Two days ago my 8-year-old son came home with a list of 10 spelling words and asked me to prepare him for a quiz at the end of the week. I have done this countless times over the years with my older kids in fifth and sixth grade and thought I knew what I was doing. I told my second-grader to look over the list, pick out the most difficult words to spell, and practice spelling them on a piece of scratch paper for about 10 minutes before I began quizzing him for real. He came back to me about 5 minutes later and said he was all set to go. I gave him the first word ‘cricket’ and–sure enough– he wrote down ‘C R E K E T.’ I gave him another word, he spelled it wrong.
So I changed tack. We looked over all the correct spellings together. I would point out to him the tricky parts — say, the O-N ending in ‘ribbon’ and an ‘E-N’ ending in ‘mitten.’ For the sound-it-out speller, both those words seem like they should end in “I N” but neither actually does. I thought we had it down pat and so started again with the quiz in which I read the word and he wrote it down. Turned out, he would spell a word correctly — say, for example, V-I-S-I-T — and we’d high-five. But when the same word came around a second time he spell it V-I-S-E-T. Hmmmm.
It took a while, but dawned on me that he’s never had to memorize anything before. Perhaps this wasn’t a spelling issue per se, but a memorization issue.
Again we changed tack. We made up little tricks to serve as reminders to get through the trouble spots in each of the words. For example, to get him to remember that ‘mitten’ ended in E – N, I had him picture a green Philadelphia Eagles mitten with an ‘E’ on it (he’s a football fan). He worked for about an hour with me calling out from the list of 10 words and him writing it down. I continually shuffled the words and called out those that he tended to get wrong most often so that he’d have practice getting them right. We quit when it was time for bed. I wasn’t sure if he’d still remember all the little tricks in the morning.
The next morning at breakfast, I put down a piece of paper next to his cereal bowl and quizzed him on the 10 words. He got them all right on first try.
It goes to show that sometimes the key is not so much a child’s ability to learn but a parent’s ability to diagnose what the hang up is and make the proper adjustments.