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Spelling Troubles and How to Fix Them

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Dear Carrie – Spelling Troubles

How can I fix my 7 year-old daughter’s spelling troubles?

My 7 year-old has spelling troubles! She did list one and is doing spelling list two now. She’s had trouble with spelling and learning to read. Recently, her reading has improved dramatically. She is now 2/3 of the way through the Emerging Reader’s Set. However, her spelling is only slightly improved. In Beyond, on the first spelling day, she’d study the card, turn it over, and often spell it wrong. Sometimes she didn’t even notice it was wrong when she checked it. Twice so far in Bigger she’s had all the words right by the end of the unit. This is a major improvement! With the spelling lists followed by dictation, will it get better? I’m a believer in dictation which is working fabulously for my oldest. I own All About Spelling level 1, but honestly, it was a miserable experience with my older daughter. So, not interested in that.


“Ms. Please Help My Daughter with Spelling Troubles”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My Daughter with Spelling Troubles,”

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 their spelling words out 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. This is pretty much what you’re seeing now. As you see your child’s reading is coming along, you see her spelling is now progressing a bit more too. That is not to say that in the long haul spelling and reading progress are always linked. This is not necessarily true, as the spelling words get longer and harder. However, you are already seeing some improvement with your daughter’s spelling troubles, and it is certainly in part linked to her recent improvement in reading.

Children to whom spelling does not come naturally need regular practice in properly capturing the correct mental image of a word.

Another thing to keep in mind is that for kiddos to whom spelling does not come naturally 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 and Bigger. So, one of the best things you can do to help your daughter with her spelling troubles is to work through the daily spelling lessons in Bigger.

Immediately erasing any incorrectly spelled word during spelling lessons will help lessen your daughter’s spelling troubles in an immediate, tangible way.

Since properly capturing the correct mental image of a word is so important, we keep the other writing the child is doing during that season of learning to copywork or copying from a correctly written model. This is because we don’t want the mind capturing the incorrect image (and 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. This will help lessen your daughter’s spelling troubles in an immediate, tangible way.

Be vigilant as you do the spelling lessons, and that vigilance will begin to lessen your daughter’s spelling troubles.

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), which helps the mind capture the image of the word even more clearly. Over time you will see continued progress and improvement within your daughter’s spelling troubles.

Dictation, as you have seen with your older daughter, will help your daughter gradually further improve her spelling skills.

Dictation builds on the foundation of mental picturing that is practiced in the spelling lists in Beyond and Bigger. It is where kiddos actually start to pay more attention to spelling in the context of sentences. This 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.

Students eventually transfer dictation skills to proofreading and correcting their work to be sure the right mental image remains.

Through studied dictation kiddos learn to transfer the skills of capturing a correct mental image of a string of words, auditorily hearing the sentence and repeating it back correctly, writing the words in the correct sequence (including all punctuation and capitalization), and 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. By practicing and honing these skills over time, students spelling troubles begin to diminish.

I encourage you to keep moving forward, patiently guiding and diligently correcting.

This is why I encourage you to keep on going, patiently guiding and diligently correcting. You will see progress as the years pass. Your daughter’s spelling troubles will gradually lessen. Just as you saw improvement in her reading, you will see improvement in her spelling. Just make sure not to put the focus on word memorization. Rather, place the focus on the ultimate long-term goal of writing correctly and proofreading in daily work.

In Closing

My own third son 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. Referring back to his reading material to copy the correct spelling of words has also been a ‘help’ to him. He uses this ‘help’ especially while writing 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 comes in handy. I share this to encourage you that over time with these methods, even kiddos who struggle with spelling will make gains in the area where it really counts.


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