Help for My Struggling Speller

Dear Carrie

Help for My Struggling Speller

I am getting ready to start the second half of Heart of Dakota’s (HOD’s) Bigger Hearts with my 8 1/2 year-old son for his “3rd grade” year. He is still a struggling speller. Therefore, he does not write sentences yet. This is something I really want to work on before starting Preparing Hearts. I’ve not used the spelling lists in our manual. I was using an outside spelling curriculum, but I just haven’t seen many results. Should I start with the word lists in Bigger Hearts and go from there? Do you have any suggestions for me to help my struggling speller? Can you explain your thoughts about spelling in general? Thanks in advance!

Sincerely,
“Ms. Please Help Me with My Struggling Speller”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me with My Struggling Speller,”

Thanks for sharing about your son! This is a good question. Spelling in the early years is often quite tied to a child’s reading. This is because kiddos at the early stages of spelling are often sounding out their spelling words as they write them. So, in the early years, as your child’s reading progresses, the spelling will lag a bit behind that reading progress in coming along too. That is not to say that in the long haul spelling and reading progress are always linked as that is not necessarily true, since the spelling words get longer and harder.

Regular practice in capturing the correct mental image of a word is the skill that needs to be developed.

Another thing to keep in mind for kiddos that are struggling spellers is that more drill is not really what they need. Regular practice in capturing the correct mental image of a word is the skill that truly needs to be developed in order for the mind to know whether a word that has been written is written correctly. This is the skill that is being developed in Beyond Little Hearts and Bigger Hearts.

It is also one of the reasons why the other writing the child is doing during that season of learning is kept to copywork or copying from a correctly written model. This is because we don’t want the mind capturing the incorrect image. Having a child inventively spell many words results in the incorrect spelling beginning to “look right” in the mind’s eye. So, to prevent this same thing from happening during spelling lessons, be sure to immediately erase any incorrectly spelled word and have the child copy the correct spelling over top of the erased word instead.

Spelling time can be thought of as ‘mental training time’ rather than thought of as ‘memorization of specific words’ time.

Think of spelling time as mental training rather than seeking memorization of specific words. In that way, every error is an opportunity to swoop in and retrain the mind. Be vigilant as you do the spelling lessons. As soon as an incorrect letter is written in the spelling of a word, erase it away and redirect to the correct image (showing the index card with the correct spelling upon it). Be sure to use a dark colored marker on a white index card too when writing the spelling words (as directed in the guide). This helps the mind capture the image of the word even more clearly. Over time you will see continued progress with your struggling speller.

Dictation builds on the mental picturing skills practiced with the spelling lists in Beyond and Bigger.

Dictation builds on the foundation of mental picturing that is practiced in the spelling lists in HOD’s Beyond and Bigger. This is where kiddos actually start to pay more attention to spelling in the context of sentences. It is the moment where they realize spelling is about writing a string of words correctly. It is mental imaging taken to the next level. This is often where kiddos start doing a bit better in spelling, if they had a hard time in the word lists that they did before beginning dictation. This is because in dictation they are putting to use the mental imaging and beginning proofreading and auditory skills they practiced in Beyond and Bigger and are applying them.

Studied dictation teaches many skills that help struggling spellers.

Through studied dictation, kiddos learn to transfer the skills of capturing a correct mental image of a string of words, of hearing the sentence and repeating it back correctly, of writing the words in the correct sequence (including all punctuation and capitalization), and of proofreading and correcting their work to make sure the right mental image remains (rather than the wrong one). Over time, these skills transfer to kiddos’ proofreading their own written work in other subjects. You can see this is all a part of spelling, but it is a process that takes years to internalize. This is why I encourage you to keep on going, patiently guiding and diligently correcting. You will see progress as the years pass. Just make sure not to put the focus on word memorization but rather place the focus on the ultimate long-term goal of writing correctly and proofreading in daily work.

With these methods, even struggling spellers will make gains in the area where it really counts.

So, I would definitely encourage you to follow the plans for spelling in Bigger Hearts for the last half of the guide.  My own third little guy struggled with the spelling lists in Beyond and Bigger too. He improved as he headed into dictation, even though he is by no means a natural speller. In CTC, he really started to show some carryover and improvement in his daily written work. Now, he refers back to his reading material to copy the correct spelling of words within his written narrations. This is another moment where capturing the correct mental image of words (i.e. names and places) and transferring them to paper in written narrations comes in handy. I share this to encourage you! Over time with these methods, even struggling spellers will make gains in the area where it really counts.

Blessings,
Carrie