Excellence in Spelling is a three-level spelling course based on the sequential nature of spelling and the importance of sight/sound relationships in committing learned concepts to memory. Like other IEW curricula, the course is designed for use by students from a wide age range. Unlike other IEW courses, this one is largely student-directed, though of course students will need instructional assistance from time to time. The program is easy to use, and young students will appreciate the fun "zoo" theme.
How Do These Work?
For each level there is a 30-minute video lecture (the same for each level), 5 audio CDs containing a total of 47 lessons per level, a set of large flashcards, and a set of small "zoo" cards. The video lecture is for parents to watch and discusses the instructional philosophy behind The Phonetic Zoo as well as how to oversee your students' work. The audio CDs contain the lessons your child will listen to, and the flashcards contain the rule or principle of each lesson as well as the lesson's word list. The flashcards also contain nine words on the front, three groups of three words divided according to level of difficulty; assign your student words from the "A", "B", or "C" group according to their ability. The "zoo" cards reinforce the spelling rules and have pictures of animals on them; they are to be given to the child once he has successfully completed the lesson.
Sight/sound relationships and repetition are the fundamental tools this curriculum uses to reinforce spelling rules. On each large flashcard there are pictures of two animals whose names illustrate the spelling rule—this gives students something concrete to remember, not just an abstract phrase. The CD lesson and flashcard both include a jingle or some other creative audial device to help students remember the principle. The "zoo" cards include the same animal pictures as the corresponding flashcards as well as a brief reminder of the rule; since students only get their "zoo" card once they have mastered each lesson, they have an incentive to learn the material quickly and thoroughly.
The sequential nature of spelling is also stressed. Words cannot be spelled merely with the right letters: the letters must be in order. For instance, writing "glir" isn't the same as writing "girl"—if the letters are not in the correct sequence, no one will understand the words you write. Word lists are consequently organized according to similar construction, thus reinforcing recognizable patterns in the language.
We learn things by repeating them. Excellence in Spelling includes lots of review, students spelling the same words over and over until they understand and can reproduce the proper form. The course is designed for mastery, and as the instructor you should settle for nothing less in your students.
The lessons are fairly self-explanatory. The course authors suggest you begin each lesson by presenting the rule as found on the large flashcard. The child then reads and spells out loud the three words on the front corresponding to his ability level. Next, present the child with the appropriate "zoo" card. Then comes the audio lesson: students listen to the lesson on headphones and memorize the jingle. The narrator then reads a series of fifteen words, using each one in a sentence, while the child writes the words, spelling them according to the rule he has learned. When he has finished spelling the words, the teacher guides him through self-correction so the mistake is not left on the page to confuse him.
Every fifth lesson is a "Personal Spelling" lesson, in which students fill in a blank flashcard with words of their own or words given to them by their teacher. These can include words they've misspelled in a writing assignment for another class, general frequently misspelled words, or words the parent chooses. Each word is written on the flashcard, and it is integrated into study.
Do not move on to another lesson until the student has spelled all the words in the current lesson 100% perfect two times. Lessons may take from three to ten days depending on how long it takes your child to get a perfect score. The first level, Level A, is designed for grades 4-5; Level B is for grades 6-7; and Level C is for grades 8 and up. If each lesson took one week to complete, each level would take almost a full year to complete.
After The Phonetic Zoo, you can move on to the Advanced Spelling & Vocabulary set. Using the same auditory, frequency, and mastery approach, this collection of nine themed spelling modules by Andrew Pudewa and Dr. James B. Webster will help prepare your student for a wide range of studies. This program is intended for self-directed study, with students independently learning and testing their knowledge. Each module has 4 lessons, with 24 words per lesson. Packaged as two CD-ROMs with all nine audio modules and PDF booklet to aid your high school student in mastering subject-specific content.
Our Honest Opinion:
This is one of the best spelling courses available for auditory students. It's easy to use for both students and teachers, and because each lesson has three word groups, tailoring the program to fit your child's needs should be no problem. Excellence in Spelling integrates well with Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, especially considering the "Personal Spelling" lessons—any words misspelled in the student's compositions can automatically be marked for use. Not entirely student-directed, but also not teacher-intensive, Excellence in Spelling is a comprehensive, systematic approach to teaching spelling.
What to Buy
The Phonetic Zoo comes in three levels. Generally, A is for 4-5th grades, B is for 6-7th grades, and C is for 8th on up. First time users purchase the Starter Set at the appropriate level for your student. When you're finished with that, simply choose the next level audio CDs and Phonetic Zoo Personal Spelling & Zoo Cards (This is called the Additional Phonetic Zoo program).
If you're not sure what level to buy, take this placement test.
Getting Started with Excellence in Spelling
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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