Sunday, September 5, 2010

Spell to Write and Read

Last year, I purchased Spelling Workout for Grasshopper on the advice of The Well-Trained Mind (TWTM), which cited it as the top-pick for spelling programs. As much as I love TWTM, I am afraid that following this particular suggestion left us looking for another program. I wanted to find a more strongly phonics-based program that we wouldn't have to alter to accommodate Grasshopper's age (5yo) and writing ability (about 5-6yo). (We ended up doing Spelling Workout orally. This would have been fine if she were learning something, but she was just memorizing the spelling words rather than learning how to spell.)

Because Grasshopper has a very interactive learning style, I was looking for something that we would be able to do together rather than an independent worksheet-type program. I had heard about learning spelling through dictation (Charlotte Mason style), and I started asking whether such a program existed. Well, as it turns out, we found Spell to Write and Read, which is not at all like what I originally was asking about. What drew me to this program was its strong emphasis on the rules of reading and spelling. (Grasshopper is very rule-oriented. If I don't teach her a rule, she will make one up. This goes for any situation.)

Spell to Write and Read (SWR) is just as its title says--children learn to write and to read by spelling first. I know it sounds backwards. But by teaching children 70 phonograms and 28 spelling rules, they can learn to spell, even if they are not reading yet. And doing so gives a new reader a solid phonics foundation. Now Grasshopper has already been reading for some time, so we are using it strictly as a spelling program. (Click here for a detailed description of SWR.)

We starting using SWR two weeks ago, and so far we are really enjoying it. Grasshopper is actually asking to do more spelling. As I have researched the program and prepared to teach it, I have come to believe that this method of teaching reading, writing and spelling concurrently is the best method. (However, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I have little experience with other programs beyond a little research.) While there are many programs that teach the same 70 phonograms and 28 spelling rules, SWR appears to teach them more thoroughly, using a multi-sensory approach that suits any and all learning styles. The child learns the phonograms and spelling rules by seeing them (visual), saying them (auditory), and writing them (kinesthetic).

Another great feature of SWR is that in one Core Kit costing about $100, you get everything you need for all years of spelling that they will take. SWR is often compared to All About Spelling, which costs $250 for the same amount of teaching material.

Despite my excitement for SWR, I must warn that SWR is not for the faint of heart. Following is a list of difficulties that I have found with the program.
  1. SWR is very teacher-intensive. It requires planning ahead, dictating spelling words and playing games with your child. I can see that once we get into the program for a few weeks, it will be a little more open-and-go. But the upfront time investment is enormous. (I spent a couple of weeks just reading the book and another couple of weeks starting my own log before I started the program with Grasshopper.) For this reason, I would caution you against starting SWR when you are in the midst of a huge transition such as moving or having a new baby.
  2. The SWR book is poorly written, making it very difficult to decipher what you are actually supposed to do. The fact that the chapters are labled "Step 1, Step 2, . . ." is very misleading. It is very verbose and written in almost a "stream of consciousness" format, as though someone wrote out everything they did but never went back to make sure it was in order and made sense. For example, Step 3 is "Read Aloud to All Ages," Step 14 is "Expose to Classical Literature," and Step 23 is "Assign Reading in Books." By themselves, each chapter is a good read. But these are things that most of us are already doing, and you have to read through these pages to get to the parts that you actually need in order to be able to implement the program. This is just one example of many, and it is unfortunate because it does not have to be this way.
  3. My personal belief is that programs ought to be able to be modified for the individual learning and familial circumstances. Ideally, SWR should be implemented as written, as doing so will guarantee the greatest success. But we cannot always have "ideal." However, the author and trainers on the Yahoo group are so adamant that SWR be implemented as written that they are unwilling to help exasperated mothers to adjust the program to their families and individual children. I believe that this approach only drives people away from using a great program. So, for example, if you have a 4yo that is dying to read but is not ready for writing, requests for help will result in advice to not allow him to learn to read yet. If your family is struggling because SWR is taking too long, the advice will be to hang in there and perhaps divide each session into two sessions per day. You will get little assistance paring down the amount of work.
  4. Similar to number 3, above, I have found it difficult to get assistance to modify SWR for a 5yo that is reading well above grade level. [I recently asked the list about how to answer Grasshopper when she was asking how to spell a word. (Should I answer with letters, or with phonograms, even though she is not learning the multi-letter phonograms, yet?) The author, Wanda Sanseri, gave me a great answer about moving ahead with the phonograms, even though we hadn't started the spelling lists, yet. Then a trainer offered me a schedule for older children. When I asked how I might modify it for Grasshopper, she told me I should only teach her the 26 letters of the alphabet. When I pointed out Ms. Sanseri's advice, the trainer was unable to offer any advice on how to proceed. I could have asked again on the list, but by that time I just didn't want to bother with it.]

In spite of all this, I still think this is a wonderful program. But I hope after reading this, you can purchase it with your eyes open.


  1. I also use SWR and will have to agree with the positives and negatives on this post. I will also agree that the yahoo group is great help and also very much the letter of the law. I have been using SWR going on two years now - with it set aside for a year until I could implement it "correctly." That said - it is a great program - it eliminates the need for separate programs and if you can spend a month or two just getting your head around it before you even think of using it. The up front cost might seem high - but when I then divide it by three children using it for at least 5 years each the cost is very reasonable.

  2. Back when I started this program (my 19 yob was starting 1st grade), it was called "The Writing Road to Reading." I actually attended a "training" program given at a local church. I eventually bought the "WISE Guide for Spelling" but I have to admit I never really followed the program for very long. Basically, my children learned the phonograms and made their own rule book and I'd do a test every once in a while. I used this for 4 of my children, and they are all excellent spellers. They also have amazing vocabularies - which I credit to their reading - so it helps to be able to spell.
    Keep up the good work with this program. You'll be happy you did!


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