Beverly Adams-Gordon began researching spelling instruction methods when she found from testing that her sixth grade daughter was spelling at a second grade level. After several years she had developed her own program, and the result was Spelling Power, now in its fourth edition. Intended for multi-grade use, the large teacher's manual provides all the information you need to teach the course in conjunction with the student workbooks and flashcards. While the size of the teacher's manual may be daunting, once the instructor has mastered the teaching methods the bulk of the work is already behind them.
There is too much in the teacher's manual to give a comprehensive review here—what follows is an overview of how the course works. A DVD hosted by the author and included with the teacher's manual offers a concise presentation and overview of the program. Although most of the information in the DVD is found in the book, it is a good idea to watch it straight through before reading the text to get a feel for the progression of the course.
Spelling Power is designed for students age 8 through high school. A series of placement tests help determine whether your child is ready to begin the course; the tests are repeated at the beginning of each subsequent year to gauge the student's progress. Before starting the program, students need to be able to write each individual letter of the alphabet, speak and read on at least a second grade level, have a basic understanding of phonetic rules and principles, accurately pronounce most words, and be able to stay on-task for five minute segments.
At the heart of the course is a 5000 word list of the most frequently used and misspelled words. This list is divided into 11 levels of frequency, each of which is further divided according to phonetic rules and spelling principles. The first test (a student ability test) contains 50 words selected from each of the 11 levels and is simply intended to determine the student's level of spelling proficiency. The test should be taken in written form, not orally.
The next test is the placement test. All the words are taken from the specific level out of the 11 that the student tested at in the ability test. Finally, you can fine tune your child's placement by analyzing a sample of his writing. What matters is how well he spells his words, not what he writes. By using the Searchable Word List tool on the accompanying CD-ROM, you can determine which level precisely at which your child can spell. This will not likely be more than one level above or below the one he placed at in the second test.
After you have determined the level at which your student spells, a basic structure for each day's work is adopted. Spelling instruction should take place five days a week for about fifteen minutes per day. The first five minutes of each lesson is a daily spelling test. Words include those misspelled from the previous day's lesson, as well as new words from the special Flow-Word Lists. During the next five minutes, students study the words they misspelled on the test, as well as new ones. The last five minutes are spent in skill-building activities, including games, hands-on exercises, and drills. Each year wraps up with review and testing for mastery.
Spelling Power was designed to integrate with your child's composition and grammar coursework. This will take some planning on your part; other than learning how the program works in the first place, this is where the bulk of the instructor's work lies. Since spelling is so important to good writing and proper understanding of grammar, this integration is necessary. Tips are included in the teacher's manual for this integration, though of course exact implementation will vary among different composition and grammar courses.
There are four student workbooks for four different age ranges. These include forms for the daily tests, as well as 10-Step Study Sheets for studying misspelled and new words. The study sheets include both auditory and tactile learning methods and are intended, through repetition and reinforcement, to thoroughly familiarize students with the words they are to learn.
There are 365 one-sided flashcards. Each one bears a spelling or phonics rule or principle and an activity that appropriately illustrates and reinforces it. The activities involve everything from tape recording the day's spelling words, to finding words in a newspaper to which the rules currently being studied apply. The accompanying Teacher's Resource CD-ROM includes hundreds more activity ideas, as well as a variety of instructional and grading aids; it is compatible with most PC computers.
This is a phonics-based course. Words are arranged not only according to frequency of use and misspelling, but also according to word sound and applicable phonetic rules. Detailed instructions for presenting material are in the teacher's manual; however, once the teacher has become intimate with the daily procedures and instructional philosophy, there should be no need to prepare for lessons beforehand, unless to get materials ready for the activities. The course is fully self-contained, so you won't need to pull together outside resources.
Overall this is a good program. Since it is research-based, the author compared and analyzed a large number of spelling curricula (as witnessed by the bibliography in the back of the book) before bringing what she had learned together in her own course. Spelling is not presented as a stand-alone subject, but as an essential element of a solid language arts education.
The size of the teacher's manual and the amount of information it contains scares off many potential users. However, the text is clearly written and once you've mastered its content you'll be prepared to instruct multiple kids over multiple years. Unlike many programs, lessons don't require daily preparation and even the student is expected to spend no more than fifteen minutes per day.
Some users complain that the word lists are not sequentially or logically ordered. While the words may be those most commonly used and misspelled, many parents would prefer to see word lists ordered according strictly to type and sound. Some effort has been made in this regard, though that isn't the sole emphasis of the course.
If you plan to use this program, get the teacher's manual at least a month before the schoolyear starts. Though it may not take you that long to read the relevant portions and prepare to teach your child to spell, having more time will definitely be of some benefit. If you get stuck and need help understanding some aspect of the text, the author has provided several means of contacting her in the book and Quick Start DVD. Other spelling courses may be more fun or easier on the parent, but some effort on your part could help your child become a first-rate speller, even if he has trouble spelling now.