Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sequential Spelling for the Home School

Sequential Spelling for the Home School

Sequential Spelling for
the Home School

Sequential Spelling is a uniquely constructed spelling system with the following key features in its methodology:

- Words are taught in relationship to one another, both horizontally and vertically
- Children can figure out the rules for themselves from their relationships and commonalities, but spelling rules are not taught
- Students begin by "testing" themselves by trying to write words correctly before they study them
- Words for each grade level are selected for common elements rather than grade level appropriateness

Some of these features might sound strange to you, and rightly so. Let's take these features one by one. Word relationships is not a new idea on which to construct a spelling program, but Sequential Spelling's implementation is unique in working with words both horizontally and vertically. What that means is that lessons build from common elements in two directions. For example, the first common element in level 1 is "in." Three different beginnings are connected to in to create "pin, sin," and "spin." That is the vertical development. Horizontal development combines with vertical development on the second day. The list for day 2 begins with the word "I" then expands yesterday's list to "pins, sins, spins" for horizontal development. In addition, "kin, skin, win," and "twin" add vertical development. Horizontal development continues through words such as "pinned, pinning, skins," and "skinned." Although the first lesson is short, by the ninth day, there are 25 words per day.

Although these words are related by phonograms or common elements (e.g., doubling the ending consonant and adding "ed"), it is left for the student to make his or her own connections and formulate rules inductively if they so choose. (That makes this program a good choice for children who hate learning rules, but a poor choice for those who want explanations for why things work they way they do.) Of course, there is nothing to prevent the parent/teacher from presenting rules anyway if it seems appropriate.

Students begin by "testing" themselves, but this is not a pretest as in some other spelling programs. This is the actual instruction. The parent/teacher says a word, says it in a sentence, then repeats the word. Children are to try to write the word the best they can. Even if they only know a few letters that might be in the word, they write those down. After they've taken their best guess, the teacher writes the word. The author suggests using colored felt pens on a whiteboard. Use one color for the basic sound such as "in." Use another color for the beginning letter/s such as "p" or "sp."

Before going on to the next word, children erase and correct their word as needed. The idea is that they process their mistakes and the necessary correction. They think about the construction of words in a way that is missing in most other spelling programs. This will be helpful for some children and frustrating for others.

As they continue to build horizontally and vertically, children are quickly spelling words that would be considered well beyond their grade level. For example, by the fifth day, they are spelling "beginning." The last lesson of level 1 has no "easy" words; among the 15 words are "spying, multiplying, dissatisfying, falsifying, denying, lullabies, couldn't, wouldn't" and "schools." (Try that list with most fifth graders!)

The program is quite comprehensive. It includes spelling "demons," homophones (e.g., "air, heir"), homographs (e.g., "bat"), heteronyms (e.g., "lead"), prefixes/roots/suffixes (e.g., psy, hypo, graphic), and what the author calls "advanced patter" words such as "techniques, chauvinism," and "hors d'oeuvres." (As I typed this I realized I have yet to master the spelling of that last one!)

Sequential Spelling for the Home School has seven levels that are supposed to correspond to grades 2 through 8, although it can easily be used by older students. The program does increase in difficulty from level to level, so it makes sense to start students of any age at level 1, then work through the levels at whatever speed suits them. Personally, I would wait until students are about third or fourth grade then begin them at level 1. I would also use this program with high school students (and even adults) who have never learned to spell well. The publisher has a free placement test on their website that will help you determine the best starting point:

The program is taught from the course book. You can buy individual books for each level or one large three-ring binder with all seven levels. Students can write their words in the Student Response Book or in their own notebooks. The Student Response Book has three columns per page, but they are numbered such that children are never writing their lists on the same page two days in a row—this prevents comparison or copying of word elements from the previous day. Thus, the first day's list is on page 3, the second day's list on page 5, the third day's list on page 7. The same book is used for all levels of the program. You can come up with your own system for doing this in a spiral notebook or with loose binder paper, but you DO want to keep all these pages together for comparison later on. One Student Response Book comes with the binder, but they are available separately for extra students. This is the only consumable element to the program.

I suspect that Sequential Spelling will work best for Wiggly Willys and Sociable Sues who are not detail or rule-oriented. The author breezily dismisses concerns about questions students might have about things like "s" sounding like "z" at the end of "pins." This sort of thing matters to some students, especially Perfect Paulas, and not at all to others.

While Sequential Spelling does need to be presented by the parent/teacher, it does not require preparation time. If you follow my suggestion and wait till at least third or fourth grade, I doubt lessons will take more than 15 to 20 minutes a day.

Wave 3 Learning publishes a number of additional items that use the same methodology. However, Sequential Spelling is the easiest to use and most practical for homeschoolers. The Patterns of English Spelling [$159.95] is ten "volumes" or sections packaged within two binders. Think of this as a teacher's handbook for spelling. It has all sorts of cross-referencing and tools for selecting word groups, identifying difficulty levels, and finding related word patterns within the ten volumes. Sequential Spelling includes cross references to Patterns in case parents/teachers want to locate additional words or words related to those they are teaching. However, Patterns is not an essential companion to Sequential Spelling. On the other hand, a confident teacher could work solely from Patterns, selectively working through the various lists while using the same techniques used in Sequential Spelling. The simple teaching methodology is explained in both books.

Yet another option designed for older teens and adults is titled If it is to be, it is up to me to do it. It seems about equivalent to lower levels of Sequential Spelling, but it has only 21 words per day. It features sample sentences for about a third of the words, something lacking in most lessons and levels of Sequential Spelling. However, coming up with sentences should be easy enough for most parents that this should not be a significant feature.

[After I posted this review, one mom wrote: "I wondered if you might consider a little 'tweaking' of your review of Sequential Spelling. I don't think moms of children doing well in spelling will like this program. However, I have a 13 year old who can't spell easy words and is frustrated by traditional spelling programs. This series is a breath of fresh air for us, because she finds it easy and yet not childish. It teaches her how words are supposed to look, something that does not come naturally to her."

Also, Chrystal Smith wrote: "There was a comment at the end of the review that children who are natural spellers won't like this program. True, to a point. I almost threw this out the window until I read through this link for suggestions: We ended up saving a ton of money for my gifted son by getting the ADULT version of SS. It's a
condensed, tougher version of the original. The reason it's for adults is that the words build more quickly, and in some cases, build into words that children don't use at all. Some are words that would build their vocabulary (like extortion), but some are words that a child doesn't need to know (like whore). If you don't mind skipping the adult words that would be offensive to a young child, this is an excellent way to teach gifted children in the style of SS."]

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