Why does Spelling You See use a time limit of ten minutes for a dictation? Does it really matter? Why do we even have a time limit in the first place? What if my child dislikes the timer? These may have been questions that you thought of as you began your Spelling You See experience.
First of all, I salute you, because you have taken the time to read the Instructor’s Handbook and you understand a Spelling You See experience. Congratulations on setting aside what your preconceived ideas might be about spelling because this is a very different experience.
Secondly, you have read that the timer is to be used for a total of ten minutes, but now you are anxious because you have a child who might – or does – struggle with timed tasks.
Timer Pros & Cons
Can I help you weigh the pros and cons of using the timer? Shall we also discuss how you can gain the benefit of a timed experience without overtly showing your student that they ARE being timed?
I must point out at the outset that I come by my good German name legitimately. I am from the point of view that says, “If it says you vill use de timer, you vill”, regardless of how my children feel about it. Jawohl! I frequently encounter parents who do not have my point of view. Sometimes I will meet a parent who says they simply cannot get their child to do a dictation because it IS timed. Other times I will meet a parent who says they want their child to do ALL of the dictation, regardless of how long it takes. Neither of these parents have taken into consideration the very different nature of Spelling You See.
That time limit serves a critical importance. As adults, we often impose on our children what we think should be an appropriate amount of time, without taking into consideration their age, ability and capacity. The limit of ten minutes was suggested by Dr. Holinga so that the task of dictation was at its most effective, without becoming an emotional burden on a student.
Children’s attention spans are much shorter than ours. In fact, the research says that a child’s attention span is their age plus about two minutes. My 11-year-old has the capacity for attention to a task that is approximately 13 minutes – give or take several factors, including whether he enjoys the task, whether he anticipates a good outcome from the task, and whether or not he is in a cooperative mood!
There are a variety of ways to approach the dictation component without letting a child know that they are being timed. As parents we often engage in “selling” our children the benefits of doing something; in this case you have the opportunity to encourage your child to give it their best for a finite period of time.
Since I have made the presumption that you have read the Spelling You See materials carefully, you will know that ten minutes is the time limit and you are to celebrate the words your child has spelled correctly at the end of those ten minutes. As their comfort level with the process increases, the number of words spelled correctly will increase, and there will be fewer prompts for correction in the process. Bear in mind that this means that you ARE prompting for correction as a word is misspelled. (If you are waiting until the end of the ten minutes to correct the errors, you are missing the entire effectiveness of changing an incorrect spelling as it occurs.) Most important of all, however, is to remember that it can take up to four and a half years to cultivate the visual recall for commonly spelled words. If you are not seeing a change week to week, it does not mean that the program is ineffective; rather, it means that your child has a greater need for input before they can produce the desired output. Be persistent and positive, and eventually you will see the fruit of your efforts.
If you know that being timed will be a source of stress for your child, I encourage you to not even tell them that they are being timed. You can approximate the time limit and simply conclude with encouragement and praise.
Above all, do not be like the parent who thought that there would be increased benefit to the program if they insisted that their child complete all of the dictation, regardless of how long it took them. They have lost the effectiveness of the program. The short duration for the dictation serves the developmental purpose of accomplishing the task while the child is engaged in the process. In this case, longer is definitely NOT better.
Brief, encouraging, POSITIVE, praiseworthy encounters are the hallmark of a successful Spelling You See experience. May it always be that way in your home. In the words of my German father, “Wunderbar!”