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Spelling Dictation Faux Pas – Part One

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The dictation process for teaching new spelling words is a critical part of the SWR method.

New spelling words are best put into the brain in the same manner they will be retrieved: drawing words from our brain to the paper. Most programs teach new spelling the opposite way: from paper (or tiles, magnets, etc.) to our brain. In SWR, however, the teacher guides the student in sounding out and shaping a new word correctly BEFORE the student sees it written on the board.

Wanda Sanseri includes a list of Spelling Dictation Faux Pas in the SWR book in Step #12. In this post I want to review the first six of these common teacher errors and examine why you want to avoid them. We’ll discuss the next faux pas in the next blog post.

To get started, may I suggest that you review the detailed explanation of the dictation process provided in your SWR text for List A on pp. 70-74 and the chart that’s on the inside back cover of the book.

Faux Pas #1: Asking the student to copy new spelling words or build new words by arranging tiles.

Wanda says, “Reading, primarily a visual skill, is taught best when involving all the key avenues to the mind (seeing, hearing, writing, saying). A third of the population, many with high intelligence, find reading nearly impossible to learn from a visual mode alone. By linking speaking, spelling, and writing with reading, we connect four different pathways to the brain, thereby paving the way for virtually everyone to learn.”

Introducing new spelling words with tiles or magnetic letters is not the same as engaging the student’s motor center of the brain when he writes. Did you see the article I posted Sunday about how handwriting impacts brain learning? If not, go read it now.

Allowing a student to merely copy is a passive activity that does not utilize all the learning centers of the brain. It’s possible to write something without having a clue afterwards what you wrote.

You’re missing out on crucial and powerful tools when you omit the writing part of the dictation process or have a student simply copy.

Faux Pas #2: Mumbling the word or omitting the “think-to-spell” memory aid.

Speak clearly as we think AND as we say.

If you didn’t know how to spell a word, would you be able to do so based on the way you say that word? Many words need to be articulated carefully in order to hear sounds that are otherwise “hidden” in speech. As the person who already knows how to read and can “see” the word, the teacher often misses the slurring or the mumbling she does as she says the word. When our student makes errors in his writing, could these be traced back to our lack of clarity while saying the word for him?

For example, the word “little” is spelled with two T’s, and one is silent. However, in speech, we don’t even pronounce the /t/ sound. The tongue doesn’t actually come in contact with the roof of the mouth in this word that same way it does in the word “top.” Say those two words and carefully listen to what you’re actually saying. How would your student know to use the T phonogram, let alone two of them, if you don’t SAY them carefully during dictation?

Record yourself dictating this week’s words. Then go back and listen to your recording. Write down exactly what you hear yourself saying. Are you speaking clearly enough that a beginner will know what to write based on your speech?

This video is an excerpt from my Q&A Facebook Live broadcast in April 2017, in which I discuss the Think-to-Spell tool and demonstrate some dictation.

Faux Pas #3: Calling out words using letter names.

Do not say, “Write ‘cee’ ‘ay’ ‘tee.’ Instead say /k-a-t/ and read “cat.”

You want your student’s immediate response to the phonograms to be sounds. This stores the information in the brain so that it’s more easily accessible for both reading and writing. Make sure you’re using phonogram language, not letter names. Review Step #5 in the SWR book for more on why we recommend avoiding letter names.

Faux Pas #4: Mixing letter names and phonogram sounds in dictation.

Don’t say, “Use H to write /h/.”

Again, you want your student’s immediate association with the letters (symbols) to be sounds. Get in the habit of using phonogram language at all times. This will be more difficult if you’re not practicing the phonograms yourself and if you’re working with an older student who learned letter names first. Difficult does not mean impossible; it just takes practice.

If you have our mobile app, practice is so much easier for you and for your students. Set yourself up as one of the “users” on the app and schedule time for yourself to drill the sounds regularly.

You can find more information about our SWR mobile app on the following blog post.

Faux Pas #5: Saying a word as a series of phonograms.

Do not spell “has” as /h/ – /a-A-ah/ – /s-z/.

Keep your dictation flowing the same way the student needs to think for spelling. To spell the word “has” he needs to think /h-a-z/. That’s how you’ll dictate it. If you need to clarify a phonogram, you’ll do so AFTER you’ve made it all the way through the word, not in the middle of dictation.

Faux Pas #6: Failing to clarify which phonogram to use when more than one can work.

How do you know when you need to clarify?

If a phonogram is saying any of its sounds other than its first (most common and most expected), that’s when you know you need to clarify for your student which to use. For example, when your student hears the /ah/ sound, how will he know to use O or A? Both say /ah/. If he hears /ah/, his brain should automatically go to O, because that’s the most common sound for that phonogram. When a word uses A to say /ah/, you will need to clarify for him.

If there’s more than one possible multi-letter phonogram for a sound, and either would work according to our rules, then you need to clarify which phonogram is the correct one to use. For example, if you hear the word “/m-E-t/,” how will you know to use EA, EE, EI, EY, or IE—all of which are two-letter phonograms that could say /E/? Any of these work with our rules, but only one is correct according to the dictionary—and that, of course, depends on the actual word you’re using (“meat” or “meet”). After the student has sounded out each of the sounds in the word while you’re putting up your fingers, go back and point to the two fingers you’re holding together to represent the /E/ sound and say, “Use /E-e-A/” or “Use /E/, the double /E/” — depending on which word you’re teaching.

Click here for Part Two of this series in which we look at more of the common teaching errors.

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