment there are 25 words a day, each building on the prior days list. You can test if you want, or not. They offer five tests a year. You give the words test style every day, but they spell them back to you while they write. You say the correct spelling immediately to reinforce or teach the correct way. I was shocked at how well my children do with this meathod. I used to really struggle with spelling, but they don’t.
    Good luck finding a method that works. You’re a great mom and educator for seeing the problem and trying new things to fix the problem early. God bless!

    Liked by 2 people

    • A lot of my children’s lists tend to follow a sequential spelling method, especially when dealing with Latin and Greek roots (which I think highly beneficial).

      However, my two youngest seem to have no patience for the sitting and studying of lists. Their minds wander. I have even asked them to spell aloud or write them several times to assist with focus, but to no avail. When writing or reading, the spelling takes on greater importance and focus because they see them in use. Reading over lists of unconnected words bores them. Thus, we shall try something else for a brief time. Come high school, I am sure they will be ready to learn those all important root words.

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  6. When my daughter, who is a phonetic speller, was in first grade in public school, she often burst into tears at home over her long spelling lists. I talked to her teacher, who was very sympathetic and told me to let my daughter choose up to four words each week from the list. This took the pressure off and worked beautifully. To this day, my daughter still has the tendency to spell phonetically, but she loves English and is in college planning to become an English major. She uses spell corrector and has become a stronger speller through her love for literature.

    When I started homeschooling my six-year old son, I did not give him spelling tests as I took an unschooling approach, but we did read together every day and when he could read, I would listen to him read out loud which I think is a great skill for young children to acquire. I noticed that he was/is a strong natural speller so for him, seeing many basic words repeated in his reading was enough. He didn’t have any formal spelling tests until he was in the “fifth-grade” when I enrolled him in an online class that combined English, science and history. That teacher took the same approach as my daughter’s first-grade teacher. She told parents to modify their child’s spelling list according to their child. I let my son choose his words from the weekly list and he was tested only on those words. He only took spelling tests in fifth and sixth grades while he had this online teacher. Now he’s in seventh grade and I teach him English. We focus on vocabulary from the stories we read, and sometimes I openly quiz him (no writing), but that is all we do.

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      • This whole conversation has reminded me of the four years we lived in Canada. My kids had to learn to spell certain words the British-English way, such as adding a ‘u’ to neighbor and favorite and changing check to cheque and switching the ending of words such as theater to theatre. They would forget sometimes and spell the American-English way and then their teachers would call them on it! To this day we find ourselves spelling certain words the Canadian way out of habit. 🙂

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  7. Spelling. My two children were very different with spelling. My son who went to private school through middle school, is incredibly verbal and auditory. He would always miss a word or two on a spelling test, despite the endless sentences, and practice drills, but then went on to win spelling bee championships throughout our district. It amazed me because his written papers always include at least one misspelling, if not more. He’s in college now, but I still get the occasional cringe when I look at his FB posts. I have read that writing (a paper) and spelling use opposite sides of the brain so for some kids integrating these two sides of the brain is where the focus needs to be.

    My daughter, who started in private school with the weekly spelling test, (and the sentences and drills) is visual. When I started homeschooling her in fourth grade, I purchased a curriculum, but sold it after 3 months. It was incredibly time consuming. When I made that decision, I evaluated what the goal was for spelling. I realized it wasn’t to be able to spell a word in isolation on a test, or even in a spelling bee, but to be able to consistently write, a letter, an essay, a thank you note, an email, whatever, and be able to spell correctly. We started using dictation (a la Charlotte Mason), and did that for a while, and then I let that go in seventh grade, because by that point it was unnecessary, and she just continued with daily copywork.

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  8. I wish I had a solution to offer, but I haven’t found one myself. I just hope that they’ll eventually get better at it, and they have improved somewhat. My husband still isn’t a great speller, and he’s a smart guy. Sometimes they’re just not good spellers. But I’m confident they’ll improve. And if it’s a problem when they’re adults, well, I never thought I’d say thank goodness for spell check, but….

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  9. Although my sons are both adults now, we homeschooled for ten years. Reading your blog brought back so many memories! Trust me when I say..find what works best for each child and just go with it. I seemed to be concerned about how well I was “teaching” the boys, and being a certified teacher had me applying more pressure to myself than necessary. You are doing great. I just know it!

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  10. If it helps to know, I struggled to learn spelling through lists and tests too. Most of my spelling came from writing and reading and even then mostly the reading. My two sons are starting to show the same tendencies and learning needs. Don’t give up and if it would encourage your two that are struggling, let them know they’re not alone and that it will get easier over time. 🙂

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