Friday, January 15, 2010

Product Review: All About Spelling


I want to begin this review with a disclosure statement. I know those are supposed to come at the end, but this review is a little different.

I am an All About Spelling affiliate. If you make a purchase through the links to AAS I provide in this post or anywhere else on my blog, I will receive a commission. My affiliation with AAS predates my relationship with the TOS Crew, and I was assigned this review.

Now, please allow me to tell you why I LOVE All About Spelling.

I taught both of my sons to read using phonics. Both of my boys were quick to piece it all together and were fluently reading with comprehension by 1st grade. I did not give spelling much attention because they had learned their phonics and could read and I knew writing/spelling would come in time.

In fact, they dictated most of their early writing projects while I did the actual "writing". Wilbur, who is the child I teach with AAS, is my more creative son. He "wrote" such intricate and creative pieces that he won a state-wide writing competition in 1st grade. He was filmed reading his story in the GPB studio, and his reading was broadcast on every PBS station in the state of GA as well as the GPB website. His story was truly his own, and I was merely the typist (and more importantly, the speller).

In 2nd grade, it was time for him to become more independent. I wanted him to start putting pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard and complete his writing assignments with less assistance. A terrible thing happened. My little boy who had once loved to create stories and thought of himself as a writer sat at his desk and cried over blank sheets of paper. Through the tears he would exclaim, "I don't know how to write."

What I discovered during his 2nd grade year was that he did know how to write but he did not know how to spell. He was so frustrated by the confusing parts of English phonics that he was hesitant to try. When he did write, his invented spellings looked unlike anything I had ever seen, and I hold a degree in elementary education and have preschool and elementary teaching experience. I feared he had a learning disability.

I tried a number of interventions that year, including another "multisensory" spelling program. The approach of the other program did not really help him conquer his spelling problems. He knew which letters said what, but he didn't really know when or why or how to piece them together. His spelling continued to be atrocious, and I could really see why he felt so hindered. By the end of the school year, I was crying with him.

PhotobucketThen I found All About Spelling.

Near the end of his 2nd grade year, I started him on level one, mostly because that level presents when to use "c", "k", or "ck". These had Wilbur most perplexed and he would come up with the most odd spellings of words with the /k/ sound. For instance, he spelled "chicken"- C-K-H-I-K-C-K-I-N.

Within a few weeks of consistent AAS instruction, I began to see marked improvement. By the time we completed level one, his confidence had increased and he was willing to try writing again. He has now completed over half of level two. Yesterday he wrote a paragraph, on his own, and did not cry, show signs of anxiety, or misspell any words. I was thrilled and so was he!

PhotobucketWhy I Think AAS Works So Well for Wilbur

  1. It is a multisensory program.

    Wilbur is a kinesthetic learner, specifically he is a tactile boy. He likes to use manipulatives. Math has always been his strong suit, probably for that reason. AAS has manipulatives for spelling in the form of letter and phoneme tiles with magnet backings. He has been an eager learner with his magnet board in front of him. He thinks of the lessons as fun and non-threatening which has caused him to relax and take it all in.

  2. It explains the rules logically and sequentially.

    The spelling program I used with Wilbur in 2nd grade took the approach of picking a particular sound and focusing on it for one week. Take /k/ for example. It would explain that c, k, or ck can spell this sound and then provide a list of 10 words incorporating the letter combos of the week, like cake, bake, back, king, and so on. This seemed just to scramble it up in his brain even more. AAS is much clearer in its approach. The rules are stated concisely, presented logically and sequentially, and the spelling lists make sense. The exceptions to the rules are explained, too, where appropriate.

  3. Each lesson concludes with dictation exercises that demonstrate mastery.

    He has been forced to immediately put what he has learned into writing. The manipulative board gets him started but he cannot progress to the next lesson until he has demonstrated that he can put the skill to use by putting pencil to paper.

  4. AAS provides continual review. Students are not allowed to forget.

    Every lesson provides review opportunities. Some are more direct through the use of flash cards. Others are found within the dictation activities. The repetition ensures the child truly masters each skill.

I cannot believe the difference one year has made. Concepts that used to confuse Wilbur make perfect sense. AAS has given him the ability and confidence to apply the phonics rules; whereas, before he was able only to recognize sounds for the purpose of reading. He is writing again, and that makes me happy!

To be fair, let me mention a few areas that could be improved. No curriculum is perfect, you know.

AAS does not offer supplemental practice. So far, Wilbur has not needed any additional practice. However, I know that if he ever gets "stuck" on a particular lesson, either the lesson will have to be repeated or I will have to supplement from another curriculum.

I also think the first lesson in level one could be improved. It teaches all the letters of the English alphabet and their sounds. This was good for what we needed at the time. I was able to treat the lesson like a pre-assessment and determine where Wilbur's weaknesses were. If I had been teaching him these skills for the first time, however, I would have felt like it was too much crammed into one lesson and that it relied too heavily on rote memory. I could see the first lesson being developed into an entire level of its own, a primer book perhaps with more activities to help very young students master beginning phonics.

One aspect of the program that could be considered a pro or con, depending on your and your child's personalities, is that the program is very routine. Every lesson is basically the same. Only the skills covered change. Personally, I like that. It means I do not have to do much to prepare. The lessons are quick and to the point, and Wilbur knows what to expect. I think that is particularly good for young children and children with learning difficulties. Everyone's energy goes into mastering the skills and not figuring out how to do the lesson. However, if you like a lot of variety or feel like you need multiple strategies, you may not like AAS.

There are currently five levels of All About Spelling. Level One is available for $29.95. Levels Two through Five are available for $39.95 each. A starter kit must be purchased with the first level you decide to teach. It is a one-time purchase priced at $26.95. Other materials you will need include a magnet board and an index card file. I bought both at Wal Mart and spent about $15.

Given the success Wilbur has had with All About Spelling, I have to give it 2 BIG thumbs up. He gives it 2 REALLY BIG thumbs up. I highly recommend starting the program with younger children; however, if your older child is experiencing problems similar to Wilbur's, it is not too late to begin. The program is not grade-specific. It is suggested that you begin with level one, but you can use the scope and sequence to help you decide where the best starting place would be for your child. Whether you decide to purchase AAS through my links or not, I am happy to assist you and answer any questions about the program you may have.

I received AAS levels 3 and 4 to compete this review. I have received no other compensation and have offered my honest opinion. Results may vary. Please read other reviews written by my crewmates. As disclosed earlier in this review, I am an AAS affiliate and will receive a commission on any purchases made through the links I have provided.


Spesamor Academy said...

First, I've been reading your blog for awhile now, and have been following since right from the beginning. I'm not sure if I have ever commented before (shame on me) but I really enjoy your blog.
Second, you are the first person to ever give a, shall we say, "less than gushing" review of AAS, so I wanted to ask you a couple of questions.
I have been really drawn to this program because of the rules and the structure. However, the cost is prohibitive for me. So I am wondering: I have TONS of letters: tiles, foam, magnetic, wooden, plastic, etc. And I am not at all adverse to making my own flashcards. With that in mind, how necessary is the starters kit? I'm really wanting to just buy the instructions and use what I already have. Is that a do-able proposition? TIA for any advice or tips you can give me. :)

Mama Hen said...

Thank you so much for this review. I have a son who works on 3rd and 4th grade level on everything but spelling. It has been such a struggle. I know someone who has this curriculum so now I can really look into it.