Does LOE help strong readers and spellers?

A common question we receive is with whether Logic of English® curriculum is benefical to students who are strong readers or who are already spelling fairly well. For example, last week we received the following email from Chelsea, a homeschool mom using the 1st edition of Essentials:

...I know the program will be great for my three younger children, but I am a bit concerned about whether the Essentials program I ordered will be what my older kids need. They have been taught phonics using [names omitted], both good programs that we have very much enjoyed -- but I feel they have left us with gaps at the upper levels.

It seems that even your advanced spelling lists are below what my older children's reading/spelling level is. My question is, will your program help them spell words like nuisance and words with greater difficulty than that? Will it help them fill in the gaps for advanced words?

Dear Chelsea,

That is a great question!

Yes, I do think that Essentials will be beneficial to your older children. We have met few adults who have taught Essentials whose understanding of English spelling has not improved as a result. So I think the question is not so much whether it will improve their spelling and understanding of the linguistic structure of our language - it will - as whether the benefit is worth the investment of time to complete the curriculum. That is something that only you and your children, ultimately, can decide. But here are some thoughts that may help:

- The rules Essentials teaches are true for 98% of the words in English (and many of the odd 2% which break the rules have reasons which are explained by morphology and are discussed in the lessons as well). So yes, they will certainly help with words like 'nuisance' (a first or second grader finishing Foundations C would be able to understand its spelling based on the phonograms and rules).

- The purpose of the spelling words (in both the lists in the book and the optional Advanced Lists) is not primarily to memorize the spelling of those specific words, like a traditional memory-based spelling course, but for students to practice applying the linguistic skills they are learning and analyze how the tools are working together in these words. It helps with learning those specific words, of course, and since we do have more than one permitted option for some sounds in English, there is still some need for memory in choosing between them, but that is not the main purpose of the lists. The process of learning the words through Spelling Dictation, or Spelling Analysis, is how students really bring together and apply and practice all the tools that they are learning in Essentials and master how English spelling works. So each word they learn is helping them read and spell dozens of others.

- This means that you could either:

  1. use words from the Advanced Spelling Lists anyway, understanding that they are simply samples to which they practice applying skills and knowledge, or
  2. use any other words that you would like to teach them, dictating and analyzing them in the same way; just be sure that you control their placement within the sequence so that you use only rules and phonograms that have been taught. So, for example, you would teach 'nuisance' in lesson 18 or later, since students would at that point have learned the phonogram UI, Rule 12.3 (silent final E making C or G say its soft sound), and how vowels in unstressed syllables often say the lazy schwa sound. Or
  3. some of both - use the Advanced Lists but supplement with more challenging words as you choose and have time/energy for.

- If you are still investing time to teach your older children spelling or asking them to memorizing spelling words, I would suggest replacing those lessons with Essentials. It will be very helpful and far more efficient and powerful in the long run. If, however, they are reading and spelling so well that they are not continuing to study spelling and you are not able to invest the time, but you would still like them to learn the rules and understand more deeply how written English works, you might consider just reading Uncovering the Logic of English together. They could also help with the lessons and games with the younger ones, which would help them master the material more deeply (since Uncovering presents and explains the rules but does not include any lessons, activities, practice, or review). We often recommend that option for teens who are spelling well already but want to learn the rules.

[Dec. 2015 Update: Teaching the lessons with application in more advanced words is much easier with the new 2nd edition of Essentials. Three levels of spelling lists, followed by three corresponding levels of grammar activities and vocabulary instruction, are included within each lesson so that you can customize the level of challenge for each student.]

I hope this helps! Let me know if you have further questions.

What about tricky words like these?

Chelsea later wrote back with some specific words her kids struggled with, curious whether Essentials would help clarify the spelling of words like this.

I wanted to include the list of words a couple of my kids (both 5th grade) missed on the spelling section of their test:

cautiousno response
organizationorganuzation; organazation
essentialesenshul, esential
popularitypopulairity; populareity

From a 'find the error' section:

Errors missed:individuales, diffacult, dissagreed
Chose instead:operas, acres, native

With how much reading they do, I was surprised they could not recognize the correct spellings. So, I know they need systematic, complete understanding of all spelling rules (and not just most of them). Do the advanced spelling word lists in Logic of English cover word situations like the above?

Essentials will definitely help with these words! Many of these errors will be corrected as your kids gain an accurate knowledge of the phonograms and all their sounds (nuisance, module, cautious, popularity). Others will become clearer as they learn the rules for where the phonograms may be used (essential, cautious again), where they are likely to be used (moisture), when to use S versus ES to form plurals (individuals), and all the reasons for a silent E (nuisance again, native, acres). Learning about morphology in Essentials will give greater clarity for the spelling of words like disagree and sincere, where the correct spellings reflect the meaning (c.f. sincerity and the prefix dis- plus base word agree). More on that in a minute.

