Learning to read is the most basic academic instruction children receive. Most of what they learn academically throughout their lives will be read in books, websites, etc. It is vital, therefore, that kids learn to read well from the beginning. Wanda Sanseri believes that to read well, students must first learn how to spell well, and she's developed an elaborate curriculum based on this principle. Spell to Write and Read gives beginning readers little bits of information designed to gradually build into a complete understanding of English and its rules.
This may sound like putting the cart before the horse, but Sanseri assures us her methods are time-honored and historically used to teach kids to read. Her curriculum doesn't come with workbooks or exciting pictures because the point is to teach kids how to read, not entertain them with cutesy clutter and pointless projects. This is definitely not a self-taught course, but the idea of a self-taught phonics program is oxymoronic anyway. This is a teacher-intensive program that requires lots of preparation.
How Do These Work?
There is no student text, though kids do record what they're learning in a pre-formatted notebook. Spell to Write and Read is the primary text, being a detailed teacher's guide including teachable content and lesson plans. The WISE Guide for Spelling is a series of organized spelling lessons and is the companion text to Spell to Write and Read. These books are the core of the course and intended to be used for grades K-6; because it uses a logic-based teaching approach, the program can also be used remedially for students who are behind and even for adults who struggle with reading.
Spell to Write and Read contains forty "steps" (or concepts) of the program in the order they are first presented. These key phonics rules apply without exception to 98% to the 1000 most commonly used words in the English language (which makes up about 60% of what we usually read). Supplementary phonogram cards help students learn the 70 basic ways to spell the 45 sounds of the English language (such as eigh, which sounds like the long A as in the number eight). Spelling Rule Cards reinforce 28 basic spelling rules for kids to memorize.
WISE Guide for Spelling contains lists of words to spell, ideas for games to illustrate specific rules, and instruction on sentence diagramming, plus material on figurative language, composition, literature. . . (there's a lot here!). The Primary Learning Log allows students to record both lists of words they know how to spell, as well as rules for spelling. Sanseri's curriculum incorporates handwriting into the lessons so that kids learn penmanship (Mrs. Sanseri strongly recommends cursive first) while learning how to spell and read. The author encourages an organic approach to learning in which relevant material is integrated and not unnaturally split into several different subjects.
There is a variety of other material designed to accompany the"core" elements of the course (the two texts, two sets of flashcards, and 70 Basic Phonograms CD). The McCall-Crabbs Standard Test Lessons in Reading were designed to sharpen reading comprehension skills; The Alpha List is a dictionary of English words intended to prove the logical nature of the English language. Other supplements include games for young students, a cursive penmanship handbook, and a companion CD set.
Wanda Sanseri, together with twenty-three other endorsed SWR trainers, gives periodic lectures/seminars on how to use her curriculum (all across the US, in Canada, and even China!). Her approach, while apparently more traditional than that used in most schools (emphasizing phonics rules rather than sight reading), is somewhat complex; recognizing that, she is currently working on a written description of how the program works to help frustrated and confused parents and teachers. There are also videos available which instruct parents how to teach the course, and online support groups for overwhelmed instructors.
Our Honest Opinion:
Those who've attended Sanseri's seminar say they would use no other course for teaching reading and spelling. Those who haven't are often overwhelmed and find the layout confusing, though there is teacher support (like the Yahoo support group) and plenty of instruction to help you get the hang of things.
If you want them to have a solid grasp on phonics, reading and spelling, this is the best choice around. (TATRAS is the next best, but fails to integrate the writing element and some of the multi-sensory teaching methodology.) Seemingly complex rules are simplified and explained so kids are able to see patterns in the English language instead of daunting lists of words to memorize. This makes them competent and independent readers who can decode words they don't know instead of skipping over them.
You can't really afford shortcuts when it comes to teaching your kids to read. This program is fairly inexpensive, but it also takes time for parents to learn to teach and then to present the material—a small price to ensure your children are competent in the language arts, which form the basis of any education. An excellent holistic program, Spell to Write and Read is worth the money, the time and the results.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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