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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Spelling: Copywork, Dictation, and More

This is a collection of the best information I could come up with to give an introduction to the use of copywork and dictation in teaching  spelling.  It helps to know that Charlotte differentiates somewhat between spelling and reading--and I think she's right to some degree. Phonics rules help immensely with reading (and she does talk about this a little in the pages that lead up to her discussion of spelling in volume 1). Those phonics rules do help a lot with spelling, but most of also use visual methods for spelling, even if we think we are not visual.  How many times when you are asked how to spell a word do you have to write it down to see your answer?  Have you ever written a word and then thought, "That doesn't look right'?  That's because there is a visual component to good spelling, and Mason's approach recognizes and builds on that. 

Think of words like There and their--and is there really any phonetic reason why they shouldn't be spelled the say way? Think of the 'r-controlled vowels,' er, ir, and sometimes 'or' (word, work)--phonics gets you far with those, but a little memorization is necessary after that.

My oldest was a natural speller. My fifth was pretty nearly perfect.  The others had varying levels of spelling incompetence.=) I nearly despaired of the second girl ever learning to spell. She misspelled words she copied. I began using Miss Mason's method with her when she was about twelve. I do not know if it was the method or the age, but she did begin spelling better, and I now am not embarrassed for us both over her spelling.  She is now an adult who spells well but thinks she doesn't.
The middle two improved by high school using Mason's methods. So what do those look like?

In general, what Charlotte Mason suggested for spelling is that the spelling word be written properly where the child can study it and work to put it in his mind's eye (that mind's eye is an important component of many things in a CM education. He doesn't copy it ten times, he simply looks at it with all the focused attention he can muster up. When he thinks he has memorized the way the word looks, ask him to close his eyes and picture it. Then have him spell aloud and/or write it correctly.  We used a lap sized whiteboard to do this so I could quickly erase any errors. You can use anything- a pan of salt and write in it with a finger, a blackboard, paper and pencil and you put a strip of stickit paper over errors, or use letter tiles from a scrabble game or something similar.

Here's what the Mason's approach to spelling looks like spread out over the years- but do k
eep in mind that the most important part of any element of a CM education is always principles, and after that you can apply various practices. 

Start with copywork (more about that here)- most importantly, have your student look at whole words and copy an entire word or phrase at a time, rather than copy letter by letter.

Finely crafted, well written sentences are the best sources. In our home we had a different selection each day of the week. One day is poetry, another Bible, another from their history, another from science, and one from their literature selection. A copywork selection from the foreign language being studied is also good. Hymns may also be used.

Until you are sure a child can form all his letters correctly, you would not give him a selection to copy, and at first you would still watch carefully to see that he formed them properly--shaping them properly, starting at the right point on the paper, holding his pencil properly.

 Copywork done properly forces a child to slow down and absorb the punctuation details, notice capitalization, and internalize sparkling prose (For this reason, a child's own stories are not the most ideal source for copywork a la CM).

When they do misspell a word, quickly cover it, write down the word correctly elsewhere and have them look at it properly spelled and visualize it, and then  they should correct it in the written copy.

When they start to write narrations, you can skim over the narration, quickly correct incorrectly spelled words (without much comment) and then have your student read the narration aloud.  You can privately keep a word bank of the misspelled words to use for separate work on spelling, which should not take up more than five or ten minutes of a day. If you keep track of their misspelled words you may notice a pattern of the sorts of works that give your student trouble and then you can focus on that issue.

You could also use a good word processing program, one that automatically underlines misspelled words, bringing them immediately to your student's attention. Then have him use his right click mouse button--this brings up a box with suggested corrections. He then would instantly have the properly spelled word before him (albeit with several other options, but they would all be spelled correctly) and could choose that. He might take a moment to visualize the word carefully before going on.

