Our experience with The Phonetic Zoo

One of my best friends is also a homeschool mom, and she and I love to bounce ideas and educational theories off each other whenever we can. (We are both nerds, yes). Over the summer we got together every night for a week and watched the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s teacher course. 9 hours of writing instruction, yes, but since we did it together it was not only educational but a great time!

During one of the lessons, Andrew Peduwa discussed why some kids (especially boys) have trouble with spelling. He said that often times a child will have all of the letters in a word, but will not write them in the correct order. Since this is exactly what we’ve experienced with our son, I was intrigued. Andrew went on to say that we see the word on the page as a unit, which is how we store it. However, we then have to recall the word to spell it one letter at a time. HIs theory is that words need to be stored letter by letter into our brains in order for us to recall them that way for spelling. The best way to do this? He suggests listening to words being spelled one letter at a time.

I have to admit, I was extremely hopeful that this could be the answer to my son’s spelling issues, but at the same time I was afraid that he would find this tedious. The Phonetic Zoo program operates from a mastery standpoint, which means that the child doesn’t progress to the next level until they can spell all the words in the lesson right 2 times in a row. The student moves at their own pace, but that pace might be maddeningly slow on some lessons.

I loaded the CDs onto his iPod so that he could listen to the tracks anywhere. While the repetitiveness of the lessons does get on his nerves a bit, each lesson only takes about 10 minutes, so he’s able to deal with it. I love that this is completely student led and self-motivating. While our previous attempts at spelling seemed to discourage him and tempted him to label himself as a ‘bad speller,’ quite the opposite has been true with PZ. Even though it took him 3 weeks to get through Lesson 2, he was so proud of himself when he finally made it that we all did a big high five. He’s really encouraged by the idea that we just had to find the way to get his brain to store the words in a way it could remember them – especially now that he’s seeing the results.

If you have a child who is struggling with spelling, I would recommend giving All About Spelling (early grades) or the Phonetic Zoo (older elementary thru middle school) a try. It’s quite expensive to get the CDs, but you can read the words aloud to your child yourself and not purchase them. Either way, it’s always nice to find a program or idea that changes your child’s motivation. This might be something that can help your child too!

The Phonetic Zoo

Auditory Homeschool Spelling? We’re giving it a try!

Spelling is one of the subjects that causes us the most angst in my house. I have one child who can spell any word, any time, anywhere – regardless of whether she’s seen it before. I have another child who tries very hard, but is often discouraged because spelling just doesn’t seem to stick. I’ve used the same spelling program with both of them from the very beginning, so it’s obvious to me that the problem lies not with the book but with how my son needs to learn spelling.

What confounds me even more is that I myself was a very phonetical speller growing up, and yet I can’t seem to help him (a phonetical speller himself) break through that and become a better speller. I have to admit that when I am teaching him diphthongs and so called ‘rules of spelling’ I find them as mysterious as he does. Sure, ei makes a long ‘a’ sound – but only some of the time?!? Weird. 😉 What saved me in school was that I was able to just memorize tons of words, but even now there are a few that spell check has to handle for me.

When I analyze his spelling, what I have found is that for words he misspells he either spells them completely phonetically OR he has all the right letters, just not in the right order. I should also mention that he reads exceptionally well, and has no problems sounding out large words he’s never seen before. How can you read words great but not be able to spell them??? This was my question.

I think I have found the answers! I have been going through IEW’s Teaching Writing with Structure and Style DVDs this past week, and Andrew happens to mention as an aside that spelling and reading take place in different parts of the brain. He explains that when you study spelling visually, your brain sees the word as an entire unit and stores it that way. However, to spell, your brain needs to recall the word sequentially to get the letters in the right order. Herein lies the problem. He goes on to say that particularly for boys, this visual/sequential storage can be more problematic. It totally made sense to me and seems to be exactly our problem here! (Cue angels singing in the background).

You can see a quick video introducing their ideas on spelling here.

So my plan is to take a leap and try out this (pretty expensive) spelling program and put our regular one on the shelf for now. I normally wouldn’t invest in something like this, but if I can help him succeed then it will be worth it! I really like the methodologies IEW uses, so I feel confident that we will be happy with this auditory style of spelling instruction. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Do any of you have experience with The Phonetic Zoo?