What's different about The Spel-Lang Tree?

  • For almost a hundred years, from the 1890s to the 1980s, the learning of correct spelling was thought of as a process of rote memorization. Current thinking recognizes that American English spelling is based not only on visual perception, but also on sound-symbol relationships and word-meanings. Ours is a rich language, drawing its vocabulary from many languages.
  • Spelling research through the last four decades has documented ways in which children learn to spell developmentally. In the 1980s children were encouraged to use inventive or temporary spellings and it was believed that they would learn to spell through the learning of words necessary for their individual writing. By the mid-1990s it was determined that spelling can't simply be caught; it must be taught! Spelling activities should be viewed in terms of thinking about how our language works, about forming generalizations rather than using rules, and about discovering relationships among words.
  • The Spel-Lang Tree combines early traditions in spelling instruction with ideas on cooperative learning, time-on-task, the benefits of homework, and state and local mandates for accountability. It combines ideas gained from modern spelling research with multi-sensory techniques established by Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham in the first half of the 20th century.
  • We offer a system where, at the beginning of instruction, the teacher provides the correct model, then gradually releases control of learning to the children themselves. The teacher, along with the child's parents, becomes a significant other in the child's quest to learn. The author's experience as a classroom teacher has also shown that the kind of instruction offered here enhances both the reading decoding and comprehension processes of children.

Why do you call The Spel-Lang Tree a "developmental program"?

  • Spelling research has shown that children appear to pass through developmental stages in learning to spell. After they have passed through the preliterate stages of scribble writing and using one letter to represent a word, they use their knowledge to spell short-vowel words (consonant-vowel-consonant words that spell themselves). As they become familiar with printed words, they begin to apply within-word patterns (blends, digraphs, and long vowel patterns) to their writing.
  • It is natural for children who have letter name knowledge to use this information to spell words, sounding them out phoneme by phoneme. If that is what children who have this knowledge do naturally, it makes sense in a first-grade spelling/language program to affirm and expand their knowledge. It also makes sense to make this knowledge available to those who have not yet discovered it on their own. Some children are good at figuring things out for themselves. Others need carefully sequenced direct instruction in order to succeed. How can we know, from the beginning, how each child will learn? The Spel-Lang Tree program attempts to meet the developmental needs of children with diverse learning styles.
  • The Spel-Lang Tree follows a sound developmental sequence and presents concepts in such a way that each lesson reinforces and builds upon the previous ones. Once a concept is taught, it is included in all further work but always in a new expanded context. Assessments always include words which review patterns and sounds met earlier in instructional settings.

Don't children first learn words as wholes?

  • Some children are very adept at learning to read simply by being read to by parents and teachers. They appear to learn words by sight. These children seem to internalize the reading process, automatically picking up the knowledge they need in order to advance in reading. Others need very carefully sequenced direct instruction in sounds and letters in order to master the printed page.
  • We share a belief that the more children play with words -- by reading them, writing them, comparing them, taking them apart, putting them together, talking about them -- the more likely they are to become good spellers and better readers. We ask questions about the concepts of whole to part and part to whole; just what is a whole and what is a part? A book is a whole, a word is a whole, a letter is a whole with its unique lines and arcs. Conversely, each of these is a part of the whole. Can we write the whole until we have some concept of the parts? How much do we need to know to start? What kind of mastery do we expect from each child and the class as a whole? The more we expect, the more we will strive to achieve. Children need to study the whole so they can learn the parts and they need to study the parts so they can create the whole. The Spel-Lang Tree is based on the concepts of taking words apart orally, separating them into their sounds, and using logical spelling patterns to recreate the words in graphic form.

How do you assure "time on task"?

  • The Spel-Lang Tree: Roots offers teachers a method of presenting material in a way that will keep an entire class on task for one twenty-minute period of the school day. Since the child must write a dictated word, he must attend to the task at hand. The program also offers possibilities for meaningful seatwork, either individually or through cooperative grouping while other individualized or small group instruction takes place. While planned for whole class instruction, this manual will also enable teachers to break their classes into smaller groups which can work at different pacing through the program.

How do you integrate curriculum in The Spel-Lang Tree?

  • The Spel-Lang Tree program integrates the teaching of handwriting, phonics, spelling, sentence structure, and grammar through student writing. Much writing is done to teacher dictation. Other activities rise from the students' own writing. Specific areas of instruction include phonemic awareness (the awareness of sounds in oral language), letter/sound knowledge, left to right progression, concept of word, vocabulary development, sentence structure, and grammatical usage. In addition, math skills of estimating, sorting, and graphing in a meaningful context are incorporated into the children's work.
  • As children learn to write words, they build a foundation for writing across the curriculum. They are encouraged to use these words as they write short reports about a variety of topics which are included at the end of the manual.

What kinds of homework activities do you offer?

  • We have designed activities which provide opportunities for children and parents to interact. After children learn how to do word sorting and graphing in school through their regular assignments, these activities may later be assigned as homework. Homework may also take the form of written reports following interviews of parents and others about specific issues, or about incidents in the child's own life. Suggestions for these are included at the end of the manual.

How do you assess progress?

  • We have included a series of assessments which are easy to score and which may be placed in a child's portfolio. These are invaluable in discussing his or her progress with parents or in deciding exactly what must be retaught. The written assessment takes the same form as regular lessons.
  • A record sheet has been provided for each assessment. This record sheet can be duplicated (one per child) and as the teacher evaluates the child's work, notations can be made on this sheet. The assessment paper can then be stapled to the record sheet and inserted into the child's portfolio or it can be sent home to parents. Note: The assessment words may not always be the words most frequently used in our language. They have, however, been very carefully chosen to include spelling patterns and alphabet use. Assessment 5 includes such words as sax, vex, yen, quill, and puck. This was necessary in order to be able to include all of the alphabet in the context of regular short vowel spellings and to give some balance to vowel usage. Instead of using pseudo-words such as quib or vax to assess a child's phonemic awareness and ability to reconstruct sounds in written form, we have chosen less frequently used real words so that the hope that the child's vocabulary may be expanded through their use.

What exactly is your goal?

  • We do not guarantee to make every child a perfect speller. Our goal is to provide the legitimate patterns of American English spelling and to show how these patterns work together to form written words. As children attend to these patterns and make informed choices, their spelling and confidence as writers will be greatly improved. Learning to spell words will increase the child's automaticity in reading decoding, thus freeing his or her attention to focus on comprehension. In addition, the vast number of words offered in context expands the child's vocabulary, again building comprehension skills. That is the ultimate goal.