Sunday, May 26, 2013

Struggling Spellers...The Phonics Connection
My son is a phenomenal speller.  My daughter was a struggling speller.  They both love to read and read a lot.  I was trying to figure out why my daughter's spelling was just not clicking for her.  I picked back up The Core by Leigh Bortins Click Here I've had laying around since I last read it and began re-reading the section on Reading.  I was trying to see if there was something I missed.  Then it clicked - Phonics!

My son loves phonetics.  Part of his obsession since he was 18 months old has been with the alphabet and phonics.  He has always loved games like Reader Rabbit, Bailey's Bookhouse and lots of videos like Rock-n-Learn Phonics and Leap's Word Factory.  Those were the things he'd do in his spare time.  He began reading very, very young.  He plays everyday and loves it.  He is an amazing speller.

My daughter was more interested in using her imagination playing made up games and dressing up when she was little (and even now to be honest!).  She seemed to teach herself to read once she knew the ABC's.  We started with The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading (recommended by Well Trained Mind).  About half way through it she was off reading small chapter books on her own and didn't have an interest in finishing the book.  I didn't push it, figuring that the idea was to get her to read - so why keep going if she didn't want to and she was reading.  I started her in Spelling Workout not too long after.  It was a real struggle.  I wasn't sure what the problem was.  She's very smart and was reading chapter books easily (sometimes multiple ones a day) by that point.  So I had to regroup and pray for direction.  That's when I reconsidered the phonics again.  I realized she didn't grasp how words were constructed very well because we didn't finish our phonics program - her intuitive reading ability gave me a false sense that she didn't need to continue.  Leigh writes in The Core "Some students seem to teach themselves to read well without much effort.  That is probably because somewhere in their early instruction someone showed these natural readers that each symbol represented a sound and from then on the child was able to crack the code without much help."  Yep - she nailed it - she "cracked the code" and was off reading, giving me a false sense that she didn't need to do "phonics".  Leigh also writes "The great thing is that learning the 70 phonograms and the basic spelling rules enables one to enunciate, pronounce, and read far more than the English language." So back to phonics I had to go...

So I set out looking for another approach to re-teaching phonics now that she was reading a lot and might be resistant to instruction in this area.  I found a workbook that included all the phonics rules and approached things in a fun but constructive way.  It was by Horizon.  It's called "Phonics and Reading Book 1" Click Here.  This contained colorful pictures and covered vowel sounds, prefixes, suffixes, syllables, blends, possessives and more.   Each page has a "Phonics Rule" it states and the activity works off from that "rule".  It was perfect for going back and picking up the pieces she missed by not completing the phonics curriculum we started with years ago.

To further shore things up I changed to Christian Liberty Press' "Building Spelling Skills" curriculum.  This tackled spelling through phonetic principles presented before each "Unit" which further helped her gain familiarity with how words are constructed Click Here.

What's the end goal?  Again, I think Leigh says it best when she writes "...for the student who knows phonics very well, all words eventually become sight words; they will look through the code of symbols right to the abstract meaning and read beyond the squiggles on the page.  Decoding skills become so easy for them that they can read difficult passages from authors such as Shakespeare or Melville out loud for the first time and they sound as though they have read all the words many times before."

I hope my experience helps someone else out there.  It's an easy mistake if you have a precocious reader.


  1. I too have discovered something with my girls and phonics retention. I discovered that if we don't revise it, we lose it. Last year I made huge gains with the girls on knowing their phonetic sounds, but then I figured, oh they know them I don't need to keep going over them, so I stopped. Sure, they kept on reading, so well in fact that I didn't think much of it. However, just recently I found that they could not recall a lot of the sounds if I flashed them a card. So, they lost it because they stopped revising. Having lost the individual sound skills will limit their future word study and vocaularly building - so I am back at flash carding again. { Spelling rules / syllabification rules } are also on the table. I guess in the early years there's a fair bit to be said about true memorisation and reviewing. :)

    The Paper Maid

  2. My son is similar. He reads fantastically for his age, so I haven't been reviewing the rules and sounds with him, but his spelling is not nearly as good as his reading. I'm not going to worry about it for the summer, but I'm going to add the 70 phonograms and the rules to our memory time starting in the fall. I figure my daughter needs to learn them anyways, so it will be perfect for both of them. So Deborah, I agree with you!