The plethora of curricula available to homeschoolers today is dizzying. While wading through the options and recommendations, I eventually made charts of my top three to four choices for history, math, grammar, writing, and spelling to narrow them down. I thought I’d share my research with you. I hope it helps save someone else time!
Some of the curricula that I’m reviewing I have not seen in person or used. The thoughts shared here are my own personal thoughts based on what I’ve read. I noted price, description, and what I perceived to be the weaknesses and strengths of a curriculum based on our philosophy of education, users’ reviews, and practical aspects of our family.
If you are researching curricula, Cathy Duffy’s site is helpful to succinctly describe how a specific curriculum works. For actual user’s reviews, look on The Well-Trained Mind forums or Homeschool Reviews.
Based on my personal history and having read The Well-Trained Mind, I began my search into spelling curricula with these four choices: ABeka Homeschool (ABB), Rod & Staff Spelling, Spelling Workout, Spelling Power, and an internet program called wizardsSPELL, which I cannot find anywhere on the internet anymore, so apparently that’s not an option anymore! (I did find this, but I don’t think that’s what I researched a few years ago.) 😛 Since then, I’ve also researched Phonetic Zoo and All About Spelling, which I’m currently using.
In my short homeschooling career, I have used ABeka’s 1st grade spelling and All About Spelling; I have also purchased Spelling Power and Rod & Staff Spelling. Yikes! So I began with reviewing the program I knew the least about (personally): Spelling Workout. Today I’ll review ABeka’s spelling.
(Most of this comes from Cathy Duffy’s review.) ABB spelling is included in its Language Arts Child Kit. It is optional to order the Teacher edition and teaching charts. ABB spelling contains 30 carefully selected phonics-based word lists. There are three or four short exercises per word list to reinforce the words. Eight poems are included for appreciation and memorization. A Beka’s spelling books use a traditional “…straightforward teach/practice/test approach….” rather than the expanded workbook approaches found in Spelling Workout, Spelling for Christian Schools, and most others.
Lessons are intended to be taught rather than given to students as independent work. There is not enough direction or activity prescribed in student books for them to be suitable for independent study. Nevertheless, there are a few seatwork activities with each lesson in student workbooks.
Words are arranged phonetically and are coordinated with other A Beka language, reading, and writing lessons at each grade level. Some vocabulary work is included beginning with the second book. A Beka’s Spelling series adds a vocabulary strand at the upper elementary grades, changing the book titles to reflect this. In addition to spelling, poetry, and vocabulary, level 5 spends some time on word usage, pronunciation, and word analysis skills. Level 6 focuses on Latin and Greek suffixes, prefixes, and roots, stressing vocabulary, spelling, and word origins.
See cathyduffyreviews.com for great comments on 7-12 grades as well.
- More advanced. (Some see this as a weakness.)
- Words arranged phonetically,
- Correlate with other ABeka materials.
- Use a “…straightforward teach/practice/test approach….” rather than the expanded workbook approaches found in most others. (This could also be a weakness depending on your view.)
- Includes nice poetry memory selections with a schedule for poetry review.
- Not suitable for independent study. (Personally, I don’t agree on this point, because it seems like a fairly traditional program that could be handed to the student pretty easily. There is not a lot of scheduled, direct spelling instruction.)
- Unless you already know how to teach spelling, you will probably want the teacher editions. (This is also not true! Instruction for grading or scheduling is in the teacher’s manuals for language. The teacher’s editions are simply reprints of the student book, including the students’ answers to the few workbook exercises, sample sentences for the spelling words during the test, and rarely a few spelling tips. There simply is not a lot of help for spelling tips or spelling instruction anywhere, neither in the language teacher’s manual, nor in the teacher’s edition.)
- Not much explicit instruction on the “logic of English” and why we spell the way we do. ABeka seems to assume that this is already covered in their phonics instruction (and some of it is.)
- Not many practice exercises, in comparison to other workbook approaches. Relies on writing spelling lists for practice.
- Many parents say it’s too challenging, with an unrealistic amount of work. Parents also criticize that it includes words that are uncommon or not used very often.
- Struggling students don’t retain the correct spellings with the traditional practice/test/retest approach.
- Doesn’t make sense to use it if you’re not using their materials for science, Bible, or history, since many of the spelling lists are based off of those studies–a strength if you’re using their entire boxed program, but a weakness if you want explicit help with spelling instruction.
Comments or Modifications:
Cathy Duffy says, “The teacher editions, available for grades 2 through 6, include reduced copies of student text pages, teaching information, answers, sample sentences for all words, and study helps. There are no teaching instructions in the student books, so unless you already know how to teach spelling, you will probably want to get the teacher editions even though A Beka marks them as ‘optional’ in their catalog. Word lists reflect an above average level of difficulty, so you might choose to abandon the coordination with other A Beka materials and choose whichever book seems to be most appropriate for each student’s ability. Spelling and Poetry books can be used apart from other A Beka materials with no problem.”
