One of the more tedious subject in our house has been spelling. It has often been accompanied by much unhappiness—whining, complaining, and yes, even tears. And can I really blame them? Spelling can be terribly boring.
I’ve written of my second-born’s struggle with spelling and how we overcame that, but with my older son we found another program that worked great (and cut down on all the complaining). In fact, it worked so well, once second-born progresses a bit further, I’m planning to move him to this curriculum too.
Bradley (my oldest) has now completed the entire spelling curriculum from the Institute for Excellence in Writing—The Phonetic Zoo. While it’s still not his favorite subject, the last few years of spelling have been a breath of fresh air. No silly busy work. It’s mostly independent (wooho0). And best of all: no more whining about spelling!
What’s included in the program?
The Phonetic Zoo is recommended for kids 9 and up. The level A starter kit comes with several pieces…
- 5 audio CDs and/or MP3 files
- zoo cards with the lesson’s jingle
- lesson cards which include the spelling words and jingle
- Phonetic Zoo teacher notes (spiral bound)
- and a link to the streaming seminar titled Spelling & the Brain.
Each of the zoo cards and lesson cards feature pictures of animals that correlate with the lesson’s spelling rule, hence the name “Phonetic Zoo.”
There are three levels of The Phonetic Zoo: levels A, B, and C. They each go over the same spelling rules with each level, but with increasingly difficult spelling words. You only need to purchase the starter set once, because the lesson cards have the words for all three levels on them. When you’re ready to move on to level B you only need to purchase level B audio CD’s to accompany the zoo cards and lesson cards that you already have.
How does the program work?
Before beginning the program I watched the Spelling & the Brain video seminar. Fantastic training—don’t skip it!
Spelling and the Brain outlines the research and premise’s of this spelling curriculum. One of the main underlying suppositions is that spelling is sequential, so when learning to spell a word, it’s best to learn the order of the words through auditory input. When we look at a word, we see it as a whole and it can be easy to miss the sequence of letters. How many times have you spelled a word knowing all the letters were there, but not sure if it was quite right? I know I do that.
- As the teacher, I introduce each new card and accompanying spelling words using ideas from the teacher notes. I have Bradley spell each of the 15 words on a small white board to see what he knows, and then the words he gets wrong I dictate the letters to him and he rewrites the words. We talk about where the problem areas are.
- In the days following the introduction of new words, Bradley listens to the audio CD. On the CD each word is dictated, and Bradley attempts to spell the word correctly. He then listens to the next track on the CD where the correct spelling of each of the words is dictated to him. At this time he copies the word as it is dictated to him. (I designed a spelling sheet for Bradley with spaces for him to record his spelling words both times through. You can download it here.)
- The final step is for Bradley to check his work and see how many spelling words he completed correctly. When he gets 100% twice in a row, he moves on to the next lesson.
Every fifth lesson is a Personal Spelling Lesson. In the weeks leading up to this lesson I jot down words I’ve noticed Bradley has misspelled on other assignment. These words become his spelling words for this lesson.
The Personal Spelling Lessons take a bit more time on my part, as I have to take the place of the audio CD by dictating the words and their correct spelling, but I’ve found it’s quite easy to do. During the first year, it’s a subject I did while nursing my twin babies—yay for being a multi-tasking mama. Now that he’s older, I notice less misspelled words, so sometimes we just skip the personal spelling lessons.
Both Bradley’s and mom’s experience have been very positive. Bradley loves that some lessons he can fly through, spelling takes just a few minutes a day, and there isn’t the pressure of studying for spelling tests.
Some lessons he has accomplished 100% the first two times through right off the bat—done and move on to the next lesson. Trickier lessons have taken him a couple of weeks. And the vast majority of lessons take about a week to complete.
I don’t put any pressure on him, because finishing the program isn’t a race. The goal is to learn to spell, not finish the program in a set period of time. I typically give him a school day off of spelling after successfully completing one of the lessons. This is a nice incentive for him to study the words and complete the lesson.
There was a learning curve the first couple of weeks for Bradley. He sometimes got frustrated with not being able to keep up the pace with the words that were being dictated. He had to learn to coordinate writing and pausing the CD. Now, he rarely pauses the CD, but flies through the spelling words. His writing speed definitely increased as he got older.
The first year, we used a lap-book I made to store zoo cards and also to review words. I downloaded the directions Phonetic Zoo lap-book on the IEW Yahoo group loop. The lap-book print-outs are available in the teacher note’s which come with the program. It’s been a fun way to keep all of the zoo cards in one place and a good way to review past spelling words.
What I like about the program
The focus is on mastery. We don’t move on to new words until Bradley has mastered the set he is working on.
It’s a (mostly) independent program. Other than introducing new words to Bradley, periodically checking his work, and helping him with his personal spelling list, Bradley is responsible for his own spelling program (and I’m a big fan of developing independent learners). Curriculum that frees up this busy mommy while not sacrificing quality education is always appreciated!
There’s no busy work. Alphabetizing, copying words, spelling crossword puzzles, word finds, and a countless number of activities found in most spelling programs are no where to be found here. Whew! This is a good thing for my no-nonsense boy who got frustrated with all of these types of activities in years past.
Bradley doesn’t mind spelling! To say he enjoys spelling would be a bit far fetched, but I don’t hear any complaints about spelling anymore. He happily and quickly completes this subject.
They have great customer service and support. I was missing one of the lesson cards, so I emailed IEW and they sent one out in the mail and I had it in just a couple of days. They also, as I mentioned before, have a yahoo group with IEW representatives who are always available to offer suggestions, support, and answer questions.
They have a money-back guarantee. IEW has a fantastic money back guarantee! If you purchase any curriculum from them and decide you don’t like or it simply doesn’t work well for your family, you can return it for a full refund. The refund has no time limit, and they’ll even provide you with a postage paid envelope.
Looking for something for your younger kiddos?
When I stopped by the Institute for Excellence in Writing booth at a homeschool conference and told them all about my spelling woes with my younger kiddo, they didn’t steer me wrong. You can learn more about what I do before Phonetic Zoo in this post!