With the new semester, I made some changes to our daily work plan. One of the my aim this semester is to get Thumper solidly reading in English.
Last semester, Thumper started with Primary Phonics but got bored and frustrated after set 5. She kept getting confused by all the various double vowel sounds like oe, ae, ai, ea, etc. I moved her onto reading Dr. Seuss, then beginning readers such as Little Bear, Frog and Toad, books by Lobel, etc, to see they would help. With Dr. Seuss, I saw an improvement because it contained a lot of nonsensical words that rhymed.
However, she was still really struggling with long words. She could not segment words into smaller syllables to read. I decided that she needed to, just like with zhuyin, refocus on all the phonics and relearn. She learned her phonics in her Montessori preschool but I did not know how much practice she had or had not with diphthongs (two vowels) and digraphs. Best to just review everything.
At her age, Thumper couldn’t methodically go through all the phonics lessons again. She would be utterly bored and think she knows when I’m teaching, then get frustrated during practice because she doesn’t really. I decided to explore spelling programs. Since the Montessori curriculum believes writing comes before reading, I hoped that if she could start writing well, it will lead to her reading.
After looking around quickly, I decided to just use All About Spelling. When it comes to English curriculum, I tend to get lazy and use what What Did We Do All Day uses. As soon as I learned it was similar to how Montessori phonics, I decided to get it.
What is All About Spelling?
Cathy Duffy has a detailed review on her website. Here’s the summary:
All About Spelling (AAS) is an incremental spelling program based on the intensive phonics approach of the Orton-Gillingham methodology. It uses multi-sensory activities that should work well with most learners.
All this means is that it uses the “moveable alphabet” concept, having kids manipulate actual concrete letter tiles to spell, before they can hold a pencil and write.
There are 7 books in the series, but it doesn’t correspond to grade levels. To teach the curriculum, you need the Teacher’s Manual and the student packet. You’ll also need the Spelling Interactive Kits, which I didn’t buy because I already have the Montessori moveable alphabet. I didn’t even bother the moveable alphabets since Thumper’s old enough, except when she’s having trouble with a concept. There is also a companion progress chart and alphabet chart to keep track of your progress.
You can buy all this from Rainbow Resource or All About Learning Press, either as a complete set or individual components. For Book 3, I’m probably going to just buy the teacher manual.
Book 1 and 2 (which is all that I ordered) comes with several sets of index size cards. One set maps letter to sound, one set sound to letter, third is spelling rules, and lastly word lists that appears in the book. You use these sets along with the book.
For example, in the first few chapters, you go through set 1 and set 2 to quiz the child what sounds map to a letter and letter maps to a sound. The teacher uses the spelling rules index cards to quiz the child and have the child read through the word lists. Subsequently, you’re asked to continue pulling out index cards from set 1 and set 2 and review with your child any sounds/letters they have not mastered.
So there is a drilling/daily review aspect to the curriculum.
Reading the reviews online, kids start on these books at different ages and you just go at the pace that works for you. As in, whatever you can fit in in about 10-15 minutes, before they get too tired. It seems like most people are still working on book 5-7 even in upper elementary or middle school.
I would say the biggest difference between Montessori and All About Spelling is that it teaches the child there may be multiple sounds for one letter, from the beginning. For example, for the letter a, it tells the children there are three sounds: a in apple, a in bake, and a in ah. This is exactly what Thumper needed to spell, because when she sees an a right now, she doesn’t quite know which sound to use.
The curriculum works through spelling rules one by one. For example, when you hear the /c/ sound and you don’t know whether or not it’s c or k, you have to see what sound follows it. If it’s e,o,u it’s c. Makes total sense. It takes the guessing game out of spelling and also allows you to not just memorize words for a spelling test.
How We’re Using the Curriculum
In the first week, we zoomed through about 1-3 chapters just with 15 minutes a day. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, she’s an auditory learner so she had no problem with the oral review. She easily repeats back what sounds map to letters and what letters map to sounds. Oh, I didn’t bother separating all the cards into index size. I just put them in one sheet at a time into sheet protectors and worked off of those. At her age I figured she doesn’t need to move pieces of paper anymore. It was all review for Thumper anyway in the beginning, which is when you would be using the index cards.
For the rest of the Book 1, we went through 1 chapter each day. Each chapter starts with a review of sounds and rules. Then it goes into the lesson, with the child first writing with tiles and then on paper. I often skipped steps, sometimes not bothering to review, other times not asking her to write all the spelling words. Instead, I would ask her to read the words since my concern is reading.
Most of Book 1 is concerned with learning the short vowels, then long vowels, some special digraphs like ck, ng, nk, and making plurals. Doing all of that did not really help our spelling or reading. But it did help her practice segmenting sounds. One problem she had was not translating the sound she heard into words, following rules. For example, hearing a /s/ sound, she knew now that it’s usually a c instead of s, which was a super common mistake.
