Monday, November 30, 2009

All About Spelling (TOS Review)

All About Spelling is my favourite so far of the review items that we've gotten as in-the-mail products (that is, not websites, e-books, or other online material). When I first checked out what the Review Crew had done last year, this program was mentioned frequently as one that got all thumbs up; so I was pleased to hear that this year's Crew was going to try it out as well. I was also amused to see a review from Ann Voskamp on the book's back cover--small world.

We haven't tried many other commercial spelling programs: we've used more "natural methods" of teaching spelling, such as copywork and dictation, reading, word games, and third grader Crayons has used online spelling activities as well. But, without trying to embarrass anybody, only one of our Squirrelings seems to be an intuitive speller. Crayons can read very hard books, but lacks confidence in spelling, which makes her sometimes reluctant to write.

Enter All About Spelling, Level One, and its accompanying Materials Packet. It's not a workbook or textbook program. What you do get: a lesson-by-lesson teacher's manual; a lot of coloured index-sized cards to pop apart (some are words, some are phonograms, some are rules to memorize); a sheet of laminated "tiles" to cut apart and stick magnets on the back of; and a few miscellaneous things like bingo chips and progress charts. Oh, and a CD-Rom of phonogram sounds. Pencil-and-paper or whiteboard work can be included as appropriate, but with the alphabet tiles it's workable even for those whose fine motor skills are weak.

If you have a large magnetic board, you can stick all the tiles-- lower-case alphabet letters and combinations of letters like CK and TH--on that and save yourself (or your Squirreling) the trouble of setting up the letters every day. I thought our old Coleco Magnetic Playboard (the kind with a chalkboard on the back) would be big enough, but it's only half as big as the recommended 2 x 3 foot surface. The fridge could have served, but the kitchen table turned out to work better for us, even though it's not magnetic. The magnets on the back of the tiles make them slide around the table better anyway than if we had left them plain.

Crayons completed the 24 "steps" (lessons) of Level One in under a month. If you have a young child just learning to read, you will of course go slower than we did. Crayons did not need to spend time working on single consonants or learn why we add "s" to make a plural. What she did find challenging was one of the first exercises: saying the sounds of words slowly (like "p-a-t" and "s-t-e-p") while pulling a plastic chip towards herself for each sound. We also needed to work on sounding out and spelling some of the vowel sounds and "consonant teams" that are taught in the first level. There are words that are covered at each level (170 in Level One), and several of them are added in each lesson, but this is not an approach that requires that every word be pre-tested, memorized, and final-tested: rather, it allows the student to spell ANY words that fit the spelling rules that have been taught.

This approach seemed to be exactly what Crayons needed this year. She enjoyed...as much as any third grader enjoys...the hands-on approach of spelling with tiles. (Sometimes I had her spell words out loud instead.) When we got to the end of each lesson, I skipped having her spell individual words on paper, but had her write the suggested phrases and short sentences instead, usually four or five a day. A younger child could do single words. She liked the humour of the phrases: "sniff and smell," "sink in quicksand," "six sad clams," "swam in jam." We had quite an interesting discussion about "rub his chin" and whether "he" might turn out to be a cat or a dog. I even learned something new myself: that there are no English words containing the letters "enk." (If you find one, let me know.)

The proof of success, for me, was that the same day we finished Level One, Crayons decided to entertain herself during Ponytails' dance class by writing a 246-word story. (I counted.) It wasn't perfectly spelled. But she asked for help with spelling only a couple of times, and it's the longest thing she's ever written (plus it was a great story). Coincidence? Maybe she's just growing up...but I will credit the month of All About Spelling she just completed with giving her renewed confidence and interest in writing.

We have just started Level Two, which we were also sent for review. This level includes eleven new phonograms and introduces more complicated words, as well as "jail words" that don't fit the spelling rules. I don't expect Crayons to take too long to get through it.

Will we continue on with the four other levels of the program?

Well, that was the point at which I went back to the website and checked the prices. The materials packet, which covers all the levels, is US$26.95. Level One is $29.95, and the other levels are $39.95. Extra student materials packets, which include the cards, bingo chips, and progress charts, are available for $19.95 apiece ($14.95 for Level One). You can also buy the CD-Rom, and the tiles separately, as well as additional items from the same publisher including a reader and a book about homophones. (I forgot to say that you can see sample lessons, and also a scope and sequence, here.)

While I was a bit floored by the generosity of the publisher in sending a hundred dollars' worth of spelling materials, I also had a few second thoughts about whether I would have purchased these materials at full price for a third grader, considering the speed at which we go through them; and whether or not I will be able to afford further levels. I do think that All About Spelling offers very good value overall (as Paddington would say), since the materials [in the first two levels; there are some write-in materials in higher levels] are all non-consumable except for the progress sheets and certificates; the laminated tiles are very sturdy, and the whole thing should last you through several children, assuming you have them. And considering how happy I am with Crayons' improved spelling, a hundred dollars for the materials and the first two levels could be thought of as money well spent. We will see how it goes with this second level, and if Crayons appears to need more of the same kind of work, I will consider getting the next one. If this "booster" is enough, she may do fine after this on her own.

For more reviews of this product, see the Review Crew Website.

Dewey's Disclaimer: This product was received free for purposes of review. No other payment was made. The opinions expressed in this review are our own.

1 comment:

Debra said...

My oldest burned through Level 1 in under a month too. It was tough to rationalize the cost... except that I am now starting it with child number 4... and All About Spelling has made all the difference in the world for everyone in my family who has used it so far. But yikes, the sticker shock!

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