All About Spelling

Gotcha! I’m actually not going to talk about the program, All About Spelling, because I haven’t used it, but I am going to speak about spelling and right-brained, creative learners. Often, it’s these types of learners that propel a parent to get the program All About Spelling. But maybe, if a parent knows more about how spelling works with right-brained children, it will open up more options as well, and certainly more information and knowledge.

It’s said that any speller, left- or right-brained dominant, tend to become proficient in spelling two years after reading fluency. Since a left-brained dominant child tends to learn to read between 5 and 7, they tend to be good spellers “early” as well. Further, spelling is in their wheelhouse of universal gifts of word-based thinking and sequential processing. These children learn to read in a part-to-whole fashion, naturally focusing in on the parts of a word to learn it, often via phonics, which is the same process needed for spelling. It’s advantageous for them to learn to spell while they learn to read. It enhances both experiences for them.

For a right-brained child, it’s a very different story because it’s a very different process and timeframe. The universal gifts of a right-brained child are picture-based thinking and an extraordinary imagination. Because pictures are the Spelling With IMagery - SWIM strategyprimary focus, spelling is not advantageous to the reading process. As mentioned in my last post, right-brained people translate all words into pictures as they read. Ideally, they skim across the top of words (silently) as they read enough to “catch the visual” or translate the words into images. That means they are not focusing on the parts of the words, which spelling requires, but the whole, at this point. Therefore, a right-brained child might do best to begin spelling skills two years after reading fluency, as it requires a different process to reading. A right-brained child is focused on the whole when learning to read, and spelling requires a focus on the parts in order to learn to spell. So, how does a right-brained child learn to spell well?

I can think of three ideas off the top of my head for exposure to spelling during the pre-fluency reading stage for right-brained children (which tends to be between 8 and 10 years old). This enhances their (often) sight word based learning focus while learning to read versus competing with it. The first is to Dirty5willingly be your child’s dictionary. When a creative, right-brained child is writing a story or script or poem or whatever type of writing or expressing their idea that motivates them, it may be common for them to shout, “How do you spell x, Mom!?” Our conditioned response is to either create a spur-of-the-moment phonics lesson or instruct them to “look it up yourself.” This discourages the right-brained child’s focus on the substance of their expression project in getting their thoughts out. They know you are the most useful, convenient source of spelling knowledge, and they are trying to use it. I did this willingly for my first son, who is my most natural speller of all my right-brained children.

The second idea is using technology to provide this type of instantaneous spelling feedback through a voice recognition program. As the creative ideas flow from a young right-brained child’s mind, and the dictation program instantly writes it for them, the child gets immediate spelling reinforcement and feedback on what that word looks like in written form. Yet, the creative child can still focus on the content, which is their strength area at this point when pursued in a manner that reflects their gifts.

The last idea is to play games with or use a program such as Primary Phonics that introduces spelling through word families and pictures. A right-brained child may be able to pick up this level of spelling through doing the worksheet, or you could Stamp-and-Spell-Literacy-Play-7create flashcards with the pictures from the resource. It can be self-correcting if you have the picture on one side and the word on the other side. Another effective game for right-brained children with word families is to play the game, “Make a new word changing one letter.” Change rat to cat by changing one letter. Change cat to cot by changing one letter. Be sure that the visual is well-established before instituting this game, however. This should be a fun way to practice known words versus learning new ones.

Once one or two years after reading fluency has occurred (usually between 10 and 12 years old), and there are still problems with spelling, it’s time to take the information you know about how a right-brained learner processes information and analyze where the breakdown may be occurring. Let me give an example with my builder son. At 13-14 years old (after the 11-13 year brain shift), he noticed and wanted to improve on his poor (actually atrocious) spelling skills. As I asked him to spell various words, I noticed he did alright with smaller words like cat or dog, but with words of more than one syllable, he failed miserably. I realized he didn’t notice or know how to break down words into parts. The resource we started with because of this knowledge was Greek and Latin roots. Not only do these types of resources explain there are parts, but shows that there are meanings to each part! Thus, even a visual can come into play in learning parts of words. When he quickly discovered this knowledge, he exclaimed, “Why didn’t you tell me words were like LEGO?”

