I was the Title One Reading teacher in the first and second grade classrooms, teaching the phonics program I had developed based on the dyslexic method to 100 percent of the students. Word spread of the astounding student success. Parents would come up to me in the halls and say, “I want you to teach me this stuff so I can help my child.”
About that same time the teachers were complaining about the spelling. They commented it was too easy at the beginning. “The first words in spelling are all three letter words with the same vowel in the middle. Kids don’t have to think.” The teachers of older grades complained because the lists were created with random unrelated words. The kids couldn’t find patterns and all they could do was memorize them. They felt it was unnecessary and unfair to the students. I made the statement that would lead to changing the trajectory of my life. I told the teachers, “I think I can do better than that.”
That evening at home I also realized this could be a win/win situation. If there’s one thing ALL parents do, it is study spelling words with their child. I thought, “What if I could week by week in the spelling notes, I could teach the parents the dyslexic method? What if through my spelling, the students not only learned how to spell the most common words, but also bit by bit the parents would be learning what they so eagerly asked me to teach them?
And thus it began, three summers dedicated to creating the spelling program.
I remember on a flight to San Francisco to visit my son, I had the 1000 Dolch words, and most commonly misspelled words before me. On that long flight, with five different colored highlighters, my job began.
First I divided up the words by grade level, then I divided them by syllable type or word patterns, then I figured which words were the most difficult and used most often. Those words would be repeated every year. Lastly, I included homophones because if there’s anything that would get in the way of student success as an adult; it would be using “there” instead of “their”. (After all I was thinking long term here.) Lastly, I included the most commonly misspelled words.
My last four decisions were:
- I decided three years of a phonics based approach using tactile methods was all that was necessary. All students, even those with learning disabilities, would have the basics down by that time.
- I would start out with review so the students would achieve success. The first six weeks would be relatively easy. The lists would be progressively harder, making it challenging. (Using the dyslexic method, students would be spelling two syllable words in first grade and by third grade, three syllable words would be a piece of cake.)
- I would make worksheets and teach the teachers how to use tactile methods to teach Spelling. I’d be sure and tell the teachers it wasn’t necessary to use all the materials, but they would be provided in case they needed them.
- Lastly, I would provide the weekly spelling lists in word document form. This way the teacher can edit the lists to accommodate the needs of her students. Teachers could adjust lists to meet intervention requirements and add words needed for their writing. They may choose to edit the dictation sentences.
Thee confidence students gained by understanding the patterns, using tactile methods, and repetition of difficult words would develop successful spellers.
Every time I would become tired and want to quit, I’d remember the face of a struggling student. This would give me energy to continue, knowing those students could achieve success also.