From the HSLDA E-lert Service:


1/13/2011 10:21:57 AM
Home School Legal Defense Association
HSLDA's Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner Newsletter

HSLDA's Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner Newsletter
January 2011 -- "HLEP! My Kid Can't Spel!"

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By Faith E. Berens, M.Ed., Reading Specialist
HSLDA Special Needs Coordinator

"Please help! My child is a terrible speller." This is a common
concern the special needs coordinators hear from many homeschooling
parents. We all want our children to be good spellers and know that
spelling is an important skill area. Particularly, remediating
spelling difficulties should be a crucial piece of our homeschooling
plans. We don't have to resign our children to relying on spell check
or the use of a Franklin speller for the rest of his life.

In this newsletter, we will discuss traditional spelling strategies as
well as investigate alternative instructional strategies, such as
right brain and multi-sensory strategies, for those children who are
experiencing spelling difficulties.

Traditional Spelling Instruction Practices

I have always been a good speller and, in fact, I really enjoyed
spelling. I also happened to enjoy the routine of spelling
instruction while in school. You know the drill: Mondays entailed
getting the spelling word list and copying the words three times each
(in your best handwriting). Tuesdays meant using each word in a
sentence. Wednesdays and Thursdays usually involved other exercises
such as completing fill-in-the-blank sentences with the correct
spelling word or a crossword puzzle. Fridays, of course, were test

Sound familiar? Notice what all these practice methods have in common?

The muscle movement, as well as the drag of the pencil on the paper,
actually helps to neurologically imprint the information into
long-term memory. I learned by copying and writing, so those
activities helped me commit things to my long-term memory. However, a
child with a blocked writing gate cannot successfully transfer
spelling into his long-term memory using these writing methods.

Also, many spelling programs utilize phonics rules to teach children
to spell successfully. For most struggling learners and children with
severe dyslexia (reading disability), there are too many rules to
memorize, so we see these children become spelling "guessers" or
phonetic spellers, just spelling words how they sound. (By the way,
these children are often "word guessers" in reading, as well.)

I am sure many homeschooling parents use some of these exact methods
and materials with their own children and become frustrated when they
do not work. We frequently have parents report that these practices
only work long enough for the child to pass the spelling test on
Friday. But the parent soon discovers most of the words are still
being misspelled in the child's daily writing tasks. When these
methods don't work, parent-teachers often resort to doing more of the
same--but teach louder, slower, and use more repetition.

The traditional spelling strategies worked fine for me because I (like
many others) had a good orthographic memory--(memory for letters and
letter sequence)--what words looked like, as well as an unblocked
writing gate. For many of our most struggling learners, who may also
have poor phonological processing skills (the ability to hear and
manipulate the sounds within words), memory difficulties, and/or other
weak processing skills that impact spelling, we must try alternative
methods that will lead to more efficient long-term memory storage.

As a classroom teacher, having graduated in the early 1990s from a
teacher preparation program that fully embraced the whole language
philosophy, some of the ideas at that time were that children would
naturally pick up on spelling patterns and rules; we were told to
guide students to make the discoveries of the patterns and let them
use invented or transitional spelling. While this worked for many of
my "regular" education students, my children with learning
disabilities who were already struggling did not thrive with such
"loose" instruction.

I quickly realized that these bright, yet struggling, students needed
direct, systematic, and explicit instruction. In addition to this, I
gave them lots of practice with the spelling patterns, used
multi-sensory teaching methods, and taught them strategies for looking
at words, studying them, and memorizing them.

Right Brain Memory Strategies--A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

You can help your child learn to study and store data, like his
spelling words, into long-term memory by using right brain teaching
strategies. Right brain strategies utilize pictures, color, stories,
humor, and strong emotions. When we add these elements to
information, such as spelling words, the right brain stores it easily,
in its long-term memory. It is as if you put "Velcro" on the
information, helping it to stick! Your child's visual memory can be
his greatest strength. As you help him develop his photographic
(visual) memory, using spelling words, math facts, or any information,
he will discover learning and memorizing becomes much easier. The
success a child feels when he can "see" it is truly priceless!

The Eyes Have It

Let's think about one thing good spellers do in particular to store
and retrieve words in and from long-term memory. Have you ever
noticed, during a spelling bee, a student's eyes in an upward
position? It looks as if he is looking at the ceiling for the word.
In fact, he is actually "seeing" the word in his mind. The
physiological movement of the eyes upward helps to stimulate the right
brain, which causes the right brain (the hemisphere that houses
photographic memory) to become more responsive. Because the student
is actually "seeing" the printed word in his mind, he can spell it
backwards and forwards.

"Right Brain Spelling Strategy" (Courtesy Dianne Craft)

You can train your children at home to utilize this very efficient
strategy. Not only will you find that it is easy, but you will also
discover that the right brain is responsible for visual memory and
long-term memory, so your child will be able to retain his words long
past the week of the spelling test. It is easy to incorporate with
any spelling curriculum or program you have.


1. Give the child a pre-test from a short list of words, such as high
frequency words or any list of words from a spelling program/curricula
you are using.

2. For the words that were spelled incorrectly, take the letters that
were wrong, or left out, and color them and "weird" them up (decorate
them, use wavy lines, add pictures around letters or around part of
the word). You can do this for the child, using his ideas if fine
motor skills are difficult for him.

3. Hold the card with the spelling word straight up, high, in front of
your child so his eyes are looking up. Have him glance at it, then
bring it down while his eyes remain looking up where the card had
been. Flash the card in the air five or six times until your child can
"see" the word in the air and easily spell it forwards and backwards.
If your child can't "see" the word in the air, show it more times, or
put more "Velcro" on it by adding more color or a more detailed
picture. The more humor, emotion, silliness, the better!

Some modifications you are probably already doing:

> Reduce word list
> Allow for oral testing
> If writing is difficult for the child (writing gate
blocked/dysgraphia) have the child make words with letter tiles,
magnetic letters, or other tactile method, such as stamping words with
alphabet stamps
> Form letters with dough/clay and spell out words

Other multi-sensory ways to practice spelling: (see our website, , to access downloadable
handouts for these methods)

> Spelling Cheerleading (kinesthetic)

> Making Words method (kinesthetic and tactile), see Struggling
Learner website for downloadable handout

> Sky Writing method (kinesthetic)

When we present spelling instruction and allow spelling practice in
these right brain and multisensory ways, it helps students to more
effectively store the items/information into their long-term memory.

So, do not be discouraged. To help your child become a successful
speller does not require an entire curriculum change, but rather some
changes or additions in your teaching strategies. It can be easy,
fun, and inexpensive!

By tapping into your children's strong areas (such as visual memory)
and preferred learning styles, you can help them develop better
spelling skills and strategies for remembering how to spell words.
While spelling difficulties may be long enduring, specifically for
individuals with reading disabilities even after there has been
successful reading remediation, if you keep working at spelling
utilizing some of these recommended multi-sensory teaching methods, as
well as training your child's photographic memory, we are confident
you will begin to see improvements in your child's spelling skills.
You may see your child transform from a terrible speller to a terrific
speller and he may even start to enjoy spelling!

Recommended Resources:

"Use Both Sides of Your Brain" by Tony Buzan
Sequential Spelling, available through AVKO publishers,
Right Brain Phonics Cards and Spelling, by Dianne Craft,
Spelling Power, available at
Barton System for Spelling and Reading,
-> Is customer service an art or a science?

For us, good customer service is both an art and a science
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our members say about us:

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They handle the law and I get to dedicate the time to my daughter.
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us as our children's curriculum. Thank you HSLDA for all you do on
our behalf! - West Valley, NY

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