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Moving on to All About Spelling Level 1, Step 2!!!

Yeah! Jenna (35m) is ready to move on to All About Spelling Level 1, step 2! (The “y” and “qu” are not checked off yet, but I’m giving that a pass.) Honestly, this would be ten times easier if Jenna was almost 4 instead of almost 3, but it is still very much doable.

It is really hard as a parent not to compare your kids, but when my son Bruce was this age he was already reading simple consonant-vowel-consonant words. Jenna is just not there yet. She can do other things at two and a half that Bruce couldn’t however, like work on complex puzzles and kick her daddy’s behind at the Memory Game.

Jenna has also become a spontaneous rapper and rhymes words all of the time. As a teacher, I know that this means that her phonemic awareness skills are really high for her age. Phonemic awareness is the precursor to learning to read. It includes things like rhyming and being able to say “ball starts with buh”. She is also really strong with all of her upper case, and lower case sounds. All I need to do know is keep doing what I’m doing, and….wait. Ugh! Waiting is the hard part!!!

If I was new at this “teaching kids to read thing”, or if Jenna was my first born and I was on a rampant buying spree, I think I would purchase All About Reading right about now. If it is anything like All About Spelling, then I am sure it is awesome. If you want a program that is going to hold your hand the whole way through teaching your kids how to read, AAR would be it.  If you want a road-map of free things to try, then check out my Where to Start Page.

But I’m not new at teaching kids how to read. I do know what I’m doing. I just need to be patient with my own child. That of course, is easier said than done. 😉

All About Spelling Level 1, Step 1


All About Spelling is certainly not meant for two year olds, but since I already have the materials this is what I am currently doing with them.  Right now Bruce(6.5) is on a break between Levels 2 and 3.  We will be starting up again when he turns seven.  Right now he is still doing Evan Moore Spelling Grade 2 through his public school.  In the interim, I decided to clear our AAS board and store the tiles so that they wouldn’t get lost, even though the board is usually safely stored behind our china cabinet.

In the middle of all of this, Jenna(2.5) still asks to “do spelling” quite frequently.  Previously when I have tried this with her, it has been a somewhat meaningful time-filling activity that usually degenerated into playing with the tiles and making a mess.  But I’ve had an “ah-ha” moment.  The problem was that the board was set up for Level 2, instead of Level 1, Step 1!  I realized this the first time Jenna and I “did spelling” with the board cleaned off.  Putting the whole alphabet on the board isn’t supposed to be introduced to children until Level 1, Step 3.

One of the first lessons in Level 1, Step 1 is to go through all of the Phonogram cards with your child, to see which sounds your child doesn’t know, and which you need to practice.  For some children, this first step could take several months, depending on what age you begin.  Since Jenna really wants to use the tiles and the board like her brother Bruce, we have been practicing with one letter tile at a time, instead of the Phonogram cards.  

This has worked really well for a few weeks now. Sometimes we get through the whole alphabet, and sometimes we only get through 12 letters.  I let her natural attention span and curiosity at the moment, lead the lesson.  The only problem we run into is the “funny looking a”.  It is written a instead of a which makes things tricky at the moment, but will eventually fructify, by helping her make the transition to print books easier in the future.

Jenna and I are both enjoying “doing spelling” together and I’m glad that I have more sophisticated materials to work with than when Bruce was that age.  But I’m guessing we might be on Level 1, Step 1 for a long time.  She’s just not ready for blending consonant vowel consonant words yet, even though (sigh!) Bruce was already moving into that at the same age. Of course, there are lots of things that Jenna can do at two and a half that Bruce couldn’t.  Remembering to say please and thank is one example for starters! 🙂

All About Spelling and Afterschooling

It is now October and my son Bruce is in first grade. He completed All About Spelling Level 1 over the summer, and began work on Level 2. But to be honest, we have taken a one month break from AAS in order to accommodate the first month of school and all of its added pressures. Now, routines are in place and we both have the brain-space to deal with other opportunities besides school, homework, and soccer practice.

The great thing about All About Spelling is that it is fast, fun and effective. Yesterday before school I (admittedly) plugged my two year old in front of “Curious George” on the TV, and asked Bruce if he would like to have some special mommy time with me and the spelling board. He immediately said yes! In about ten minutes we completed the very end of step five, which we had begun a while ago before we entered our AAS hiatus.