I disagree. The teacher’s editions are truly optional, and in my opinion not worth the money. You will get more help for teaching poetry than the very limited spelling help you will receive from the teacher editions. I also disagree with her description that they aren’t intended for independent work. There really isn’t much to teach, so this program could be mostly independent.
My personal thoughts:
I began using ABB spelling level 1 with my son in first grade because we were already using the rest of ABB’s language arts. I thought it would be silly to not use the spelling if I was already using ABB for phonics. However, my thoughts have changed from what they once were.
ABB is not a good spelling program for a child who is not a natural speller. In first and second grade, ABB loosely groups the words in general by phonetic rules or groupings, and sometimes would include a short rule at the top of the page. But they do not continue this into other grades! I appreciate Rod & Staff’s idea here–“Spelling by Sound and Structure,” or other phonics programs that use spelling to help teach reading, such as Spell to Write and Read. ABB, after second grade, seems to completely divorce spelling from phonics rules, besides an occasional tip such as “i before e except after c.” Phonics instruction comes in the phonics materials, not so much in spelling.
Secondly the lists are quite long, and often don’t seem to anticipate spelling troubles for children to whom spelling does not come naturally. For example, list 12 for level 2 includes several words with “igh in night” as well as words spelled with “ite,” such as in bite. How does the child determine which spelling to use at what time? I understand that eventually, there are certain spellings that must simply be memorized when phonics or spelling rules have taken us as far as they can in our crazy English language. But at least at that point, I appreciate All About Spelling’s (AAS) approach.
AAS tries to help the child form a mental image of one collection of words before introducing the second spelling variation a few lessons later. So AAS will start with the most common spelling, say for words with “er in verse, ur in nurse, or ir in bird” words, AAS would have a lesson on just the “er” spelling, and give a list of ten words (with some more optional words) that fit that spelling. Then they have the child frequently read a word list with that “er” spelling to form a mental image of the words including “er.” After a while, after teaching other lessons while occasional reviewing that “er” word list, AAS will then introduce the second most common spelling (say, “ur”) and a word list for that spelling alone. In this way, when there is no rule, but one must simply memorize the spellings, they try not to group the tricky words together, knowing that it will be impossible for the unnatural speller to remember them.
ABB, on the other hand will have one large spelling list with words having all three spellings (even a fourth!– “wor in worms” is included in 2nd grade). In first grade, I was making up ridiculous sentences including all the “ur” spellings just to try to get Caleb to memorize it for the test. (E.g. The nurse with a purse and a curl in her hair treated a patient with a burn.) There was absolutely no retention of which spelling to use. All you can hope for in that case is a natural speller.
Sometimes ABB groups words with competing spellings for the same phonetic sound, without explicitly teaching the rule for which one to use, when there is a rule that would help! For example “oi in coin” vs. “oy in boy,” or “ow in owl” vs. “ou in out.” Which do you use when? AAS teaches explicitly with careful review that English words don’t end in i, j, u, or v (except for a very few exceptions). I never knew that, and I didn’t know how to help my son. There may be times when “ow” would be used in the middle of a word, but AAS even gives some tips for those few times to help memorize those (e.g. it usually comes before an l or n, as in growl or frown). ABB simply puts them together in a spelling list, and it’s “sink or swim” for your un-natural speller.
What I said about Spelling Workout applies even more to ABB spelling. In my humble opinion, Susan Wise Bauer, author of TWTM, was a very bright cookie. I also picked up on reading and spelling naturally and quickly as a small child. I think people like Bauer and me (haha, do you like how I put myself on her level so easily?) don’t “get” people who aren’t natural spellers.
From the research I’ve done, it seems that natural spellers could use any spelling program, and actually would probably only need homemade lists of the words they misspell along with a basic knowledge of spelling rules from a spelling resource book. In that case, if you were already using ABeka for your other subjects AND your students naturally remembers correct spellings or has photographic memory, ABB spelling would work great for you, because the lists are already correlated with the other subjects to include words that students might misspell from those subjects.
Struggling spellers, on the other hand, will need a more teacher-intensive, explicit, rules-based program. ABB spelling then, really wouldn’t fit either case well, unless you simply want something independent for your natural speller to work through to make you feel good as a mom-teacher that your child is “doing spelling,” without you having to invent the lists, and if you’re using ABB for other subjects.
Workbook Grade 1-$11.25; Homeschool phonics, reading, and spelling 1 teacher’s manual $35. Teacher edition (optional) $15.50.
Grade 5: Spelling, Vocab, and Poetry book–$9.05; Teacher edition (optional) $21.25; Test book–$5.50; Test key–$11; Lesson plans are in the teacher’s manual called Language Arts 5–$35.
Have fun shopping!