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If I give dictation a try, how do I decide if it’s not working?

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Dear Carrie

If I give dictation a try with my struggling speller, how do I decide if it’s not working?

Dear Carrie,

I need helping seeing the bigger picture. I’ve read so many rave reviews about Heart of Dakota‘s studied dictation, and I WANT to trust the process! My 5th grader is a great speller, and I will do level 5 dictation with him. But, my little one I’m not sure about. He’s been in school for the past 6 months, and he has an ‘A’ in spelling. He can study for the test and do fine. However, by the time he has to write the word in a sentence in a few weeks, he’s forgotten how to spell it. If I remember right, my older son really turned a corner in his spelling during 3rd grade. I’m holding out hope my youngest will show some real strides in spelling too. Anyway, if I give dictation a try, how do I decide if it isn’t working?


“Ms. Please Help Me Give Dictation A Try”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Give Dictation A Try,”

There are so many terrific skills wound within studied dictation that I think it is definitely worth a try.  The kiddos have to capture the whole image of a sentence or a passage in their minds, looking at the sentence as a whole as well as capturing the individual words and their parts. This really trains kiddos in the habit of seeing correctly spelled words within the context of writing. This, after all, is the ultimate goal of learning to spell! We want kiddos to carry over their spelling to their writing. So, practicing spelling words within the context of writing sentences makes sense. This is one good reason to give dictation a try!

Studied dictation strengthens auditory skills, so give it a try!

Studied dictation also forces kiddos to strengthen auditory skills as they listen to the parent read the passage only once. The kiddos learn to listen for the purpose of repeating perfectly from a single reading. Prior to writing, they then repeat back what the parent said, which strengthens the skill of holding a phrase or sentence in the mind long enough to be able to repeat it back without error and then write it. This is one more reason to give dictation a try!

Studied dictation strengthens proofreading skills, so give it a try!

After writing the phrase or sentence, the kiddos then proofread their work before checking it against the model. This is a terrific way to form the habit of proofreading their written work! It truly makes good proofreaders out of kiddos over time. Last, they check their own work, training them in checking their work against a correctly written model. They become precise checkers with continual practice. This is yet another reason to give dictation a try!

Studied dictation helps students practice immediate correction, so give it a try!

When kiddos miss a passage, they mark any mistakes on the passage and immediately correct the mistakes on their own copy. So, yet another skill practiced is immediate correction.  The following day, when the child must repeat a passage, he/she pays much closer attention to whatever was missed the day before. This, in essence, finally causes the incorrect mental picture of a word in the mind to be rewritten or mentally corrected (replacing the old incorrect image with a new corrected image).  This is the mental work that must be done in order for a poor speller to fix his/her poor spelling habits. It is also something the good speller does naturally. This is still another reason to give dictation a try!

Studied dictation is one of my all-time favorite Charlotte Mason skill builders!

I must honestly admit that studied dictation is one of my all-time favorite CM skill builders. It has so many skills wound within a 5 minute lesson, and it pays such big dividends in so many ways in the long haul. With my oldest son, we began studied dictation as a third grader. He still did studied dictation in high school, but today he is an excellent speller, proofreader, and writer. He never completed a formal spelling program beyond grade 3.

Plan to give studied dictation at least a full year to see its fruit, so please do give it a try!

My second son has never had any formal spelling beyond what is in the HOD guides. He has also done studied dictation since grade 3. He is a terrific speller, proofreader, and writer as well.  My next 2 sons were not naturally great spellers or writers. However, I will tell you they both have made huge leaps in this area by using studied dictation. I will warn you that dictation is a slow burn. So, if you embark upon using this method, plan to give it at least a full year to begin to see the fruit. Once you do though, I think you will really be pleased! So, please, do give dictation a try! I think you will be glad you did!


This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Kathy

    Carrie- My son will be starting Preparing this year for 4th grade. Before this point we were using another spelling curriculum and he finished 3rd grade spelling. He is a natural speller and rarely got words wrong. We are going to try the dictation passages for 4th grade, but I don’t know which list to place him in. What do you recommend?

  2. Hello! We would recommend beginning with Level 4, passage 1. For a level of dictation to be about the right fit, a student will probably miss a passage or two here or there, as in within 1-3 weeks. If he is missing a passage over and over, or missing a passage daily and redoing it the next day to pass, or if he is going for months on end without missing any, we would recommend adjusting up or down a level or a half level accordingly. To adjust a half level, you would just adjust up or down 30-40 passages or so. Hope this helps!

