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Further Thoughts on Spelling You See Dictation

Master the art of dictation in Spelling You See to help your student's confidence soar.

This is a follow-up post to Why Doing Dictation Right Matters So Much providing additional insight into one of the key activities used in the Spelling You See program.

When Spelling You See debuted, we knew we had brought the most amazing program to market. Finally, a research-based program that helps students learn how to get those pesky non-phonetic words into long term memory! We still think this program rocks, and we hope you do too. Today, however, I want to address something that perhaps may not be as clear as it should be regarding the dictation activities.

The Purpose of Spelling You See

The purpose of Spelling You See is to help students transition from spelling phonetically to learning the more complex process of becoming the visual speller that English requires. More than half our words have a non-phonetic component, and that number gets higher as the reading level increases. (Think about it: ‘rain’ and ‘said’ have the same vowel chunk.) Our task is to help students understand that it’s also important to pay attention to the way words LOOK. That’s why we chunk those tricky parts.

Why Use Dictation?

Dictation provides students the opportunity to try out their ‘visual memories’ and see if they can remember how to spell those tricky words. (Does the word ‘bird’ have er, ir, or ur? Hmm, which one looks right?) The challenging part for students, especially at the beginning, is knowing what those options are, and that’s where you come in. When your student struggles, you can help by showing and explaining examples. The most important part of dictation is to understand that the goal is to spell words correctly, NOT finish the dictation paragraph.

I want to paint the proper picture for you of what successful assistance looks like in ANY dictation experience. On dictation day, your student has, once again, chunked the paragraph. You are sitting NEXT to them. For the next ten minutes, your student is going to recall spelling patterns of new words they have learned during the week. You dictate the first word in the paragraph, providing the capitalization. You say: “Your first word is “When,” with a capital.” You wait for them to write the word “When” – but you notice that there is some hesitation. Have your student write out their best guess. Then both of you look at the word quickly and you say, “What do you think? Does it look right?” (Remember, what we’re trying to do is transition from spelling phonetically to spelling visually.) This is your teaching moment! You take a piece of paper and say, “Remember, words can start with w or wh.” You quickly write out ‘wen’ and ‘when’ and then ask your student, “Which one looks right?” (He should know, he’s been copying it all week!) He points to the correct one, and you say, “Great! Good job!” Have him quickly cross out the wrong one, write the word correctly, and continue with the next word, concluding at the end of 10 minutes.

Success will create success. Keep your comments positive and encouraging. This is a team effort. You’re trying to show him how adults figure out words. English is hard and inconsistent. The critical element here is to provide feedback immediately and positively as soon as an error is made or a hesitation is noticed — not at the conclusion of the ten-minute exercise. Remember that CONTEXT is the carrier to long term memory. If you don’t give your student feedback until the end, you’ll lose an important opportunity to help him make a meaningful connection to long term memory.

NOTE: Should your student struggle terribly with the first sentence in the dictation, your time is much better invested in having them do that first sentence TWICE, rather than soldiering on through the paragraph. Over time, you’ll be able to increase the number of sentences you work on in that ten minutes. Those same words keep turning up, over and over again, in each subsequent passage.

FUN FACT: We commonly communicate with about 300 words. Fifty percent of those words are not spelled as they sound!

Dictation Tips

1) Underlining

Before you start dictating, have your student underline all the words in the passage that he knows how to spell. Suddenly the task won’t seem so overwhelming.

2) Tricky Words

Recognize that names are tricky. Take the pressure off by telling your student in advance that you will provide the spelling of names.

The reason we give them the punctuation and the capitalization is because the ONLY thing we want our students to think about is, “What does this word look like? Does it have a tricky part?” Please don’t require that your student remember the sentence, the punctuation, and the spelling all at once. It’s just TOO much!

This should be the model for each dictation. One more word, about two dictations in a week. This was a deliberate decision, to give students the chance to recall pattern options more than once. If you are skipping the second dictation, you are not getting the greatest benefit out of the program or providing your student an opportunity to reinforce new learning. On the other hand, if your student needs to ask for help or struggles during the second dictation, provide as much support as necessary for them to be successful. Remember, it’s better to spell a few words correctly than many words incorrectly.

Everything I have described here is a small adjustment to what you may have been doing. Make sure your student leaves the table with a smile on their face and a warm hug of affirmation for a job well done.

If you keep in mind that your goal as the parent/coach is to provide as much teaching support as necessary until your student’s confidence begins to soar, you will have truly mastered the art of dictation in Spelling You See.

Where to Start in Spelling You See

Placement in Spelling You See is really important, and it is nuanced. It’s designed this way because we want a child’s spelling experience to be easier than their reading experience. In order for us to do that successfully, we have a set of guidelines.

If you experience any hiccups with placement, we encourage you to get in touch with us so that we can help you. We want you, and your student, to be successful in your spelling journey.

Master the art of dictation in Spelling You See to help your student's confidence soar.

About Gretchen Roe

Gretchen Roe educated her children at home for 21 years. With a degree in child development, she laughingly says it was not necessarily helpful for raising her own six children. She owned her own business for 15 years, as well as being involved in several nonprofit boards. She has spent the last 10 years in positions of homeschool advocacy and comes to Demme Learning as a Placement Specialist. She loves the outdoors, all things furry, and is in the process of learning farming and beekeeping skills.

2 thoughts on “Further Thoughts on Spelling You See Dictation

  1. Gretchen Roe

    Good question Christa — the next session — so if it overlaps into the following week, so be it. That is one of the beauties of Spelling You See being a practice-based curriculum. It allows that flexibility in progression.


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