Some spellings will still need memory work even after they learn all the rules, because many words contain a sound that can be spelled more than one way. Perhaps the most common example of this is schwa, which any single vowel (and some of the multi-letter vowels) can say in an unstressed syllable in English. The challenge of identifying which vowel is saying the schwa is responsible for errors like 'diffacult' and 'organuzation' and one of the errors in 'ordinarally.' However, in Essentials students learn about schwa and how it works, and in Spelling Dictation we use a process called Say to Spell to help students get a clearer auditory picture of what vowel is saying the lazy sound (see the Essentials teacher's manual 1st ed., pp. Intro44-45, or 2nd ed., pp. 29-35 and 197). Say to Spell also helps students hear and remember whether or not there is a double letter (historic).

That doesn't mean there will be no memory work. However, once student have learned all the rules, these words with multiple options are the ONLY words where memorization and practice is required, and the options students need to consider are clarified and minimized. So the remaining memory work is much simpler. The Spelling Journal is a great tool for helping with it.

Strong readers are not always strong spellers

I'm not surprised or worried to hear that your kids misspelled these words despite their extensive reading. It's much more common than you might think. Denise has sometimes asked a roomful of educators how many of them have given up on the perfect word when typing because they couldn't even get it close enough for Spell Check to recognize it. Each time, many sheepish hands come up - and then people laugh in relief when they realize they aren't alone!

Strongly intuitive thinkers often learn to read well without learning the rules. They perceive the patterns and intuitively fill in gaps in what they were taught. However, spelling accurately without knowing why requires something else in addition: a very strong visual memory. Many good spellers rely heavily on this; they know that a word just 'looks wrong' even if they can't explain why it's spelled the way it is. Many people with strong verbal skills but less capacity for remembering visual information will thus become excellent readers while still struggling with spelling some words or having to work much harder to memorize the spelling words they they learn.

Spelling becomes much simpler, especially for those who don't have an above-average visual memory, once students learn why and are able to spell using understanding, rather than rote memory. And even strong spellers who rely on a good visual memory often struggle with words that "look wrong," like picnicking, or struggle to remember whether the final consonant is doubled before a suffix in certain words (preferably? preferred?), until they learn the rules - and they also have no idea how to help someone else understand written English because they don't know themselves.

So I think for your kids and all kids, teaching the rules will help a lot and be much easier, more fun, and more rewarding than trying to get them to memorize all of those individual words.

The Power of Morphology

One of the most powerful ways that Essentials improves the reading and writing skills of older (and younger) students is through the incorporation of morphology, the study of the units of meaning (or morphemes) that make up our words. Learning about the roots, prefixes, and suffixes in English and the patterns in how they work together strengthens spelling, since many of our words are spelled to reflect their meaning as well as how they sound (consider "muscle" and "muscular," or the different prefixes in "effect" and "affect," or the spelling of two, twin, and twice...).

But in addition to helping with spelling, studying morphology improves reading comprehension, gives students powerful tools for deducing the meaning of of unfamiliar words, and further develops the habit of thinking critically about language. Students who already have a strong vocabulary gain powerful tools for increasing it and for using the words they know with greater skill. To learn more about morphology, visit our blog or the vocabulary development section of our Research page.

What about Foundations?

We also often get questions about Foundations for young children who are already beginning to read well. Our Foundations curriculum, designed for ages 4-7, works wonderfully for early, gifted readers in this age range as well as for struggling ones. Children with strong language skills and high levels of interest in language usually love learning about how written English works and using critical thinking to apply their knowledge to words. They quickly begin applying what they are learning to other more advanced vocabulary and looking for instances of it everywhere. One kindergarten teacher recently told us that the spelling rule that was most exciting to her students was "English words do note end in I, U, V, or J." The reason? "They are constantly looking for words that end in those letters and then we have to find out where the words are from." So learning the rules is increasing their curiosity and knowledge about words, rather than delaying or diminishing it.

Students who quickly master the skills they are learning in Foundations on the level needed for reading can begin to focus on the greater challenge of mastering spelling. For example, you might decide to switch many of the reading fluency activities to spelling practice activities, asking them to apply their knowledge of the phonograms to write the words in the activity after hearing them instead of reading them aloud. At the same time, they can be reading increasingly complex children's literature as they apply the tools they have learned to more and more words and doing the Challenge activities suggested in various Foundations lessons.

Children begin to take off in reading at different points, but everyone benefits from learning how our language works!

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