Spelling You See (Crew Review)
Spelling is a subject we’ve avoided addressing formally up until now because I wanted Ian to pick up spelling patterns instinctively through the context of reading and copywork rather than through memorizing lists and rules. That’s why I was so excited when I heard about the new Spelling You See program produced by Demme Learning, the makers of Math-U-See. I was even more excited get a chance to review Spelling You See: Jack and Jill (Level B). This program approaches spelling exactly as I hoped to, only in a more strategic, purposeful way than I ever could have come up with on my own without a lot of time and effort.
Spelling You See is geared toward elementary age students (or older ones who could benefit from going back and building a stronger foundation). It consists of five levels, labeled A-E rather than by grade level so you can place your child exactly where they need to be based on what spelling skills they have already learned. The website has lots of helpful information to guide you toward the proper placement, as well as sample lessons so you’ll know exactly what is expected of a child at each level.
I looked carefully through this material before selecting which level to use with Ian. He could easily read the passages from Wild Tales (Level C), but since we haven’t worked on spelling at all up to this point, and because Spelling You See emphasizes that each skill must be learned progressively and that it important not to skip stages, we decided to go with Jack and Jill (Level B) to make sure he developed a solid foundation.
It was definitely the right decision, and I was so thankful for the guidance Spelling You See provided so we could find the right fit. The first few weeks of the program were a bit too easy, so I just had Ian do a page from each week until I found a place that challenged him just enough to make it interesting while still being easy enough that he could take pride in his success and become confident about his ability to spell words correctly. Once we settled in, he just took off. He loves knowing what is expected of him, being challenged, and experiencing the joy of work done well.
What are the different components of Spelling You See?
- Instructor’s Handbook ($16)
- Student Pack, which for this level contains two consumable workbooks, a handwriting guide, and a pack of erasable colored pencils ($30)
These prices are for Spelling You See: Jack and Jill (Level B) and are current at the time of posting. Other levels may have different prices.
Please note: some of the pictures I’ve included here show us using a printout from a pdf file that was provided for the purpose of this review. The program is only available for purchase in book forms and the workbooks are consumable.
So what’s the program like?
Jack and Jill (Level B) contains 36 five-part lessons, designed to be used every day through the entire school year. Each day the child completes 2 pages in the Student Workbook. The first page focuses on a reading passage. (Jack and Jill uses a different nursery rhyme each week.) The daily work follows a consistent routine:
- First you read through the passage with your student, clapping along with the words. (Because these are nursery rhymes and can be said with a distinct rhythm I wasn’t sure at first whether we were supposed to clap the beat or each individual syllable. The practice book pages say “clap in rhythm,” and the Instructor’s Handbook also referred to “clapping in rhythm,” which to my musical mind meant clapping beats, but then a little further in it said, “When you clap the words together, each syllable should be represented by one clap,” which made more sense to me so I was glad to get that cleared up.)
- Then the student reads the passage with you, pointing to each word.
- The next step always has the student examine the words in the passage looking for something specific. One day it may be capital letters. The next day they’re looking for a particular suffix, vowel patterns, words that rhyme, words that are opposites, etc. Sometimes they can just circle what they’re looking for; other days they’ll want to use colored pencils (included in the Student Pack) or highlighters.
- Finally, the student copies a portion of the passage, helping them pay even closer attention to the text.
The second page for each day focuses on dictation, with the student writing down words or passages as you read them aloud. This is the part of the program where I really saw the progression of skill development. (The list of words can be found in the “Resources” section at the back of the Instructor’s Handbook, though I wish it were also included in the instructions for each lesson.)
For the first 6 weeks the top half of the page is just letter copying practice, followed by 6 words for dictation.
- In the first 2 weeks, they give the student 3 words to trace, and then they write the same 3 words on their own.
- In Weeks 3-5 there are 6 words, all following a Consonant-Vowel-Consonant pattern with the same vowel used all week.
- In Week 6 all the vowels are used each day, requiring the student to listen carefully to the words as you say them. The student says each sound as they write the letters and reads back the words after they have completed each one (an important step for learning how to both encode and decode words).
Starting in Week 7, the entire second page is used for dictation (12 words).
- At first they are still C-V-C words
- In Week 8 beginning blends are introduced (e.g. frog, slip, this). In the first few lessons, the position of the vowel is given, helping the student to visualize where to put letters for the other sounds.
- Weeks 14-16 focus on ending blends (e.g. dust, hand, rush).
- Finally, Weeks 17 and 18 move to 5-letter words with blends at both the beginning and the end (e.g. twist, cloth, clang).
In the Student Workbook Part 2 the dictation section consists of phrases from the week’s passage rather than word lists.
My Thoughts on Spelling You See
I REALLY like this program. There are a only a few minor things that I’m not wild about. The first is the style of handwriting. Most letters were formed the same I have taught Ian, but others were slightly different. I just had him write those the way he already knew how if he got confused. He had no trouble with this style of “y”, but the curls at the bottom of letters like “t” and “l” seemed to throw him off so he went back to using straight lines.
I also didn’t care for the way the lines were given for the students to write on for their copywork. I prefer using a 3-line guide that helps the student know where both capital and lowercase letters should be started, and Spelling You See only uses 2 lines, so Ian was never quite sure how tall to make his letters. I was consistently having to ask him to make his “d’s” taller because they looked like “a’s”. (This was especially noticeable on the dictation pages, where there were no lines at all, only boxes. The longer we used the program, the shorter his lines started getting, to the point that even he had a hard time reading back the words because he couldn’t tell if it was a “d” or an “a.”)
My only other issue was not knowing what to say when Ian ran into pesky spelling problems, particularly words with the /k/ sound. By week 7 the only words he had missed were “doc” and “yak” (chose the wrong ending both times). Later when we came across “skid” and “skip,” I saw him starting to write a “c” on the first word so I just told him to make it a “k” and then think about how that looked when he wrote the second. Then when we got to “scum,” he missed it 2 days in a row and finally took to asking me whenever we encountered the /k/ sound because he never knew what it should be. I would have liked a little more guidance about how to help him through situations like these.
Overall, however, the program as is excellent. As I said before, it’s the way I always wanted to teach spelling, but with the hard part done for me. There is no preparation required, and everything is completed quickly. Ian enjoys the work, almost like it’s a game to figure out how to spell the words I give him, and I love that he finds the lessons so satisfying. I’ve already got Wild Tales (Level C) ready for when Ian finishes this level, and I’m looking forward to starting Elijah as soon as I feel like he’s ready for more formal schoolwork.
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