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Can he spell or not?


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I have a 4th grader who does well on spelling tests but then makes numorous spelling mistakes when writing or responding to answers in other subjects. When he does creative writing assignments, he also does well when he dictates to me but when asked to write it himself, he writes very simple sentences, misspells words and has very poor handwriting and inattention to grammar rules that he has demonstrated previously that he knows. I admit we have not been superconsistent with handwriting practice. We were using Trail Guide to Learning for 2nd and 3rd grade but switched to Winter Promise this year because the language arts instruction was more direct rather than relying on dictation and narration alone. I am at a loss as to what to try next. I don't mind backtracking with him in order to help him to the where he needs to be but I want to make sure I am using the resources and techniques that will really work. Does anyone have a suggestion?

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My oldest is only five, so take this with a grain (or heap) of salt...


I would constantly hang over him and remind him of the spelling and grammar rules he knows and require him to use them. Maybe he needs to dictate what he wants to write, you write it down and then copy his work for a bit. You might also consider listening to SWB lectures on writing. They are excellent!

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Hm....he is either memorizing just for the test and not really mastering the words, or he's having trouble putting all of the skills for writing together (handwriting, grammar, spelling, organization, punctuation, capitalization, thinking up ideas or correct answers, creativity, forming sentences...and so on). It's truly a LOT of skills to ask a young writer to put together! Do you set aside time for him to go back and edit his work--time to spend just on creativity one day, and then time just to focus on mechanics another, and so on? (Not for every assignment, but on ones you want him to revise). Help him break the task of writing down into more doable parts, so he doesn't have to focus on all of it at once. (And let him know that even professional writers go through several stages--the first draft isn't the final!). Here's a blog article with ideas on helping him edit mechanics.


If you decide he's not really mastering words, then you may want to consider some different methods with your current program to build in review, help him learn and apply rules and other spelling methods to his writing, and so on. Or look into an alternate program that has more of what he needs. HTH some! Merry :-)

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First, a reassurance: this is extremely common with elementary ages! Spelling, Writing, and Thinking of What to Write, are three very different activities, all processed in very different parts of the brain. It takes time for most students to learn how to "juggle" all three simultaneously -- on average not until age 10-12 or so, and for some students, it takes even longer.



re: process of writing

I would highly recommend using this area that has not yet matured into a positive -- the fact that writing is a *process*, with multiple steps. Just putting something down on paper does not mean you are finished. Rather, emphasize the steps, and that fixing spelling WILL happen in steps 3 and 4.


1. Think. (Brainstorm what you will write and some of the specific details.)

2. Write. (A "sloppy copy" that WILL have misspellings, lack of punctuation, run-ons, fragments,

3. Revise. (Add; delete; change; improve.)

4. Proofread. (Fix spelling, punctuation, capitalization, missed words, word usage, etc.)

5. Final Copy. (Make a clean copy of the final writing.)



re: handwriting

To help with the poor handwriting, there is always daily copywork. I also suggest you look at trying out Callirobics as a daily help to improve quality of handwriting. The concept behind Callirobics is training the hand/eye/brain into good handwriting by practicing and repeating specific lines/curves/shapes used in handwriting, while listening to rhythmic music.



re: spelling

To help practice those skills of simultaneous spelling and writing, you might try, maybe twice a week, dictating 5 SHORT sentences to DS, each with 2 or 3 spelling words in them, and have him say everything out loud as he is writing it.


Example (spelling words in red): "Seven modern pilots went to prison ."


You: [say the sentence slowly, twice]

Student: Seven: uppercase "S", "e", "v" "e", "n" [writing while saying each letter]. Modern: "m", "o", "d", "e", "r", "n". What's the sentence?"

You: Seven modern pilots went to prison.

Student: Seven modern pilots... Pilots: [again, writing while saying each letter] "p", "i", "l", "o", "t", "e"...

You: No "e" in pilot. [say the word slowly emphasizing the syllables.] PIE - lot.

Student: Pilots: "p", "i", "l" "o" "t"

You: Seven modern pilotS... [emphasize the missed plural]

Student: "s". Seven modern pilots... what's next?

You: Went to prison.


This is similar to a dictation, but slower, much shorter, and really helping the student focus on each word and simultaneous spelling/writing. As the simultaneous spelling/writing with dictating spelling sentences improves, you could move on to short dictations.



BEST of luck! Warmest regards, Lori D.

Edited by Lori D.
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I heard SWB talk about this issue. I hope I'm paraphrasing her correctly. . . here goes. . . kids tend to compartmentalize their lessons as in "oh, you mean the spelling rules apply to the spelling workbook AND grandma's letter?! Oh, I didn't know that!"


So since I heard her saying that I tell my boys -- without a hint of sarcasm -- that the spelling and grammar rules that we learn in the workbooks actually apply to the Valentine cards we write, Grandma's letter, the grocery list too.


They don't say anything but I can see them looking at me with the, "Um. Okay. Good to know." Like they hadn't realized that before.


So you might try just telling him with a straight face. Also I think SWB would say that you'll need to tell him repeatedly before it truly sinks in.



Edited by Alicia64
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