The best thing is, now when she is having trouble reading or writing, I can just use the techniques in the book. I often ask her, “Tell me what sounds this word makes?” or “Do you remember the rule for…?” or “Clap out the syllables and first before spelling.” Reverting back to spelling from sound she hears helps to spell properly.
Well, except for those pesky e, d, s, t sounds in English. E often sounds like i. I also knew from my TESL pronunciation class that in English some sounds like t changes to d when we say it. It’s just the way the tongue works.
Finally, by the beginning of Book 2, we learned about segmenting syllables. I’d been telling her, look for consonant-vowel combinations to figure out where to segment when you read. But she just didn’t get it. In the book, the rule is, identify the two vowels, if there is 2 consonants between them, split those. For example, in napkin, you split the p and k. A much easier rule to remember!
With Book 2 and learning segmenting rules, we were finally able to start reading.
We also slowed way down in our daily spelling lesson. The concepts have piled up enough that we now can only work through 1 section at a time daily. There is usually 3-4 dictation sections in one chapter. One is review, one is lesson, another 2 word phrases, and lastly a sentence. I like these dictation sections. Often it would appear that she gets a concept when I teach it, but in practice we can start seeing where she is having difficulty. The splitting of two consonants is something we continue to work on when we read.
To make life easier and turn it into self-work, I also try and find time to record the dictation of the day into my iPhone memo app. This way, she works through the list herself without me tapping my foot by her side. To make it self error correcting, I would need to provide the answer key for her. But I didn’t want to do that because it makes it too easy for her to rely on the answer and not learn. Instead, I go over the mistakes with her and we re-learn the lesson. This is where there are always tears. She hates making mistakes. But using the memo app at least took away some of the contention we had because I kept telling her to hold her pencil correctly. Even though I knew it was not the time to be working on some other skill.
When we do read aloud, I also use the lessons I learned in the book to help her sound out new words she doesn’t know. It is totally not the way I think of how to segment sounds but the methodical rules really helps. Last semester she was still having such a hard time reading through Amelia Bedelia. She loved the funny book but it was so hard for her.
Once we started on Book 2 in March and learned about segmenting syllables, she’s willing to even pick up books like Magic Treehouse and work through them. Magic Treehouse is definitely above her level. Kindle says it takes an hour to read through the whole book. It took her a week to get through book 1, one chapter a day. (as in, getting tired by the end of a chapter) But by book 2, she can silently read through several chapters before getting tired. I’m quite encouraged by this progress!
Now it’s May and I’m hoping we can finish Book 2 before heading off to summer vacation. Just in time too as she’s starting to whine and complain whenever we have to do spelling. But one thing I’ve learned is that some curriculum topics we bare the pain and work through it day in and day out because the light is bright at the end of the tunnel. Especially hated subjects, I can figure out ways to make it more fun, but if we don’t do it daily we make no progress.
I feel like we’ve semi caught up in spelling by cramming 2 books into one semester. Hey, I can pretend book 2 is 2nd grade right? Yes yes, it’s not like I’m competing with someone. I guess I continue to be anxious about being close to grade level as our Chinese reading really took off this year and the English suddenly felt behind.
So when do you start on spelling? For Astroboy, I would probably wait till he’s learned all of his phonics, has been doing creating spelling for a bit, before I start formally on spelling lessons. However, I’ve already been incorporating the ideas in All About Spelling into our Montessori phonics lessons. More about Astroboy and English in another post!
Update Nov 2017
After stopping All About Spelling for a year, we went back to Book 2 this year. I have friends who are doing Book 4-7. After talking to them, we realized we all have the same thought about AAS. Past a certain level of spelling it is about memorizing.
For example, in lesson 13 of AAS2, you study the long /e/ sound. But if you actually look through all 7 books of AAS, you’ll see that in book 5, lesson 13, it lists 9 different ways you can spell this long /e/ sound. So essentially, it will present all 9 ways in individual lessons.
For someone who struggles with spelling like Thumper, it really doesn’t help her to memorize these 9 ways individually. She’s one of those people who gets an explanation fast, so when I give her a dictation test, she gets it right. It’s easy because each lesson only teaches one spelling concept. But ask her 3 weeks later, or have her use these words in daily writing, and she still mis-spells them.
I’m now trying to just have her memorize one sound across books. So, memorize all long /e/ words.
The other big realization I had is, if Thumper is going to learn spelling, she better also be writing so she can practice her spelling. Now that we’re doing daily Writing With Ease and she has to write daily, she just gets better and better at spelling naturally. I think Babel School is onto something. She says she doesn’t specifically teach spelling.
So, at the end of the day, AAS isn’t too different from public school spelling programs, which memorize similar sounds together. That said, I still think there is a lot of value in the first 2 books. Learning about the different sounds, some basic rules to /c/, /j/ sounds, sounding out syllables through clapping, learning open and close syllables, using concrete materials, definitely all help with beginning spelling.