I would never wake a child up at 5:30 in the morning to do extra spelling practice before school started, but a fast ten minutes of quality time together before a leisurely school start time is fine by me. Especially when I consider the spelling list he brought home from school yesterday, which is way too easy for him. I have to preface this with; I love his school and I admire his teacher. But take a look for yourself:

(Bruce’s spelling list, not from AAS.)

I don’t quite understand how Bruce got sorted into this spelling group, but since his spelling homework is so heavily handwriting related, I’m perfectly okay with him having simple words. Practicing writing his words in the D’Nealian scrip alone will be challenge enough for him. Besides, since I’m Afterschooling Bruce anyway, I know that he is going to be systematically learning spelling rules and patterns with AAS, without having his spelling ability tied to his handwriting skills.

So what are my plans and goals at this point? Ideally it would be great if Bruce could get through one AAS step a week, broken up into three, ten minute sessions. But if we only end up doing two sessions, that will be fine too.

Why I Can’t Spell

I should have titled this post “Why I Can’t Spel Worth Beens”. Finishing off All About Spelling Level 1 with Bruce really pointed out to me all of the spelling rules I do not know. It’s like if you learned how to read, but never learned how to pronounce the “th” sound. Sure, you’d be able to function in society but you would be making crazy mistakes your whole life and never know why.  You would probably feel pretty stupid too.

It is so sad to me that here I am in my 30s, having graduated from Stanford University for Pete’s sake, and yet I am still learning something from a Level 1 spelling book. I have tried my upmost for at least two decades to improve my spelling through rote memorization, and it just doesn’t work. Finally, I just gave up and figured that I would always be stupid about spelling. I am the family joke! My younger sister still likes to tease me about misspelling ‘very’ when I was in high school. (I thought it had two r’s, like ‘berry’.)

Now, I realize that I’m a poor speller because my spelling knowledge is like Swiss cheese. I need to systematically memorize specific spelling rules to plug those holes.  Moving the tiles around on the board along with my six year old is helping hard wire those rules into my brain.  I’m not stupid about spelling; there are just things I never learned for some reason.

Take Key Card #9 for example. “Which letters are often doubled after a single vowel at the end of a one-syllable rule?” The answer is f, l, and s. Sometimes this is called the Floss rule, because floss has all three letters in it and also follows the rule. This is an example of a spelling mistake I make all the time. I am always getting confused with double consonants. I’ve learned to compensate with spell check, and when that’s not available, choosing words that I am certain of spelling.

Hopefully by the end of taking two kids all the way through AAS Level 7, I’ll be a good speller too. After all of these years, there is new hope for me yet!

All About Spelling Level 1

I should have titled this post “Claire Was Right”, in that when my friend saw my initial post here she immediately commented that I should have purchased Level 2 for Bruce. Instead, I bought Level 1 which is indeed too easy. Interestingly enough however, we are going to do part of Level 1, specifically steps 10, 16, 18, 19, 23, and 24. So Level 1 is not entirely wasted on Bruce, and of course I will use it for Jenna once she turns three and a half or four. But I am getting way ahead of myself.

I am very new to the All About Spelling bandwagon, and really wish I had heard about it a long time ago. It is very similar to a program I used when teaching Kindergarten and First grade called Systematic Sequential Phonics they Use. Unfortunately, I have searched and searched for this book to no avail, because it must be out of print. Both programs end up teaching spelling and phonics at the same time in a very hands on, kinesthetic way. Here’s the link on Youtube explaining All about Spelling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLo8POyQKIc&feature=related.

As soon as I saw the video, the teacher in me was hooked and I immediately ordered Level 1. All of the materials arrived today, and here is what I got:

The basic startup kit.

The magnets put onto the letter tiles and then punched out.

The level 1 kit as well as the organizer box, divider cards and phoneme CD-ROM.

This is what the board looks like set up with magnets used near the end of Level one, which is where we are going to start with Bruce. There are a bunch of other magnets that I have in a bag to save for future levels. Unfortunately, (and I’m kicking myself right now), I bought the wrong darn size magnetic white board to go with all of this. I had to go back to Office Depot and buy one that was 2’x3′.

If you have followed my blog you know that I have a neurotic fear of magnets around young children, so even though these are pretty weak magnets I’m going to store the whole board behind my china cabinet when not in use. For once, having an old hand-me-down china cabinet and wall paper that needs to be replaced is a good thing. If they get scratched up by this gigantic whiteboard, no big deal!

