Read an Excerpt
Teaching Kids to Spell For Dummies
By Tracey Woods
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-7624-0
Chapter OneThinking Like a Spelling Teacher
In This Chapter
* Introducing the cornerstones of good teaching
* Getting ready, getting set
* Making an early start
* Busting through the jargon
Great teachers take care of all kinds of kids. They climb aloft to reach the highly strung, fix their acts for the divas, and tread warily around kids who rule their parents with iron fists. They seem to have every kind of book and brainstorm at their fingertips and manage to serve it all up with a generous dollop of Zen. What's their thing? Can anyone else get some of it? Can others do effective work without piercing their tongues and going back to college to learn it? Of course! This book piles you up with easy, practical strategies and awfully shrewd insights. Although you may not get the whole Zen thing, and, of course, you miss out on tongue piercing, you nevertheless get a down-to-earth spelling plan. And to add to all that, you get quick yet constructive stuff to do while chugging the kids off to soccer or coercing a cart of chicken noodles and ice cream (you made the mistake of shopping with the kids) through that traitorous slowest-of-all checkout line.
For now, though, don't worry too much about the details, because this is your introductory overview.
In this chapter, I start you gently on your spelling journey by taking a look at learning principles, which are otherwise known as all that stuff that great teachers have on their minds before they even get your child to take his coat off.
Understanding How Learning Works
Great teachers are nice people. They know that your child learns best when he's happy and actively engaged, so they find cool kid things for him to do. They're flexible. They try to think from your child's perspective and inject fun into every activity. And they see your child and everyone else's pretty much as family-quirky, often difficult, and excitable for sure, but family nevertheless. So, you're asking, what, specifically, do great teachers advise? Read on.
Showing and practicing
You can't just pile information onto your child and expect it to stick. Instead, you need to help him become active and involved in learning-as soon as possible. To help you do that, here's a three-step guide for getting your child actively engaged:
1. Show your child what to do. 2. Give your child plenty of assistance as you practice whatever it is you're doing. 3. Watch and applaud whenever your child independently engages in a learning activity.
Sharing also is an important part of learning. Your child thrives on your company, attention, and (deserved) praise. Whenever you can, join in your child's learning. When he's figuring out spellings (that is the entire idea, right?), hang with him and give him your support. A number of good ways to do your part in supporting your child include
Knowing when to back off
Have you ever had someone show you a photo album by holding onto it possessively while pointing out each shot? You know, someone who's so interested in the photos that she doesn't realize how irritating it is for you. Hanging onto stuff while showing it also switches off your child's interest. Just like you, your child wants to be the one doing the holding and showing. She wants to get that cool feeling of being in control. Whenever you can, let your child hold the book, the pens, or the worksheet. Having ownership and control means she can learn much more than if she thinks she's learning only your stuff. Make your child a willing and engaged learner by backing off and giving her a lead role. Your role needs to be that of facilitator, supporter, and guide-not hog-everything, bossy-britches.
You can help your child figure out spellings in different ways. If he's stuck on the word "library," for example, you can tell him, "Library's spelled l-i-b-r-a-r-y," or you can say something like, "Library can be tricky, because it's spelled li-bra-ry. Jot all of that down, and see what you get." The first option works, but the second works better. It makes your child do the things that good spellers do. A good speller:
When your terrific speller has done all of that, something occurs to her. She mentally notes that, yes, she can figure out spellings by going through logical steps. Even if her very last step is to ask you to correct her word, that's still fine. She's gone through the whole process by herself up to that point, so she's actively learning. In the process, she's remembering the spelling a zillion times better than when her very first step was to give no thought to the word other than to try to weasel the spelling out of you.
Have your child figure out as much of the word as possible before asking you for help finishing it off, but bear in mind that some words really try a child's patience. Take the word patience. If you insist that your child figure it out alone, you may just be driving him into a frenzy. Cut him some slack. Adopt a general policy of having your child take a try before demanding satisfaction, but give her help with words whose parts he isn't yet familiar with.
Having a reason to spell well
Your child likes to have a genuine reason to spell. Ask your child to write lists and notes as often as you can so he sees that spelling isn't just a classroom thing but rather is a necessity, or at least an asset, in the real world. If your child isn't convinced, you may want to run these reasons why kids need to learn to spell well past him:
Having your child say and then spell words
You're going to hear a lot about the importance of having your child say words in chunks and then jot down those chunks. Even when this habit sounds downright obvious to you, your child may not do it instinctively and instead may need you to make things clear. After you do, your child will be off and running. To quickly take your child through the saying-in-chunks part of spelling, lead her through the "What's in a word?" activity.
Activity: What's in a word?
Preparation: Open your copy of Teaching Kids to Spell For Dummies to the list of words in this activity.
Follow these steps:
1. Read these words out loud to your child.
2. Ask your child to tell you what chunks of sound she hears in them. Demonstrate by saying, "Inside is made of in-side."