After he understood there were parts to words and began to successfully work with that knowledge, we discovered that his weak auditory processing was also hindering his spelling progress. My builder son didn’t know how to translate the part sounds into letters. For instance, it was hard for him to discern and translate spelllistnaturalspellerthe part “tion” in the word “action” efficiently. I purchased and used the resource Natural Speller in this instance. I didn’t use it for the purpose it was created, but this resource comes with lists of words categorized by parts and organized by grade level. So, one list may have action, creation, pollution, invitation, repetition, etc. in Grade 5. I would first say the sound group we were focusing on, helping him cue in, and then sharing what the translation was, and then I would give him 2-4 words from the list for 2-3 days or until the word list was completed. With a year’s practice through the various sound parts and various grade levels, he became good at translating even new sounds into words.

Once we did the troubleshooting of these two areas with his spelling, it completed his spelling skill development. To do an overall practice with spelling, we worked from Sequential Spelling, which utilizes the game format of “change one letter” type idea. I used the resource actually the way it was produced for once! My builder son progressed from atrocious to a good speller status.

A very important key to note at this time is that my builder son didn’t have a negative connotation to spelling. He actually had consistently created written work of his own creation throughout his childhood, but I intuited that correcting 14elijackit at that time would have hindered this positive relationship he had with written words. I accepted the creation behind the work and commended it for his creativity, his strength, and honored the process he was walking in adopting left-brained skill strengths into his right-brained repertoire. This ingredient, along with readiness to develop a weak area, married with the right resources that work with his process produced wonderful progress.

There are other strategies in working with right-brained learners in cuing into spelling differences. Using color to highlight letters that go together or problem areas for the child in remembering can be successful. Creating pictures around difficult, non-pictorial Dolch words can be a way to remember how to both read and spell them. Or even modeling the words out of clay or Play-doh can be a tactile way for certain learners to remember words. The process and timing for spelling may be different than found in school (and successful for left-brained learners), but the right-brained way to spelling can be highly successful when honored.

10 responses to “All About Spelling

  1. Wonderful post! I would highlight one element, which is that your 13-year-old was still absolutely capable of improving spelling, quite radically. I was told that there was a spelling “window,” which closed in third grade, and that my daughter would never learn to spell correctly if she had not learned by then. Instead, she made dramatic leaps between the ages of 11 and 14, and she continues to improve today, at 18.

    As with the example of your builder son, the key was discovering exactly how my daughter thought about words. The only way I knew how to think about spelling was phonetic, but my RB daughter had not learned to read phonetically, nor was she a phonetic speller; in hindsight, this is perfectly clear, but it was clear as mud at the time. One day when she was frustrated trying to spell a particular word, she scrunched up her eyes. When I asked her what she was doing, she said she was trying to remember how it looked, drawing up in her mind a page in a book with the word on it!

    Once I had figured this out, I found wonderful tips for improving visual spelling memory in Jeffrey Freed’s book Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World — but that was before your book was published. I agree completely that informal games with language are also a wonderful way to work on spelling. My daughter was obsessed with a game I’d played as a child, where you take one big word you like — say, chocolate or hieroglyphics or whatever — and make as many words as you can from those letters. At first she only could make simple two and three letter words, but over time she became able to winkle out some six letter ones. And they were all spelled correctly, somehow, once she was assembling them from parts rather than “doing spelling.”

    I also found that at age fourteen my daughter gravitated naturally to keeping a quotation notebook — a form of copy work. This further cemented her spelling.

    In other words, spelling can develop not only asynchronously with regard to reading, but radically asynchronously; and kids can learn to spell and improve their spelling all the way through high school. If I’d had your book when my daughter was young, I’d have felt a lot more relaxed about this and not spent so much time and energy panicking!

    • I totally agree, Karen! One of the reasons I used my builder son as an example is to show that skills can most assuredly be improved dramatically, even in the teen years. It’s never too late. I think it’s crucial that they don’t have a negative connotation. But, even if they do, it will just take more work to help them get past it so they can go ahead and choose to realize they can improve on most anything if they want.

      If you could see his sample of writing at maybe 9 or 10 I put in my book, he would have been a prime candidate for lots of dys- labels (because he didn’t start to read until 10, too). Yet, today, he’s in a large private university writing papers and receiving 4.0s in the classes. And I say that because he also didn’t even begin to know how to formulate sentences until 13-14 as well.