The Level 1 cards punched out and organized in the box. I’m glad I bought that box! A word about the blue cards. Do you see them up there in the box? Each blue card contains a rule or generalization about spelling. Level 1 has 16 rule cards in it. This is how I was able to figure out what steps in Level 1 I still needed to cover with Bruce, even though almost all of Level 1 is too easy for him. I just sat down there in his room and asked him to answer the questions on each of the blue cards. The ones he didn’t know directed me to what step to do in the book.

Here’s a picture of the lesson plans I’ll used to do the first activity with Bruce which was really quick and fun. Even a horrible speller like me wasn’t able to mess this up!

Once again, the teacher in me wishes she had the whole box, Levels 1-7. What an amazing diagnostic tool those blue cards would be! I’m thinking of our church’s tutoring program for disadvantaged students… You could go in and figure out exactly where a third grade English Language Learner was at in terms of spelling and phonics just by going through those blue cards. Then you could go back to the lesson plans, and know exactly what to teach.

As a former teacher, when I come across materials like this it makes me super excited, but also sad because I know that there are educators all across the country teaching in impoverished districts that are desperate for meaningful tools to help teach reading and spelling. If only I had access to this back in East Palo Alto, when I was muddling through trying to use Open Court! I could have written a grant to the Peninsula Community Foundation for five sets of materials and then used them for small group instruction.

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Afterschooling in the Summer

(Our new magnetic whiteboard.)

The total lack of sunshine and constant rain today in the middle of July doesn’t seem to indicate it, but summer is halfway over now, and I’m starting to get a little panicky.  Soon I’ll be sending Bruce off to first grade and I won’t get to be his primary teacher anymore.  We have high hopes that the GATE program he is going into will eliminate the need for Afterschooling.  Hopefully we will be able to do some fun Guided Reading activities with my SLE inspired reading lists, and sneak in some extra learning in the car, and that will be it. 

In the meantime Bruce is cranking away at Right Start Level D (and earning lots of screen time from all of his hard work.)  I also went ahead and ordered the basic kit and level one from All About Spelling, which promises to be an interactive, multi-sensory way to teach systematic spelling rules.  Hence the magnetic whiteboard purchase today.  Although I really don’t know if I purchased the right size, so I’ve kept the receipt.  I need a white board for all of the spelling magnets that are going to come with the kit. 

I’m really curious to see what this program is like, because I am such a horrible speller myself.  In fact, please do me the favor of pointing out my spelling mistakes to me so that I can fix them!   I also wish I had found out about it earlier, because with gifted children you can apparently start level 1 as early as four and a half.  Right now, we are waiting for the UPS and USPS people to come.  I also have some of my audio CDS for the car arriving any day now, chiefly Story of the World and a Jim Weiss storytelling one for Jenna.

In case you think I’m going all “tiger-mom” on my kids, please rest assured that I am still a big believer in summer being a chance for children to goof off, play, and experience boredom… after they have done about an hour of schoolwork.  If you add up all of the summers off children have, that’s twenty months of wasted opportunity!  2 extra grade levels!  When I was in high school, I used each summer to prepare for the next term.  If I knew I was taking AP Biology for example, I would review and memorize all of my advanced biology flashcards from the 8th grade.  The only subjects I didn’t do this for were math and physics, because those were topics I struggled to teach myself.  Maybe this summer I’ll finally teach myself how to spell.  🙂

Franklin Spelling Dictionary

Bruce got one of these for his sixth birthday and it is really cool!  He can use it as a dictionary when writing, or he can use it to play spelling games.  There is even a feature where you can type in a spelling list, and then practice just those words.  That will come in useful next year in first grade.  I heard that the GATE program has the kids learn 22 new words each week.  Yikes!

Franklin KID-1240 Children’s Talking Dictionary and Spell Corrector

Sorre Letter

Here’s a letter Bruce worked on last night to deliver to one of the kids in his class tomorrow.  It says: “Sorry Jordan for being mean.  I won’t do that in the future.  Next half of the note for the parents.  I like the way you handled it.  I am happy you didn’t tell Mr. Sacket.  From Bruce.”

As you can see, there are a lot of things going on in this letter that pop out at you; letter reversals, phonetic spelling, and words that end mid letter on the right of the page, and then pick up again on the left.  But since Bruce is still just five and a half, this is all completely normal and doesn’t worry me at all.  I didn’t harp on anything, or make him change something, because I did not want to interfere with his creative flow.  He spent a good twenty minutes on this and really worked hard.

One thing I will try to start having some mini-lessons on however, is this business of running out of space for a word on the right, and then finishing it off on the left.  I really need to teach him about putting finger spaces between each word.