A Breakthrough in Spelling: Charlotte Mason’s Method of Studied Dictation
Charlotte Mason’s method of studied dictation was truly a breakthrough in teaching spelling! The good news is, we can still do it today, and it only takes 5 minutes. So, just what is Charlotte Mason’s method of studied dictation? Well, to put it simply, she had children study a passage first. Then, she had the parent dictate the passage phrase by phrase, had the children repeat the phrase, and had the children write it. This was all done from a single reading, without repetition. She then had children immediately fix any errors, using the passage that was studied for help. Pretty easy, right? Well, at Heart of Dakota, we love Charlotte Mason’s method of studied dictation, and here’s why!
In studied dictation, children learn the skill of seeing correctly spelled words within the context of writing.
In studied dictation, children have to capture the whole image of a sentence or a passage in their minds. They need to look at the sentences as a whole, as well as capture the individual words and their parts. This really trains children in the habit of seeing correctly spelled words within the context of writing. After all, this is the ultimate goal of learning to spell! We want kiddos to carryover their spelling to their writing. So, practicing spelling words within the context of writing sentences just makes sense.
In studied dictation, children learn to listen carefully, which helps them strengthen auditory skills.
Studied dictation also forces kiddos to strengthen auditory skills, as they listen to the parent read the passage only once. Children learn to listen for the purpose of repeating perfectly from a single reading. Prior to writing, they then repeat back what the parent said. This 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.
In studied dictation, children learn to proofread their work carefully and check it with a model.
After writing the phrase or sentence, children then proofread their work before checking it against the model. This is a terrific way for children 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, which trains children in checking their work against a correctly written model. They become precise checkers with continual practice.
In studied dictation, children learn to practice immediate correction.
When children miss a passage, they mark any mistakes on the passage. They then immediately correct the mistakes on their own copy. In doing so, children practice yet another skill, which is immediate correction. Moreover, 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. The old, incorrect image is now replaced with the new, correct image. This is the very mental work that must be done in order for the poor speller to fix his/her poor spelling habits. It is also something the good speller does naturally.
Charlotte Mason had a continual focus on children NOT seeing words written incorrectly.
Charlotte Mason had a continual focus on children NOT seeing words written incorrectly. She believed the incorrect image of the word became imprinted on the mind (causing the “wrong” spelling to now “look” right)! This is why kiddos who struggle with poor spelling often have no idea whether a word is spelled correctly or not. It is because they have seen the word written incorrectly so many times that their mind can’t recognize the correct spelling – even when they try!
Charlotte Mason would not have been an advocate of spelling programs that require children to find misspelled words within passages.
Many spelling programs have a section that requires a child to find the misspelled word within a provided passage. In light of Charlotte Mason’s method of studied dictation, this type of exercise is definitely not a good idea! It actually gives the mind yet another opportunity to take a mental picture of an incorrectly spelled word! The theory for including this within a spelling program is that it is good practice for standardized tests, where kiddos will be asked to find the incorrectly spelled word. But in truth, it is training the child to focus on the misspelled word rather than on the correctly spelled words! Children who have been trained in the studied dictation method often have no trouble finding incorrectly spelled words on tests. They are too used to seeing the words spelled correctly! Incorrect words truly jump off the page… no practice needed!
Heart of Dakota and Studied Dictation
At Heart of Dakota, we love studied dictation! Starting with Bigger Hearts for His Glory, we include multiple levels of dictation passages. Though Charlotte Mason advocated dictation be taken directly from a literature passage being studied, we use the Charlotte Mason method of studied dictation while still progressing systematically through passages that gradually increase in difficulty. The dictation passages we use come from an old dictation book that was the standard for teaching spelling in bygone years!
In closing, through studied dictation, we teach children 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 students carefully proofreading their own written work in other subjects, which is exactly what we want! Heart of Dakota’s guides include plans to help you implement Charlotte Mason’s studied dictation methods successfully in your homeschooling, and that’s “More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment” to enjoy!!!