Many spelling programs are little more than lists of words for students to memorize and reproduce on paper. Others are too involved, heaping rules and exceptions on confused students. All About Spelling strikes a good balance, using a multi-sensory approach to teach phonogram-recognition and phonetic memory.
While Marie Rippel’s course isn’t a reading program per sé, it is phonics-based and could be used as one. Students are taught the rules of English spelling using a variety of audio/visual and tactile methods. The course is teacher-guided (no leeway is allowed) and the guides provide clear lesson plans and content to be presented to students.
How Do These Work?
All About Spelling is mastery, rather than grade, based. There are seven levels to be moved through at the pace best suited to your student, not simply one per year. You can begin as early as you want, though kindergarten or first grade is probably best. (The All About Spelling website has a very helpful article concerning student readiness.) The information contained in each lesson relates closely to what your child will learn in a phonics-based reading program, supplementing and implementing their knowledge of rules, etc.
The author contends that spelling rules are logical and progressive. Students need to demonstrate understanding of a concept before moving on. Each lesson is clearly laid out for the teacher, who then instructs the child directly, so there’s no need for guesswork on your part or on theirs.
Students begin by learning the 26 most basic phonograms. There are a series of perforated flashcards which form the basis both of review and of new material. The flashcards are included in the student materials packet. While the publishers indicate you need a student materials packet for each student, the elements are non-consumable and could be used for several children. However, having one packet per child makes things much easier, especially if your kids are struggling spellers.
An essential Starter Kit includes color-coded letter tiles, the magnetic letter tiles, and a CD-ROM containing the sounds for each phonogram clearly pronounced for students. The color-coded letter tiles help with quick memorization of individual sounds and blends and are laminated and ready to cut out. The basic phonograms are available separately as perforated flashcards to facilitate memorization to automaticity (being able to recall the information without having to think about it first).
Each lesson begins and ends with review, with new concepts presented in the middle. You can take as long as you want/need to make it through each lesson, as long as you don’t skip any of the material and make sure your student understands everything thoroughly before moving on. Some people complain that there isn’t enough review, but based on our analysis we wonder if they’re commenting on the same program.
All About Spelling is a mastery-approach program, meaning that you move at the pace appropriate for your student. Each level includes 28 lessons (or "steps") which build on the previous lessons, so we typically recommend students begin with Level 1 and proceed through the rest of the course. (More recently, the publisher has created a placement test, allowing you to jump in at other levels.) Many users implement a 4-day-per-week schedule with about 15-20 minutes spent each of the four days, though again this is a mastery program, and you should take as little or as much time as needed for your children to retain the information. Exercises are review-oriented, and can easily be repeated over and over.
Our Honest Opinion:
We can’t stress enough how easy this course is to implement, nor how complementary its use is to a phonics-based reading program. While it is teacher-intensive, preparing lessons is not difficult or time-consuming. The hardest part is cutting out the magnetic letter tiles. Other programs we recommend implement similar methods of spelling instruction, but this one accomplishes similar results with a rare economy.
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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