← Blog home

Word Lists Defeat the Purpose of Spelling You See

Spelling You See does not require parents or students to keep word lists for a very specific reason: the brain treats a list as item memory.

My computer chimed with the sound that a chat was waiting for me. I clicked on the icon and “Jane” began detailing a struggle:

Jane: My daughter and I are frustrated with Spelling You See.

Me: I am sorry to hear that Jane, can you give me some details about your struggles?

Jane: We are doing fine with the chunking and the copywork, but she is still getting many words wrong in the dictation.

Me: Jane, may I ask how you are doing the dictation?

Jane: For ten minutes, just like the instructions say. I am keeping a list of her misspelled words, and it is just getting longer…

At this point, I know two things, AND why they are having a challenge.

First, they did not carefully read all of the handbook accompanying the level, and second, they did not watch the modeling video that Dr. Holinga created for the level. It now falls to me to (diplomatically) explain why their investment is not yielding results.

The Error of Word Lists

Spelling You See does not require parents or students to keep word lists for a very specific reason: the brain treats a list as item memory.

This means that it may or may not go into long-term memory. If it gets there, we think “success”, but if not, we blame the child. I often say to parents: “If using a list was so successful, you would get everything on your grocery list weekly, even if you left said list at home.”

The truth is that is not the way memory works. Our brains treat lists as individual components of memory and the ability to encode correctly in long-term memory is haphazard. The research that undergirds Spelling You See says that words have to be learned in context in order to be transferred into long-term memory.

Creating a list of words actually hinders the process. We put a great deal of emphasis on keeping the learning pathways open, keeping the amygdala calm, and keeping stress out of the spelling equation. I assure you that list of words is a stress inducer, because it shows Jane’s daughter what she has failed to accomplish, rather than what she is doing well.

The Value of Dictation

I also know something else about Jane and her daughter. They are not doing the dictation correctly. The dictation is word by word for a reason – so that you, as the parent, may prompt for correction as soon as the mistake is made. This prevents an improper spelling from being encoded. The child may or may not get the word correct on the second (or even third) try. The important part of this exercise is that they are looking for the correct pattern, and the brain is still open to trying to create that pattern.

This is SO important, that I want to restate it: You must correct for a spelling error in the moment, as the error is made, because Spelling You See is a practice-based curriculum with opportunity for a student to try again to see “what looks right”.

The good news in all of this is that we are resilient beings who can learn and change. Once I explained to Jane where in her handbook she needed to review and why, she said they would be willing to give it another go. I am so passionate about Spelling You See that we agreed that I would call in three weeks to check up on them and see if there were changes.

Three weeks later when I called, Jane said, “Things are different now.” When I asked her how they were different, she said that they were seeing progress in her daughter’s spelling. The progress has not been an overnight sensation, but Jane said there is an added benefit that the dictation days are something her daughter now looks forward to, rather than dreads. She said they are collaborating better, and taking great delight in counting the number of correctly spelled words.

I was so delighted. The secret benefit of a Spelling You See experience, which Jane and her daughter learned firsthand, is that giving a child the confidence to believe they can do it results in their doing it with confidence.

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 Consultative Sales Representative. She loves the outdoors, all things furry, and is in the process of learning farming and beekeeping skills.

2 thoughts on “Word Lists Defeat the Purpose of Spelling You See

  1. Jennifer

    Thank you for the reminder. I agree that spelling lists don’t work. We tried that way before Spelling U See. I love the way it is done in context. My daughter is doing better with Spelling U See. I have been doing the dictation wrong though. I have her correct words after dictation is finished. How do you determine if the child is ready to move to next level or needs to do a level again?

  2. Rachel CUNNINGHAM

    If we are correcting words as we go…wouldnt they ALL be spelled right anyways? Whats the point of the “words spelled correctly” line?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *