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Why We Don't Use the "List on Monday, Test-on-Friday" Approach

The most familiar method for teaching spelling is the "list-on-Monday, test-on-Friday" approach.

Children are given a list of typical words at the beginning of the week, asked to write them down a prescribed number of times, and then are tested on the words at the end of the week. 

For many children this method simply doesn't work because:

  1. they get frustrated by the repetitive process
  2. they find memorization difficult or boring 
  3. the words they’ve memorized are easily forgotten because there is nothing for their mind to “attach” them to

Even children who easily memorize spelling lists have problems, because children who learn to spell this way are lost as soon as they encounter new or more difficult words. They resort to “guessing” at the correct spelling of unfamiliar words and often get them wrong. This leads many children to a lifetime of poor spelling.

The problem is that spelling lists do not teach spelling strategies.

Spelling lists don’t provide students with an understanding of why words are spelled in certain ways, which would help students figure out how to spell the new words they encounter.

And worse yet, lists can easily confuse the young spelling student, making the subject of spelling seem difficult and unlearnable.

Consider these words taken from a typical spelling list for the long i sound:

                           item     cry      time       kindness       light       pie

Each one of those words is pronounced with the long i sound, yet each one follows a different spelling rule. How is a child supposed to know when to end a word in y rather than ie, for instance?  

Our spelling lists are specific, teaching one concept at a time.

Contrast the spelling list above with a list that just concentrates on teaching one new spelling concept at a time. For example, consider the three-letter /ī/ phonogram, which is spelled with igh. In this case, the words on the spelling list would be:

                          night     right      high       might       light       tonight       sight        fight

You can easily see how the words reinforce the phonogram the child has learned and give him an opportunity to practice it. This list has reason and logic behind it and will therefore be easy for a child to remember and use for decoding new words later on.

Then that newly-learned concept is reviewed in many ways.

After the student learns the words that follow that specific igh pattern, it's time to mix up the words. The igh words are mixed in with previously-learned words in spelling dictation and original sentences. The student gets the practice he needs and the great feeling of success that comes with the All About Spelling method.

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