I talk about breaking words into chunks in Chapter 15. I tell you the rules for breaking words into chunks but let you know that it really doesn't matter where your child breaks words as long as she says all the bits. In this activity, don't worry about where those breaks go (your child may say di-no-saur or din-o-saur); just listen to make sure your child gets the basics of chunking.
Keeping things short and sweet
Sometimes you see a fixed look in your child's eyes and know that he isn't listening to a word you're saying. You're telling him stuff that you already said a thousand times before ("Put your shoes in the closet"), but you're using 60 words rather than 6 ("Shoes get in the way and people trip over them. They bring dirt in and ..."). That, or he has far more interesting things on his mind. To save yourself disappointment, get real. Your child has a short attention span and is easily distracted. It isn't his fault when he gets that fixed stare, and in any case, he's the kid, and you're the grown-up. Keeping things short and sweet is up to you.
When you teach your child how to spell you have to be organized and authoritative, but other factors are just as important. When kids are asked what they want in a new teacher, they say that they want the teacher to:
So maintain a warm and happy tone. That way you keep your child equally as sweet-tempered.
A kitchen timer can come in handy for taking breaks. Have your child set the timer for a 10-minute break so she knows what's happening and when and that she has plenty of control.
Making a big deal about motivation
When the word "motivation" crops up, most people think of tangible rewards. Tangible rewards (like toys, candy, and extra TV) do, of course, motivate, but rewards that involve your child's feelings and perceptions are even better. If your child wants to please you or feel proud, she's naturally motivated, and you don't have to buy new toys and videos in the process. Natural (or internal) motivation is inexpensive, wholesome, and enduring. In practical terms, your child gets a natural boost when you're with her when she does her spelling. The same is true when you offer helpful suggestions (without steamrolling her) and when you comment on her perseverance, neatness, and cleverness. Praising her correct spellings and sympathizing with her when she struggles, having her take breaks and change activities frequently, and singing her praises to friends and family also are as beneficial as hanging with her after spelling sessions to shoot basketballs, throw a baseball, or simply chat.
The kinds of comments that count as downers or mood busters include ones like these:
Small kids like points charts (one point for nice manners, one point for a tidy room, and so on). If you get your child to make his own chart, he'll probably like it even better. I won't bore you with the details of allocating points for good behavior and limiting yourself to only three or four sought-after behaviors, because you've probably already heard that to death, but remember to include charts in your mental list of cool writing tasks.
Gathering Your Tools
A friend of mine once told me that his personal, all-to-himself space steadily diminished from the time his kids were born. Before kids, he said, his whole house was his personal space, give or take a few square feet for his wife. When his kids were toddlers his personal space was a room. When his kids were mobile, but still small, his space became a desk. At the time of our conversation, with school-age kids, he maintained that his personal space was one drawer that he, luckily, still had the key to. I know just what that friend feels like. My kids frequently lose their own scissors, tape, and erasers and have no compulsion about pilfering my desk. "But I have to hand this report in tomorrow," or "I'll put it back," they say. Yeah, right! Gather (and hide) your personal items, and organize and stow safely away the pens and paper that you need. Achieve this state of grace through iron resolve and a keep-yourthieving- hands-off policy (or by squirreling these items away under sofas and piles of socks just before spelling time).
Scour your toyshop, and you're sure to find some kind of word-building kit. Often it's a nifty case in which letter tiles and activity cards all fit snuggly. Kids love kits and do miles of spelling with them. They like fitting tiles into their right places, getting the better of whole stacks of work cards, and carrying the case around. Add a kit to your games stash, and you'll be glad you did. Don't forget to admire the case and it's owner; otherwise, with no one to notice it, the ensemble (and its benefits) won't be half as attractive to your child.
For educational games you can view and buy on the Internet, check out EducationalLearningGames.com. A particularly good spelling kit for beginning spellers is Spell Time by Cadaco, which has the Parenting Center seal of approval, and a favorite spelling game for the entire family is Quiddler. To view both games and many more, click on the "Spelling" option in the menu.
If you're in an Internet-surfing mood, check out home-schooling Web sites for good spelling resources and games. The reviewers do their reviewing conscientiously and with fervor.
Flashcards sometimes get a bad rap. People grab handfuls of cards from boxes they buy at the store, wave them at their child and wonder why she goes off to watch TV instead of getting caught up in the excitement. Flashcards aren't a substitute for absent adults, but they're great learning tools when you use them with your child in a systematic and interactive way. The trick is to take part but not take on too much in one go. If you're showing your child how to spell ain words, a bunch of ain flashcards are all that you need. Two hundred mixed spellings, all flashed at your child in one sitting, won't help him much. That said, here are some terrific, inexpensive sets of flashcards. They come in sturdy boxes that you can take with you everywhere, and you can pick them up at any good school supplies store.
Excerpted from Teaching Kids to Spell For Dummies by Tracey Woods Excerpted by permission.
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