Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Review of Bonnie Terry Learning

For over 35 years, Bonnie Terry has worked in special education and currently is director of a private learning center. She is recognized as a top expert in her field. You can read more about her impressive credentials here. Terry's expertise from her many years of working with children who were struggling academically is now available, printed and bound for parents and teachers to use with their own students. I was sent two products for review - Making Spelling Sense and Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills.

Making Spelling Sense
Grades 1-3, struggling older students
120 pages plus appendix

Making Spelling Sense focuses on spelling the 500 most used words with spelling patterns. Once the basic spelling patterns are mastered, students should be able to spell thousands more words beyond the 500 taught in the book. Terry removes the mystique of spelling by pointing out that consonants and vowels combine in only 8 different ways to make words. The book consists of the following parts:

Part I: The eight spelling patterns in 50 spelling lessons for the 500 most used words in the English language.

Part II: Suffixes, Open and Closed Syllables, Prefixes

Part III: Additional Word Lists

Part IV: The Appendix, Practice Test Sheets

A DVD is provided that explains to the teacher how to teach the patterns and use the book. Each lesson is covered in the same 2-page format. Ten words that follow the pattern are introduced by having the student write the word and identify the pattern. On the second page are two puzzles that use the words on the previous page. Any spelling rules or tips that may be needed are noted at the bottom of the first page. Terry has incorporated a helpful pretest and test procedure where the students first write each sound, next write the word, and then the spelling pattern before testing for the lesson. Making Spelling Sense utilizes visual, auditory and tactile modes of learning.

For my struggling speller, I used those lessons in Making Spelling Sense that aligned with our current program as a supplement. My son appreciated the puzzles the most! I found that everything was well laid-out and easy to follow. I particularly liked the pretest method described earlier. As far as the approach, my son seems to do better with a focus on spelling rules rather than patterns. However, Making Spelling Sense referenced many of the same rules and was compatible for re-enforcement. Pattern recognition is also a component of my son's current spelling program and can be effective for many students. I asked Terry about using this as a supplemental program, rather than a stand alone, and she had the following to say:

"I always believe in making things as relevant as possible. The books can easily fit into any other program you are working such as Orton-Gillingham. They are a great supplement/addition to the program. I like teaching patterns because there are only 8 of them to retain vs a whole bunch of rules."
I also inquired about Making Spelling Sense II, the next step of her spelling program.

"Yes, a stronger speller can jump into book II without going through the first one. The lessons are all based on the patterns too. The second book gets into more difficult words and after completing it, there is a list of 113 sets or pairs of common homonyms that can be used for further spelling lists and a list the most 500 most frequently misspelled words that you can do with the same pretest sheets and pick out activities from earlier lessons to do with them."
If your student is having trouble with the spelling rules, focusing on the eight spelling patterns may be what they need to get them over the hurdle.

Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills
Grades 1 and up
58 pages, single-sided

This book includes quick and easy exercises used to improve writing and study skills. Thirteen different forms are included with detailed instructional sample pages. Each form helps the student to organize information simply and visually. Once information is categorized, students are better able to write about or study the material. Various study aids and references are also included. The sections are as follows:

Part I Getting Started, supplies needed and planning calendars

Part II The Nitty Gritty, various forms and examples

Part III Study and Writing Tips, general study and note taking tips

Part IV Easy References, spelling, grammar and writing tools

The exercises are easy and non-threatening to the student, yet teach the important organizational skills many students are lacking. For example, one form is called the Hamburger Paragraph. The top of the bun represents the topic sentence, or main idea. The ingredients equals the details of your main idea. Lastly, the bottom of the bun is a conclusion or restatement of the topic. Students can put their thoughts in each category, before writing a paragraph. Giving a starting point with organized ideas, it is then easier to focus on how to express the information in complete written form. Some of the forms in this book can be used as early first grade and others through high school.

Both of my very different kids lack in the area of organizational skills. This is such an essential precursor to learning. Terry has included many simple forms all in once place for easy reference for a variety of ages. These forms can be used with any subject. For example, my son was doing a science lesson and I had asked him to repeat to me what he had just learned in the lesson (how flight works). He knew the information, but was having trouble organizing his thoughts for a complete verbalized answer. I made a copy of the Cause and Effect form, which consists of two rows of five boxes with a line connecting each box row. The Cause is on the left and the Effect on the right. Together we decide on each factor of flight and what effect it had. In the end, our form looked like this:

The Cause box doesn't necessarily have to be filled in with the information from the previous Effect box. This is just how we did it. Seeing the step-by-step cause and effect visual on the form helped my son to better explain the process.

For my daughter, I see a lot of potential with the forms that help create an outline for research papers. She is an excellent writer, but often times has trouble organizing her thoughts before writing. For fiction, a write-where-your-imagination-leads-you approach is sometimes effective. With a research paper, it is usually not. The outline form will help her organize thoughts and topic components in a way that is not overwhelming prior to writing .

I especially liked the Study & Writing Tips section for quick reference while doing writing assignments. This section included references such as writing a bibliography, essay writing tips and general writing tips.

For the typical homeschooler, I felt both of these titles were on the pricier side. However, for those with struggling students, this may be a small price to pay to get your child on the right track, not to mention much cheaper than tutoring. A tutor or teacher, with many students, may get more bang for their dollar. Both books come with a limited reproduction permission for reproduce up to 50 copies per year to use with the purchaser's own students.

If your student struggles in the area of spelling or study skills, these products may help them get on a better path to learning. All Bonnie Terry Learning products come with a 60-day money-back guarantee, no questions asked. Visit the website to read more about these products and others offered, including learning games. For free teaching and homework tips, stop in at Bonnie Terry's blog.

Be sure to visit the Official TOS Crew Blog to read more reviews on these products and others offered by Bonnie Terry Learning.

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