Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Review of All About Spelling

My son has been given a gift of looking at things from an out-of-the-box perspective. He's always coming up with different ideas, building interesting creations, and generally runs a path all his own. He is also very logical in his thought process, allowing him to apply that creativity in a very systematic way.

Usually this unique perspective is an asset. However, it can sometimes be a challenge, especially when it is applied to something like spelling. You see, my son is dyslexic. Like most dyslexics, he is intelligent, creative and mechanically inclined. Like most dyslexics, he struggles with spelling. The English language, where "ough" in tough, bough, cough and dough sounds completely different, does not appear to be a logical language. Children are taught the basic sounds of the letters without rules and then expected to learn to spell words that don't follow the sound patterns they are taught. Not only is this difficult for any learner, the dyslexic child is completely at a loss.

All About Spelling, by Marie Rippel, is a comprehensive spelling program with a multisensory approach. Based on the Orton-Gillingham method, spelling is explained in a logical fashion with rules the student can understand. All About Spelling gives instruction in customizable, step-by-step lesson plans with built-in daily review.

The levels and word lists in the All About Spelling program are arranged by concepts and spelling patterns rather than by grade levels. Currently four of the six levels are available, with Level 5 due to be released in 2009. By the end of Level 6, the student will be spelling at the high school level. Children as young as preschool can successfully use the program. It is also ideal for older children who need remedial work.

Each level includes a teacher book and student packet. Letter tiles are necessary for all levels and need only be purchased once. An optional phonogram audio CD-Rom, used to properly hear and learn the phonograms, is also available. The costs are as follows:

Level 1, $29.95
Level 2, $29.95
Level 3, $39.95
Level 4, $39.95
Letter Tiles, $9.95
Magnets for Letter Tiles, $5.95
Phonogram Audio CD, $14.95

Additional student packets and spelling games are also available.

I could make this an extremely short review by summarizing my thoughts in one sentence:

I love this program!

I can confidently recommend this program to anyone looking for detailed spelling instruction.

How it Works...
All About Spelling uses magnetic color-coded letter tiles along with a flash card system of phonograms, sounds, key rules and words. After some initial cutting and organization of cards at the beginning of the program, there is no teacher prep work other than gathering whatever new tiles and cards are introduced in the lesson. Lessons are scripted and well laid-out, making this program extremely easy to teach.

Each lesson is divided into sections. The teacher is introduced to what will be covered in the lesson and materials needed. Before starting on new material, concepts from prior lessons are reviewed. Using the card system provided, focus is put on those items not already mastered. Following the review, a new teaching is introduced through interactive learning. New teaching is followed by applying the concept using the tiles and then on paper through dictated words, phrases and sentences. You can see a sample lesson from Level 1 here.

It is recommended that most students start with Level 1 or 2. Concepts and rules introduced in these levels are foundational to the program. Students skipping the first levels will miss out on important building blocks needed later.

Level 1 Scope and Sequence
Level 2 Scope and Sequence
Level 3 Scope and Sequence
Level 4 Scope and Sequence

A Comparison with Other Programs...

Previous to using this program, my son had already received some Orton-Gillingham instruction. Orton-Gillingham has been a proven method for successfully teaching dyslexics, my son included. Dyslexics must have clear direction, specific rules and instruction on breaking words into syllables in order to properly hear the sounds. Both our prior program and All About Spelling meet these objectives. However, there are several distinct differences.

All About Spelling focuses just on spelling. Many beginning and remediation programs combine reading and spelling together. Quite often a child having trouble spelling also is missing the phonics base that leads to successful reading. My son, however, is a stealth dyslexic, a concept developed by Brock and Fernette Eide. This means that he can read, and read well. At one point, there was a six grade discrepancy between spelling and reading. He is not in need of reading comprehension or fluency work. Other programs we've used had a large portion of the program devoted to reading skills integrated with the spelling instruction. All About Spelling has shorter lessons that cover just the material my son needs.

All About Spelling is written for the parent or teacher that does not have training in teaching the Orton-Gillingham method. The lesson plans are clearly written, not intimidating and give the parent confidence that they can teach their beginning speller or remediate their struggling speller. Our previous program was geared more towards the tutor, though also parent-friendly. The method is not difficult nor complicated to use, but some programs give that appearance.

The biggest difference is in the cost. While some may think All About Spelling is pricey at roughly $175 for Levels 1-4, cost and value are definitely relative. I had explored Orton-Gillingham tutors in my area only to find that the going rate was approximately $500 a month for 5 hours of tutoring. Remediation is not a fast process and most students will need 1-3 years of instruction. At $6000/year, tutoring was not affordable for our family. As an alternative, I started using a 10-level program that would ultimately cost about $3000 when completed. I was thrilled to find something affordable, though the cost was still out of budget of some families. All About Spelling is a tiny fraction of that price and so far is just as effective. I'm absolutely elated that All About Spelling is providing an affordable way for homeschooling parents to help their struggling spellers and give beginning spellers the foundation they need.

Pros and Cons...

The pros have already been discussed and fair outweigh any negatives. The biggest complaint I had was not only trivial, but has been remedied by All About Spelling. All of the cards used in the program needed to be cut from provided pre-printed card stock. Because there are a significant amount of cards used in each level, this wasn't a quick task. I am happy to announce that All About Spelling will now be printing the cards on perforated cardstock.

Some parents may not like that this program is not one that the child can use independently. It requires a parent to conduct each lesson and direct the student through the activities. This isn't a con for me, since it is what my son needs. Furthermore, All About Spelling takes a significantly less amount of time than what we had been using. However, those needing a completely independent spelling program for their child will not find it in All About Spelling.


Obviously, I'm thrilled with this product. This is an excellent product for *all* students. My daughter has always spelled above grade level, but I wish I had used this program with her when she was just learning to read and spell to give her a stronger foundation. My son is happy to use the program because he sees his own improvement in spelling. He's even surprised himself by spelling some more complicated words correctly, giving him further confidence. I will continue to use All About Spelling with my son and look forward to the release of the last two levels.

Visit All About Spelling to view FAQ covering many more topics not in this review. The site also has some excellent articles on teaching spelling.

Read up to 100 reviews on this product at the TOS Crew's Official Blog.

Do you think your child is dyslexic or has a learning challenge? Resources to check out:

Stealth Dyslexia
Eide Neurolearning Blog
Hoagies' Gifted/CAPD (CAPD is often the root of dyslexia)
Hoagies' Gifted/Dyslexia
GreatSchools/Schwab Learning

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