Review: Spelling Scholar, by Kiki Lynn

 

I was recently given the privilege of trying out and reviewing Spelling Scholar. Spelling Scholar is a word study based program. That was probably my favorite part of this program. Word study means that my child was not simply memorizing random lists of words, but actually understanding how words are built through the study of families of similar words. This method helps to solidify phonics skills while building spelling ability.

 

I found this program to be quite thorough including worksheets, games, lists for additional resources, as well as detailed teacher guides.

The things I liked the most about this program were:

  • Word sorts: This allowed me to have my child attempt to group the families of words together on her own. I found this a great way to analyze if she truly understood the concepts and was able to apply them on her own.
  • Personal words: This area allowed me to specify specific words that my particular child had problems with and include them in her learning.
  • Document format: Both the student pages and tests are available in pdf and word formats allowing me to modify them if needed.
  • “Launch Pad” section of the teacher’s page: This section is a wonderful resource which includes games and websites that I can use to reinforce the concepts taught in the lesson.
  • Staff: The staff was incredibly helpful in making sure I placed my child in the appropriate level as well as being readily available to answer any questions I had.
  • Dictionary skills: I loved that this program had the addition of dictionary skills as well as word etymology.

I did have a little difficulty deciding on placement for my daughter, but I blame that primarily on the fact that she was already fairly far into another phonics/word study based program when we began using Spelling Scholar. As I mentioned above, the staff was very helpful in walking me through this process and provided suggestions as to how to still implement the program while possibly even using multiple levels at once.

I also found that for me this program was a bit overwhelming. However, my threshold for information overload is really quite low, so this was likely just a personal issue for me, but I do think it is important to note that there is significant setup and planning involved. If you are one that prefers a more “open and go” approach, this program is probably not for you.

Overall, I found this to be an incredibly thorough program that (most importantly) works. I was very surprised at the amount of information presented to not only the student, but the teacher as well. I think the word study format is a wonderful approach that creates a strong foundation built upon phonics principles. I would encourage anyone considering this approach to give Spelling Scholar a try.

Kiki Lynn is a homeschooling mother raising four children in eastern Iowa. Her homeschool journey began four years ago when her oldest child with anxiety, ADD, and likely Aspergers didn’t fit the mold at the local public school. She has since fallen in love with the tremendous benefits of having her children home with her each day and looks forward to being an integral part of their growth and learning. “Crunchy” and more introverted than she ever realized, Kiki Lynn enjoys dance, gymnastics (as a coach), and crafting.

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Learning Disabilities and All About Spelling

by Siena

Our eldest son went to public school for kindergarten. I wanted to homeschool him, but my husband is a public school teacher and wanted him to go to school. So off he went, away from our happy nest and into the world. Despite my misgivings, I was sure he would do well. He soared in math class and made friends easily. But reading fluency remained elusive. Christmas came and went and he still had not mastered his letter sounds. We buckled down at home. We drilled phonemes and forced him to try to read. And still he stumbled.

By the end of the year, my husband agreed to let N come home for the next year. I had been eagerly perusing catalogs and fell in love with the pictures on the shiny Sonlight brochures. The idyllic pictures of moms reading to well-dressed and well-behaved youngsters looked so inviting! (In retrospect, I should have thought a little longer and harder about using a teacher-intensive curriculum my first year. Especially with five kids ages seven and younger – including a newborn who was delivered via c-section the first week of school! But I digress.) I ordered the curriculum and just about wet my britches with excitement on Box Day.

N enjoyed the science, math and history portions of the day. And I’m sure he absorbed some of the literature that I faithfully read aloud that year (at least what he could hear over the constant bickering and questioning – seriously, do other folks’ kids ask fifteen questions per page?) But reading remained a mystery. I read and researched and tried a couple different programs. The Sonlight “whole language” approach clearly did not work for him. Teach Your Child to Read in 100 EZ Lessons made us both want to cry. We made it through the book, but he still struggled.  He did weird things, like substituting synonyms (“rock” for “stone,” etc) and could not seem to blend sounds. CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words were easy, but blends (pl, br, fl, st, etc) baffled him. Articles and small pronouns (a, the, we, etc) were frequently missed as well. I tried using manipulatives, games, computer programs and tutors, and he still struggled. A family member who is a teacher did a screening test with him and said he didn’t have any learning issues. She recommended trying harder. So we redoubled our efforts and scheduled reading lessons twice a day. N was miserable.

The next year continued the same way. By that point, we’d abandoned Sonlight in favor of KONOS unit studies, which we could pursue together with all the kids. They really enjoyed KONOS, but N still couldn’t read. S, his younger sister, picked up reading easily. The contrast between my two students caused me to fret about N even more. I convinced my husband to allow N to be tested for dyslexia (my husband is not a fan of labels). We went to our local Scottish Rite facility’s learning resource center. I cannot say enough good things about them. They tested N (and later, A) for FREE. Yeah, like, no dinero at all. They were kind and professional, and N even enjoyed it. The testing lasted one day, and we came back a few weeks later for a meeting about the results.

