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Spelling You See - a review

Spelling You See Review
Several years ago, I went through a sort of spelling depression. My sons were beginning to turn in essays and reports and their spelling didn't appear to have improved much since 3rd grade. They were in middle school. It wasn't pretty. As homeschool moms are wont to do, part of my identity was wrapped up in their performance. And they weren't performing well.

But I came to learn that only about a third of the population are actually visual learners, meaning that they naturally pick up on the correct way to spell things from reading correctly spelled words. My husband and I were apparently both visual learners because the idea of not spelling well never occurred to us. Our sons, apparently were NOT visual learners and they required some more intense practice with a formal program.

My younger daughters have benefited from the mistakes I made with their brothers. I carefully researched spelling and found that the standard copywork/dictation method which is recommended in classical methods as well as Charlotte Mason methods, can help students learn spelling, penmanship, and grammar all at the same time. Spelling You See is the first spelling program I've seen that so fully implemented the dictation method. Spelling You See was created by Demme Learning, the same company who brought you Math-U-See.

I tried Americana, level D, with my 8 year old and American Spirit, level E, with my 10 year old. There are several different levels, and Spelling You See has placement guidelines to help you determine which level will best suit your child.
Spelling You See Review
According to Demme Learning, all students must move sequentially through 5 developmental stages of learning to spell:

Students develop the concepts of print, such as words being read from left to right. They also go through the motion of pretend writing and then eventually learn to write actual letters.

Students begin to distinguish the individual sounds that make up spoken words. This is the stage where students begin to spell words the way they sound. This stage ends when "they have learned the basic rules of phonics and can actively apply them to both reading and spelling."

Skill Development
In this critical learning stage, students learn to apply the phonics rules to their spelling. According to the publisher, this stage occurs around the end of 1st grade and can last through the 5th grade. This mastery stage requires much repetition.

Word Extension
Students work through complicated changes to words, such as adding suffixes or combining words into new words.

Derivational Constancy
is fun to say. This final stage studies word origin and derivatives. Mature spellers recognize how patterns and meanings are related. This stage occurs around seventh grade.

Spelling You See Review
Now, I do like this program and I am seeing results, but I want to clarify that I disagree with the above philosophy on a few points. The 2nd stage, Phonetic, says that "Instructors welcome [phonetic spelling] as an indication that the student is beginning to understand sound-to-letter correspondence." If a student actually is a visual learner, they "see" the words they misspell and take mental snapshots of such spellings. Charlotte Mason encourages copywork and dictation, side-by-side with a teacher ready to quickly interrupt a student forming a letter or misspelling a word to prevent those mental snapshots from taking root it in the visual brain. Phonetic misspellings are understandable as a milestone of pairing sounds and letters, but hardly encouraged as a method.

The 3rd stage, Skill Development assumes they have learned basic rules of phonics by 1st grade. There are a LOT of phonics rules! The book insists that the basic rules be learned by 1st grade and then de-emphasized thereafter to keep from confusing students. I much prefer focusing on reading well and learning to love reading before 1st grade. I don't see benefit to starting spelling lessons before that time. I have found my students to be very capable of learning phonics rules and accepting the irregular spellings along the way. I think 1st through 3rd grade is a prime age to do this. I also think it is entirely possible to learn word roots along this same time, helping to explain where our irregular spellings came from (silly french.)

Spelling You See Review
All of that said, I still love the program, I just don't know that their philosophy behind it is actually related to why it works.

And here is how it works:

Students spend an entire week on the same portion of reading and writing. They read a non-fiction  story about American history and culture, they identify vowel and consonant "chunking", they use the same passage for timed copywork during the first 3 days of the week, and they use the same passage for timed dictation for the last 2 days of the week.

Chunking is the process of finding letter patterns (vowels or consonants) in the paragraph.  Students use different colors for different kinds of chunkings. We began with chunking basic vowel teams and then consonant teams. On week 5, we began chunking both vowels and consonants (using the different colors) within the same passage.

Does it work?
I don't know.

There are no spelling tests with this method, but my daughters are both spelling very well during their dictation sessions. The real test is how well their spelling carries over into other subjects. I don't really have them writing enough to give a fair comparison. I don't know that I see any grand improvements in spelling, but the publisher says that I probably won't until we've been doing it for a while, and we've only been using it a couple months.

According to the publisher, this method helps a student "develop a visual memory, as the brain is focusing on the way the words actually look in print". They also say that it "takes a long time for spelling to become implanted and automatic." While I really do LOVE this program, I just don't know that my auditory learner is going to glean the same spelling benefits that a more visual learner would. I am not an expert, but I do know that this philosophy contradicts some of the experts that I have read. That said, I think it would be rather easy to incorporate some more formal phonics rules into our discussions as we work through our copywork together.

I realize I've spoken somewhat critically of the philosophy behind the program, but it is one of our favorite subjects of the day. I wanted to be vocal about the visual learning aspect in case someone reads this through and has a student that doesn't respond the same way described in the book. After all of the researching I've done with spelling, what I've come to firmly believe is this: consistency is what teaches spelling. Consistently every day doing it and studying it. 10 minutes a day is plenty to build a good foundation. I know that there are plenty of homeschool mamas out their nodding their heads when I say that it is an easy subject to forget each day. Don't. Don't forget it. That's the best spelling advice I can give, and Spelling You See makes it very easy to remember.

Each day's lessons take roughly 15 minutes to complete. My daughters enjoy it. I enjoy sitting next to them. I get to see their eyebrows twist up and their tongues stick out as they focus really hard on getting the words just right. I have never told them that I was timing them. I did tell them to stop after 10 minutes (usually) but I didn't want to make them feel rushed with the idea of being timed. They didn't get very far in the first few days, but they quickly improved and were able to finish most of their passages on a regular basis.

Spelling You See comes with an Instructor’s Handbook for $14 and a Student workbook for $30. The Instructor's Handbook includes the philosophy behind the program, details on how to work through each week's lessons, descriptions of the various chunking, passages for dictation so that you can read beside your child without them seeing the work to copy, and a color-coded answer key which makes it very easy to grade.

For more reviews and descriptions of other levels, be sure to check out other reviews from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine's Review Crew, using the link below. They are awesome bunch of gals.

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