      What made me realize I could wait? First, I could tell if I tried to intervene, he would be confused, and then begin a negative connotation to it, and nothing would have helped at the time anyway. Second, he had great skills in other areas, which showed his overall intelligence, so why wouldn’t he or couldn’t he learn more in these weak areas when he was more aware of it and ready to tackle it on his own terms. By continuing to interact with the subject areas positively, he would be prepared to pursue it through his strengths and our knowledge of how he learns best with confidence at the right time.

  2. This is a wonderfully helpful post! I am especially excited to learn of the pictographic flashcards you mention here. I have made up some of my own to use with my RB daughter, but the task of making all 220 of the dolch words is overwhelming. I’m thrilled to know I can purchase a reasonably priced set from someone else!

    I am also convinced that the methods which work for my RB also benefit my LF daughter. While phonics and part-to-whole does make sense to her naturally, the RB tools we’ve found most helpful are great fun for her too!

    • I agree, Carly, that I feel the visual way right-brained people learn can absolutely benefit left-brained people because it creates “fun” as you say; whereas, left-brained methods don’t necessarily work for right-brained people. I always wonder why we don’t just adopt a lot more right-brained ideas into school.

      I shared Picture Me Reading as the resource because of its affordability. I know there are others, but can be pricey. That said, sometimes it’s more beneficial for children to create their own because then it makes the most sense to them, if they are into doing that sort of thing!

  3. I just discovered this website and I’m eager to read more, as this might finally be the answer I’ve been looking for! I’ve struggled with my son’s daydreaming, distractability, inability to spell (he’s 10) or remember to capitalize/punctuate, making arithmetic mistakes when he understands complex concepts easily (whole to part learning I guess!), he didn’t really pick up reading until 2nd grade…all of this is making sense now! It used to just bug me so much, because I thought he either was being lazy, or not trying hard enough, or had some kind of learning disability…anyway, I look forward to reading the many resources on this page and reading your book and trying out new techniques for teaching (I’m homeschooling him, partially because at school he would do poorly on these types of things, but I knew that he was actually quite bright, and gifted in certain areas). Thank you!

    • When you find the right information, Elaine, it’s amazing how everything all of a sudden falls into place. All your questions and worries answered. No convincing because you’ve lived it and wondered about it and now the key to unlock the questions is in front of you. It’s definitely why I do what I do in writing and advocating for this type of learner. And I just don’t understand why it’s not well-known in the education circles. Because it’s also the key to school reform! As Daniel Pink has said, today is the day of the right-brained learner in our world. We need them! Keep me up to date on your son’s learning journey!

      • My son is now 13 and doing much better in spelling and reading and writing. Took him longer to get here than my LB daughter and it has bee very helpful to remember their learning differences along the way. For example, for his notes for science, he draws pictures, rather than writing outlines. He prefers videos to learn rather than reading text. He’s using sequential spelling now (started in the fall after just not focusing on spelling for a few years). So far I think it has been good. He does well with the daily list of words, but I need to have him write free form to really tell if it’s improved generally, and we don’t do a lot of that. typing on the computer always has spell check so I can’t tell.

  4. Pingback: The Natural Learning Development for Right-Brained Children | The Right Side of Normal

  5. This article is so helpful. My 8 yr old daughter is definitely right brained and struggles with writing and auditory skills. This year she began reading and I can’t keep her in books. Homeschooling our daughter has left me feeling like I am having a constant educational emergency, which Julie Bogart says does not exist. We went through an unschooling phase because she had become so frustrated and it was probably the best thing I could have done for her. After roaming around your site, the throwing marshmallows site, and listening to Julie Bogart scopes I am so relieved. I want to do a lot of digging through your site and will be getting your book to read it. Thank you for sharing all that you have to help us better teach our right brained children!!

    • I’m so glad all of our collaborative information has been helpful to you, Hannah, on your learning journey with your daughter. I love both Stephanie’s (Throwing Marshmallows) and Julie’s (Brave Writer) perspective! I have heard the adage, “there are no educational emergencies” before. Maybe it needs to be tweaked by saying, “If you feel you are experiencing educational emergencies, start searching for better information!” It certainly IS a relief when you find that better information that helps explain so much about how your child learns that just makes sense. It’s why I do what I do!

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