  • Teach a handful of basic spelling rules on an as needed basis, for instance, if you notice a child consistently misspells words with the ie pattern. Usually, kids will get the correct patterns through their own reading and their copywork, but it doesn't hurt to add a bit of information once in a while.  When they are copying a sentence with a word like field or weight in it is a good time to review that rule, for instance.  Most of us have heard at least part of the "I before e, except after C," but it's more useful when you have the second half of the verse: " or when it sounds like a as in neighbour or weigh. Here is a list of words that show how useful this rule is.
  • Here are some rules on pluralizing.  
  • The letter C makes a soft, s sound when it is followed by i, e, or y (similarly, G sounds like j when followed by e or y)
  • How to know when to use el vs le:  and also here:
  • When adding suffixes (endings to words, such as -ing), you drop the final e before a suffix beginning with a vowel but not before a suffix beginning with a consonant (hope+ing is hoping but hope-ful becomes hopeful)
  • English words do not end in U or J (or I, but given names will be exceptions because we make those up). 
  • You can find other rules here and here.

Again, don't overdo this.   Nobody needs to know all of them. It's possible to spell well without knowing all the rules.  Those rules you do teach are best taught in context with the words your child is using in copywork, dictation, written work.  The main way to learn to spell is through the visual experience of  being exposed to words through reading thousands of words on printed pages, through the concentrated daily use of copywork, and later, dictation.

Year 4 is when we add dictation.
Select a passage from their reading- the passage will be longer than the amount they will actually be writing from dictation.  you want about a page for new to dictation students (they will only write from dictation a paragraph) to two or three pages for more experience students (of which they will write no more than a page).  

Every day for a few minutes, the student 'prepares' the passage (see page 242 of Volume 1).   This preparation involves having the child carefully look through the passage and anytime he comes to a word he thinks he can't spell he is to look at it attentively, then close his eyes and picture it with his eyes shut. After a bit of this, the teacher or mother asks him what passages he is still unsure of, and at this time may point out others that she thinks might give him trouble.

He looks these over again, using the same method--just trying to look at the word carefully enough that when he closes his eyes he can picture it accurately.

If there are any words still worrying him, the teacher writes them one by one on a chalkboard or whiteboard (this could work in a classroom, but the whole class would be suggesting words, so some words would be covered that some of the children are not worried about). Again, the child looks at the word writ largely on the board, looks until he has a picture of it, and then she erases the word and moves on.  Remind your student to pay attention to punctuation marks and capitalization as well.  You are not going through the whole passage every day, just a little bit each day. 

Spend five or ten minutes doing this every day, and then at the end of the week, or some time in the next week, set aside some time and the teacher starts giving dictation. She enunciates clearly, reads a clause at a time, never repeating herself. She does not say 'comma' or give any other indication of punctuation except for her voice inflection.

At this point Mom is ready with her stick it note or masking tape or label with which to quickly cover any misspelled word. 

Dictation is only taken up after the student has some experience with copywork (which continues), and copywork is only taken up after handwriting.   Handwriting is the preliminary step in copywork or dictation. Until a child knows how to make each letter and make it well, with little mental effort or decision (in other words, by habit) letter practice is pretty much all that copywork encompasses.

This is the primary method for teaching spelling.

You can still have separate spelling practices in the CM method, and you don't need to buy a curriculum to do so. You can use letter tiles or something like them which you already own instead. You could use magnetic letters, scrabble tiles, index cards or blocks- any item with letters already formed on them, and the child can rather painlessly practice spelling this way (spell the word you dictate, using the tiles, then picture it in his head clearly).  Mason recommended doing this with word families.  Take a few minutes one day and have him spell smile with the blocks or scrabble tiles, and then change smile to tile, to mile, to file, to pile to while.  Change word endings for ed or ing or s.   Another day spell out low, slow, mow, row, crow, throw (discussing homonymns as needed, and it may be enough at times to just mention they exist). This is also a good time to teach a new spelling rule.  Introduce it, show some examples, then practice spelling a few words which follow that rule, and perhaps one or two exceptions.  This should be short and stress-free.  Do only one or two words if that is what it takes to be stress-free.  CM's approach is slow and steady, cumulative, building up over time.  