Tests showed that N had a very high IQ, but he also had severe dyslexia and dysgraphia. I almost cried with relief. It felt weird to be relieved at hearing that your child has a severe learning disability, but I felt like at least we had something to work with now. For almost three years we’d been beating our heads against the wall and making absolutely no progress. Now, I felt, we could take the new information and run with it.

We initially tried Scottish Rite’s Dyslexia Training Program, a DVD based program that mirrors the highly successful “Rite Flight” that is done at the facility. N hated it. Cried whenever I got it out and was just miserable. We had been able to borrow the curriculum from the local Masonic Temple, so we decided to return it and try something different.

We bit the bullet and shelled out the money for Barton Reading and Spelling. It’s pricey, but it’s pretty much the gold standard for Orton-Gillingham type language programs. N did well with it. I had S do it as well, hoping it would sharpen her spelling. Seeing the two work, N’s dyslexia became even more glaringly apparent to me. Tasks like dividing a CVC word into separate phonemes or playing a rhyming game were a cakewalk for S and a frustration for N. It was clear that something just didn’t click the same way in his head. One day I took N to the park alone for his “parent date.” I told him that I was really proud of his diligence and I knew that he was developing skills and perseverance that would help him in the future. I reminded him that he was highly intelligent, and that his brain was just wired a little differently. And, on the fly, I told him that reading was kind of like storming a castle. Most of the time, the troops can just ride over the drawbridge and raise the door. But sometimes the troops have to flank the castle and engage in sneakier maneuvers, employing siege towers and sappers. But they can still succeed. Kind of a lame metaphor, but it really helped him. Even now, five years later, he still refers to it.

Barton was great, but kind of pricey. At $250-$300 per module (plus the cost of additional readers), it was a little steep for us. A friend mentioned All About Spelling, another O-G program. It was more reasonably priced and looked like it would be more fun. I ordered the first two levels and started it with both N and S.

Level 1 is mostly just teaching the various phonemes and drilling them with flashcards. Simple dictation is introduced, as well as compound words and syllable types. We flew through Level 1 with both kids. N felt especially proud of his speed in completing Level 1. The three levels of Barton he had completed gave him a very solid foundation.

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(Our whiteboard with AAS tiles.  Yes, that is the Holy Family up there.  I have six kids, I need all the help I can get.)

Once you hit Level 2, the lessons follow a predictable format. You have a small review section at the beginning (usually dividing a word into syllables and labeling the syllable types, while reviewing any pertinent rules). Then you do some new teaching. This may be a new rule, a new phoneme or a new syllable type. Words are spelled using small multi-colored tiles. Magnets can be purchased for these tiles (we just bought them directly from AAS) to facilitate using the tiles on a magnetic white board. The student then reads the word, divides it and labels it. After several words are spelled, and you feel the child has mastered the concept, you break out the flashcards. Ten new words are generally added to the flashcard deck each lesson, and you are encouraged to review past words often. (I made some board games to use with them.) After flashcards are done, dictation begins. First words are dictated, then phrases, then sentences. You are encouraged to go as slow as necessary and not move on to the next lesson until a concept is fully mastered.

Early in our AAS journey, we would divide a lesson up into several days. We’d do the review, new teaching and flashcards the first day. Then review the flashcards and do word/phrase dictation the next day. The third day I would make up some sentences using the flashcard words and have the student read them to me. Then we’d finish the lesson with dictation of full sentences. (I always grade dictation immediately and have them write any missed words three times each at the bottom of the page.) S is now in public school, and N is in junior high, so we sprint through lessons. Usually we complete one each day.

N and S have both demonstrated improved spelling and reading fluency after using All About Spelling. They find the lessons engaging and painless. We also use the new All About Reading program, which I will write about at a later date.

Teaching kids with learning challenges is hard. But having a good diagnosis and plan makes a huge difference. I encourage any Mom or Dad with a struggling child to get them tested. Do not ignore your gut instinct! I wish now that I’d pushed to have N tested sooner. I wish I’d advocated more aggressively for him in the public school and I wish I’d ignored the people who kept telling me it was poor work ethic instead of a true problem. Sometimes trying harder isn’t enough and our kids depend on us to get them the tools they need to succeed.

Siena is a proud Kansas City native who was transplanted to Texas thirteen years ago. She has three boys and three girls, and is currently in her seventh year of homeschooling. Several of her children have struggled with dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and other learning challenges. She tells them often that God must have something amazing for them in the future, as they are learning perseverance now.