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    Students with special needs have notorious difficulties with spelling.

    Which spelling curricula or techniques have you found most successful for your struggling student(s)?

    Any curricula or techniques you would not use again?

    Consider these words:

    “There is little question in the mind of astute observers of the history of American educational practice that a marked shift in pedagogy related to reading, writing, and spelling in the 1930s has been the bane of every generation of learners since....[T]he expectation of the young learner shifted from the practical and 'do-able' to the impossible, while the instructional emphasis simultaneously shifted from multi-sensory, multi-modal to one that relied almost entirely upon a visual learning modality.”

    One “effect is the alarmingly common occurrence of 'creative' or 'developmental' spelling (a practice that is widely tolerated by teachers who want their students to be uninhibited in expressing themselves)....

    How then can children learn the arts of reading, writing, and spelling in ways that result in competency in each? …. [W]e acknowledge that there are numerous adequate methods, but those that best teach these arts will integrate the three through multi-sensory reinforcement of the rules that govern spelling, penmanship, and phonetic decoding.”

    (Littlejohn & Evans, Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning, pp. 90-91)

    As someone who endured adamant lectures on the virtues of “invented spelling” in my own teacher training program, I appreciate the contrasting classical pedagogical approach of teaching spelling intentionally, just as we teach reading and writing.

    In our own family with our special-needs children, we have found the following integrated and multi-sensory suggestions helpful:

    1. Teach words grouped by their phonetic rules. Teach the rule first, then teach the spelling of words that follow the rules. When we started, we began with Spelling Power, so we have continued to use this curriculum.

    2. Have the child work with the words he misses in the pre-test, not the entire list.

    3. Use one or more of the techniques below, especially if he misses the word more than once:

    -“Write” any missed words with his finger on the table top or in the air before writing on paper

    -Say the word (auditory) and then trace (tactile, visual) with finger or pencil

    -Write the word with his finger in rice or sand on a cookie sheet

    -Write missed words 5 times on a dry erase board (large muscle, vertical movements)

    -Write missed words 5 times with sidewalk chalk

    -Write missed words 3 times each, then use in sentences. One summer, my son completed an entire notebook of such exercises independently, after I had copied 5 per page of his missed words into the notebook. He especially enjoyed creating the fewest amount of sentences with the most words he could include. (He thought he was decreasing the amount of work for himself, but he labored over these sentences with a dictionary and wrote much more complex sentences than he would have otherwise composed!)

    -String letter beads to spell the missed words, because careful attention is needed with each bead. This approach worked well for my daughter who rushes when she copies with pencil. Her near-point copying is so poor, she could misspell a given word multiple times in 5 attempts, if asked only to copy it. With the beads, her spelling improved. Her spelling beads helped her lagging fine-motor skills too. (When much younger, she created a special strand for my husband: U-I-Love. This was one time he did not correct her spelling! Instead, the beads still drape over his desk.)

    As for curricula, we have found the incremental, phonics-based Explode the Code workbooks very helpful for our daughter's independent practice. These have served as her spelling/phonics work several summers, and she enjoys them. I appreciate the reading/spelling/writing integration.

    My son did not enjoy these workbooks, the beads, or even sidewalk chalk, but the homemade notebooks described above have worked very well for him. He still prefers the notebook approach for his spelling review.

    If anyone else has spelling techniques or suggestions to add, feel free to post!
    (whose 17yo twins began their junior year this morning)


      Ds is in general a great speller, and we've always used basic rules-based spelling programs at a few grade levels above his current grade. It was one of those effortless subjects, and the less work involved in getting it done, the better. He has quite the vocabulary, so in his writings will often use some great word choices, but recently we have noticed some spelling issues coming up with longer and more complicated words, and he has been frequently asking me for spellings or needing to look up words. We started writing down these words on index cards, and bringing them out every few days for him to spell. I mark on the card when he has spelled it correctly, and after 3 correct spellings I remove the card. This was something we did in the beginning of our homeschool journey while using K12. I have been considering switching to Megawords based on a few recommendations but I haven't decided yet...


        still here

        Hi Cheryl,
        I didn't want you to think I hadn't been checking in. Spelling is kind of an afterthought in my son's education. Like many autistic children, he learned to read on his own not through phonics, but through memorizing the appearance of every word. So he is actually a pretty good speller. When I see an error, I tell him, and he makes the correction. I notice that he almost never makes the same error again.
        Memory is definitely his strength.

        dd15, ds 12, ds 10, ds 8, dd 5, ds 3, dd 4 mos.


          My oldest is 5, but very advanced academically. She has minor muscle tone issues. We are finishing up MP Grade 1. We have progressed through several methods in spelling this year. The first few weeks we were so frustrated. She could spell the words verbally, but not on paper. I switched to letting her type her spelling words during her test.
          That worked for several weeks while her muscles adjusted to writing more in the rest of the curriculum. It was too much for her to process spelling and writing together.
          Later she started failing spelling tests again. She could not handle multiple concepts in the same list or all 15 words. I rearranged the spelling lists which included review.
          Then I just made my own lists based on fry words.
          I learned that for her phonics and reading are separate skills. She has to copy her words three times each on Mon and Tues. We review on Wed. and Thur. in fun ways. Fri. she usually earns an A on her written test.
          We would read and copy one time the MP list to not fall apart on curriculum.
          We switched back to the MP lists for contractions, and she did well.
          She has to "see" and form so many times to get it.
          I hope this helps.