  3. Peggy Korson

    I LOVE the studied dictation portion of HOD!! I can say it truly has made a difference in my children’s writing for all the reasons written above!! The only thing I would add is that be really patient in seeing fruition! One of my children who struggles with learning is now, after 4 years, writing very well when he is to hand in the 5-8 sentence narrations, writing, spelling, and proofreading. It has been wonderful!

    1. Such a good point, Peggy! It is so important to be patient in seeing fruition. Studied dictation totally works, but it take does take consistency and time to see that progress. We are so glad to hear of your son’s success with dictation! Thank you so much for sharing your son’s good experience with studied dictation here!

  4. Jaclyn Hinrichs

    Hi! My daughter will be starting BHFHG in a little over a month. She has never had formal spelling. We are currently working through Logic of English Foundations and she will be in book C next year. In that LA curriculum, they reinforce phonograms taught by introducing words including those phonograms and having the student complete “spelling analysis” (ie: separate the word into syllables, segment the sounds in each syllable, apply spelling rules you know, etc). For example, when we learned the phonogram “ough” her spelling analysis list contained words like though, thought, etc. I love the idea of truly thinking while spelling and reinforcing new phonograms through spelling. However, I have quickly realized that visual memory also plays a role in being a good speller. For example, the other day she spelled the word “comb” as “come” and “give” was spelled “giv.” It was great to see her applying the rules she knows, and awesome to be able to say, “Why isn’t this spelling right? What rule do we know about how English words cannot end?” Yet I feel that with more repeated visual practice and writing of words, she would have known at least the word “give.” My daughter will be in 2nd grade next year (turning 8 in November). She is extremely bright. I have a feeling she would hate spelling lists. However, when I showed her the dictation pages in Bigger, I saw a gleam in her eye. Lol. Her current curriculum had one day of super simple diction that we did right at the end of the year. She loved it. The very next day she begged me to let her do diction from the Bigger book. I think she thrives on the challenge. Can I skip the spelling lists in Bigger and only complete studied dictation with her? I thought I read somewhere that students needed to pass the spelling lists first. I don’t know that she could pass them at this point. Yet she tends to see a word and remember it. I am just a little lost about what to do for spelling next year since we technically already have a curriculum teaching it. One other thing, we will be splitting Bigger into 2 years. I will do LA, math, and DITHOR every day. All other HOD subjects will be separated into an A-day and a B-day…so I think we can make time for some extra spelling work. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated!

    1. We are so glad you and your daughter are enjoying homeschooling with Heart of Dakota! It is appropriate for second grade students using Bigger Hearts for His Glory to do either the Level 2 Spelling plans or the Level 2 Dictation plans.

      The way Heart of Dakota approaches spelling lists is different. It focuses on teaching visualization of words as mental pictures, which is a stepping stone for longer dictation passages to be visualized along with their capitalization and punctuation. You can read more about this here in a post Carrie wrote…

      …The spelling lists in Beyond/Bigger include many of the Dolch words and sight words (which are commonly used words that should be known well prior to proceeding into studied dictation). So while the kiddos are cementing their phonics skills, we also teach the habit of visualizing and spelling correctly a body of commonly used words. The exercises in the Beyond and Bigger guide are also stepping stones for training a child to hold a mental picture of a word in the mind, which aids in holding the mental picture of an entire phrase/sentence in mind which comes next (when a child begins studied dictation).

      This is why, even for children who are great natural spellers and who rarely miss a spelling word, it is wise to go through the spelling exercises as written in the guide. The mental exercises are equally as important as spelling the word correctly. At HOD, we are always looking ahead to the skills that will be needed the following year, and training the child in the guide before for the skills that will be needed in the future!


      More second graders use the Spelling Level 2 list than the Level 2 Dictation passages, simply because of the extra visualization skills needed for dictation. There are also other ‘stepping stone’ skills to dictation taught in the spelling plans. You can read more about that at the following link:

      CM Style Spelling in HOD:

      In general, we don’t recommend doing two programs to teach one subject area. It can be confusing to the student and throw off the balance of time spent on the subject, even if going half-speed. From what you’ve shared about your daughter doing well with super short dictation, she would more than likely benefit much from the Spelling List 2 plans. However, either choice would be fine! We hope this helps as you ponder what spelling would be best for your daughter!

      In Christ,

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