The above is my summary.  Below is taken directly from volume 1, Home Education, by Charlotte Mason:

"No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly, and then perfection should be required of him as a matter of course. For instance, he is set to do a copy of strokes, and is allowed to show a slateful of all sorts of slopes and all sorts of intervals; his moral sense is vitiated, his eye is injured. Set him six strokes to copy; let him, not bring a slateful, but six perfect strokes, at regular distances and at regular slopes. If he produces a faulty pair, get him to point out the fault, and persevere until he has produced his task; if he does not do it to-day, let him go on tomorrow and the next day, and when the six perfect strokes appear, let it be an occasion of triumph. So with the little tasks of of painting , drawing, or construction he sets himself--let everything he does be well done. An unsteady house of cards is a thing to be ashamed of. Closely connected with this habit of 'perfect work' is that of finishing whatever is taken in hand. The child should rarely be allowed to set his hand to a new undertaking until the last is finished." Page 160

Value of Transcription--The earliest practice in writing proper for children of seven or eight should be, not letter-writing or dictation, but transcription, slow and beautiful work, for which the New Handwriting [a handwriting text] is to be preferred, though perhaps some of the more ornate characters may be omitted with advantage.
Transcription should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory.
Children  transcribe favorite passages--A certain sense of possession and delight may be added to this exercise if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favourite verse in one poem and another. This is better than to write a favourite poem, an exercise which stales on the little people before it is finished. But a book of their own, made up of their own chosen verse, should give them pleasure.
Small Text-hand--Double-ruled lines--should be used at first, as children are eager to write very minute 'small hand' and once they have fallen into this habit it is not easy to get good writing. A sense of beauty in their writing and in the lines they copy should carry them over this stage of their work with pleasure. Not more than ten minutes or a quarter of an hour should be given to the early writing-lessons. If they are longer the children get tired and slovenly.) pages 238, 239 (this section of volume 1 in the six volume series is especially useful for the language arts. Pages that follow cover dictation, spelling, composition and more).
From AmblesideOnline's website, used with permission

These things all work together, handwriting, copywork, dictation, reading well written books, doing their own reading as soon as they can, playing with letter tiles, copying names and information correctly in nature journals, history timelines, century books, and so on, singing hymns and folk songs, playing with the lyrics of poetry and folk songs, narration, and more.  Together, these practices not only improve spelling, but enable a child to compose well written papers, stories, letters to Grandmothers, and more.   Most children will take a bit longer to pick up the spelling than they would in public school, but they are also reading more complex works much younger than they are in public school.  Don't throw up your hands when the child is ten and say it isn't working- you haven't even started dictation yet at 10!  You need the full method for best success.  All the pieces, parts, gears, and wheels work together.

See also my post on copywork here.
Copywork with older students


For sale, proceeds support my family's work.  When creating these things,  my constant thought was 'What might readers like to know or think about? What will help our Charlotte Mason parents and families?  What will give them something to think about, something to love, something to grow on?'  I hope you can tell. 

$5.00- Education for All, vol 2- the Imagination (and more) issue!- transcript of the imagination talk from the AO Camp meeting, with additional material I had to cut to save time.  
 $5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal,   Feed Your Mind!  This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for purchasing options if you are in the Philippines.

 $3.00 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Copywork (grades 2/3, carefully selected with an eye toward finely crafted sentences, lovely bits of writing pleasant to picture in the mind's eye, and practice in copying some of the mechanics of grammar and punctuation typically covered in these years.

  $3.00 Aesop's Fables Copywork for Year One!  Carefully selected with an eye toward well written sentences, memorable scenes, and some practice copying sentences that model the basics of capitalization and punctuation.   Suitable for use with children who have already mastered the strokes and letters for basic penmanship.

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