March 5, 2011

Spelling doesn't have to be E-X-A-S-P-E-R-A-T-I-N-G...

Defying logic, chapel and apple are not spelled alike at the end.  Enough and although look like they should rhyme, yet they don’t.  Understandably, spelling is a school subject that brings tears to many little eyes.  It doesn’t have to.  Like every other subject it can easily be made more fun and more achievable with a little time and effort on the teacher’s part.
Lately I have been using a tear-free approach for teaching spelling to my three youngest students in our home school that has been lots of fun as well as very effective.  I keep them grouped together for it mainly to fit the activity neatly into our busy school day, but the fringe benefit is that they learn from each other.  From their point of view, working together makes it feel more like a game and less like work.  This group effort does mean throwing some words in our six-year-old Audra’s path that are more suited to her twin eight-year-old brothers Zach and Daniel, but she likes the challenge.
My new method also incorporates each of their three very different learning styles.  Audra learns best visually.  When asked to recall something she has been taught, she often takes on a distant facial expression that tells me she’s “looking” in her mind’s eye at a picture of what she is trying to remember.  Zach soaks in anything he hears and likes to repeat it back to be sure he understands.  Daniel is a mover and a shaker and learns best through hands-on activities and games.
What do we do that doesn’t cause crying, is both efficient and effective, and encompasses three learning styles?  We’re cheerleaders.
First, I print the spelling words from our workbooks on slips of paper in big bold letters.  Then we have an informal, oral pretest on our new words.  I’m a firm believer in not teaching people things they already know.  I then mark each slip of paper with a color-coded dot for each child:  if their color is on it, it’s a word they "didn’t know yet."  (This positive language encourages them.  I always remind them that they’re not expected to know these new words.  They’re all the more excited when they do know some of them.)  After the pretest I tape the slips of paper up in various parts of the house.  This doesn’t do much for our décor, but the kids are worth it.
Throughout the week we work on the words by visiting the various locations of the house that have these slips of paper on them.  This helps my mover-and-shaker Daniel, getting him up and out of a chair for a little while.  I point to a word, and then in cheerleader style I shout out the letters in small portions.  I divide our word up by syllables or in parts that emphasize important letter combinations.  After I shout each small portion of the word letter by letter, they shout those few letters back to me in unified reply.  This helps my little listener/repeater Zach.  All the while, my little visual Audra stares at the slip of paper taped to the wall which helps her to be able to picture it later.  After we’ve shouted all the portions of the word back and forth to each other, I shout the word in its entirety and they echo it back.  We usually repeat this a couple more times, then I cover it up to see who knows it.  We move on to another word, then back to the first, and so on until we’ve done three or four words in a session.  My mover and shaker Daniel also bounces up and down with each letter, driving the spelling home for him.
After our few words, we move on to a different school subject altogether and come back to spelling another time or another day.  We’ll review those same words and bring in new ones that are sprinkled around our house.  Meanwhile, in day-to-day life our children are surrounded by their spelling words.  This doesn’t frighten them; to them it’s a reminder of their success.  To me, it’s painless reinforcement.  Some day when they have outgrown the need for these little games our home will return to its original look, and less like a giant book exploded in it.
This isn’t the only way to have a little fun with spelling.  My kids like what we’ve been doing because it’s a license to be loud.  See what suits your child best.  Be creative about it.  Whether you homeschool like we do or you just want to reinforce the spelling list your kids bring home from school, try to find a way that’s exciting and doesn’t make them cry and make you want to pull your hair out.  And don’t be afraid to try shouting like a cheerleader.  It may disturb the neighbors, but it’s lots of fun for the whole family.
Your kids won’t even realize how much they’re learning.  Before you know it, they’ll be spelling words like appetizer, albeit rather loudly.

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