Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All About Spelling, a TOS Homeschool Crew Review

As an alternate on the TOS Homeschool Crew of reviewers, I knew that I would not have an opportunity to review many of the products in this year of reviews. And, originally, I was not supposed to receive All About Spelling. Talk about mixed feelings--I was both relieved and disappointed that I would not be reviewing it.

Next thing I knew, three alternates were chosen, and MY name was on the list! (A "God-incidence" for sure!)

More mixed feelings surfaced--excitement and self-doubt.

There are two products that I have reviewed during this season that have an extra extra special place in my heart and among my homeschool resources, and All About Spelling is one of them. I am really excited about this one! :)

All About Spelling is a multi-sensory spelling program based upon the techniques of the Orton-Gillingham approach used successfully in dyslexia. It is developmental in nature, building foundations and then growing them.

From the AAS web site:

"All About Spelling is a comprehensive spelling program based on proven strategies to teach spelling using the best and easiest method possible. It gives parents, homeschoolers, and teachers strategies that work, including:

Lessons with crucial concepts explained in easy-to-understand language

Multisensory methods for different learning opportunities

Effective techniques to teach both beginner and remedial spelling"

The box of materials arrived and I spent about a week cutting apart with *scissors* all the pieces that I would need in order to begin. A paper cutter would have made this part so much easier and faster! In 2009, All About Spelling will begin to offer perforated cards, beginning with Level One, to reduce prep time. AAS's Marie Rippel made the change to perforated cards when several of the review crew members (including me) commented on the amount of cutting we had to do before we began.

The laminated letter tiles are an additional purchase ($9.95) that you use with the program can be used "as is" on a table or desk, or they can be attached to magnets ($5.95) and used on a magnetic board. I opted to purchase a magnetic white board from a local discount store at a cost of about $15. You'll need an index card file box or recipe card box, too. I bought one from a discount store for $1.44.

Working with a child diagnosed on the autism spectrum as homeschoolers has been a growing experience for both the teacher and the student. I'd been borrowing from this workbook and that curriculum here and there, but had not yet attempted using an entire curriculum the way it was intended. I wasn't sure we could do this. Additionally, we are approaching autism from a relationship perspective, using the concept of "guided participation" (a Barbara Rogoff term), where the adult is a trusted guide and the student is an apprentice. We've been working hard on that guide/apprentice relationship, and anything I choose needs to fit into that idea. I took a deep breath and dove in.

An aside: One of my very personal challenges has been keeping lessons short enough that they are not overwhelming, but long enough that I feel like we had a lesson. I am a work in progress as I figure out where that "line" is, and when I push my daughter too far, I lose her trust in me. I become, for her, the one who pushes her too far. And that is NOT the experience, the memory I want to give her.

So, I dove in at the beginning. Level One. The teacher's guide is well written with instructions that are easy for me to follow. I did not have to spend hours figuring out my role, how I would use myself, in this program. My part of the program is spelled out nicely. (pun intended) I am so pleased with the length of the lessons in the teacher's guide that All About Spelling provides in the set along with the student material packet. They are short, which means we can stop at just one, or complete several in one sitting. The lessons provide a valuable framework for ME to know when enough is enough.

The flash cards included in the student material packet keep us very organized. In addition to the flash cards, AAS provides file dividers for Review Cards, Cards Mastered, Cards Future Lessons in the categories of phonograms, sounds, key cards and word cards.

When we began, I realized very quickly that All About Spelling is so much more than a spelling program. It is a boost to a beginning or struggling reader. Because it is multi-sensory in it's approach, there is an auditory component that gives us practice that we need at our home in auditory discrimination. I realized right off the bat that my daughter wasn't always discriminating between a short "e" sound and a short "a" sound in the middle of a word.

Ah, All About Spelling spotlighted an important distinction for me. Auditory processing issues are different from, separate from autism. And AAS gave me a framework to use to give us practice and experience at discriminating sounds.

I am so tickled that this is a "between you and me" program--one that sometimes becomes a background activity for "guided participation"!

We sit in front of the white board with the letter tiles before us, with our index box of cards at hand, and work through a lesson. I am often surprised by what my daughter knows that I didn't realize she knows, and by what I thought she understood that she does not. When we come to a concept that she seems to not have mastered, we practice it briefly there at the white board w/ the letter tiles, and then we stop the "formal" lesson, and I use that as my springboard for the next few days, looking for ways to practice that during our chores and play. The time at the white board is for ME, not for my daughter, to help ME grasp the concept that the two of us need to work on away from the white board. We deliberately avoid that white board while we are building upon a new concept. We are taking the program slowly, and I see progress. ;) (YEAH!)

The All About Spelling web site is easy to navigate and the descriptions of the products are accurate and thorough. AAS provides a link to the scope and sequence of each level, there, so that you can see how the developmental approach plays out. There are sample lessons available for you to evaulate, and there are numerous articles for you as you research.

Levels do not correspond with grade levels, and Marie Rippel suggests that every student begin at Level One to insure no foundations are skipped. Level One and Level Two sets are priced at $29.99. Level Three and Level Four sets are priced at $39.99. They include a teacher's guide and one student material packet. Additional student packets are available for a separate purchase. The letter tiles are priced at $9.95 and the optional magnets are priced at $5.95. A phonogram CD is available for $14.95. You will need an index card box to hold the flash cards, and if you choose to use magnets, you'll need a magnetic board to stick them on. Level Five will be available in 2009 and a Level Six is in the works.

No, my daughter does not always like "school", and at this point, All About Spelling hasn't turned her into a child who begs to sit down for some academics. ;) But it HAS created a place where we can be competent together in short lessons at the white board while giving me the knowledge to carry the lessons to places in our day, and the program is touching not just spelling, but reading and listening as well. And for those reasons, AAS has a special place in my heart. I've recommended this program to friends who were looking for a spelling program, on yahoo groups when a question about spelling was posed, to a total stranger I met at jury duty, and I recommend it to you, too.

Other Crew reviews are available to you here.

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