Our spelling curriculum is Spell to Write & Read – otherwise known as SWR. Don’t confuse it with another product named similarly but which starts with “Sing to …” Totally different things.
I was drawn to this program when several of the books I read before starting on this homeschooling journey noted it or the program it loosely ‘grew’ from, “The Writing Road to Reading.”
Things I like about it:
– It is very structured. I am very structured.
– It lays out roughly what should be done each day for each level.
– It covers spelling with a heavy emphasis on phonics.
– It is very rule-based. There are very few “exceptions” that one needs to teach. We don’t teach “sight words.”
– I can use it with a variety of age levels with one cash outlay (the “core kit” is less than $100) at the beginning and very little on-going costs. (Each child needs a new “Learning Log” each year. I usually buy several at once and don’t have to buy more for another couple of years.)
– There is built-in review (“spiral learning”) and each year, they go through the same words they were introduced to the year before. This helps cement their spelling.
Things that I struggle with:
– It takes between 30-45 minutes per child per day to really cover the material with my kids.
– I can’t combine my kids very much because they are at such different levels.
– My kids are not “natural spellers,” so it takes at least a year (or three) for them to “get” spelling.
– It takes some energy from me to make spelling “fun.” I can modify the program to make it more interesting, but I don’t usually because I don’t get as much taught on the days when we do “fun” activities vs. just doing the spelling dictation.
This is our third year of doing SWR. According to SWR, my oldest should be doing the older (black) learning log this year because of her age. However, I made the decision to keep her in the primary (red) learning log another year because she doesn’t like to write very much and the primary learning log is pre-formatted. The older child formats and writes much of what is in the black learning log. I will be doing my own black learning log this summer in anticipation of helping her with setting up her own in the fall.
The first year a child starts SWR in our family is really a struggle. One learns 70 “basic” phonograms (or letter group sounds), a myriad of rules, and gets many (10-20) words per week to memorize. My kids are also not “natural” readers. Thus, when we start SWR in first grade, they are often not able to read – especially fluently. So, we use SWR to practice reading words. But this also means that they are spelling and writing words they cannot yet read (without sounding them out).
If one were to give a grade for spelling that first year, it would be an “F.” My six-year-old rarely gets even half of the spelling words for that week correct. She spells very phonetically and does not yet apply the rules correctly. She will either forget a rule or apply one where it is not needed. I saw this with my older child when she was in this same stage. It improved with the review spelling lists the following year, although the new spelling words the second year were spelled mostly incorrectly again.
Once the first handful of steps (in the red SWR book) were complete, we started with our daily schedule. I follow a different routine with my two children. I’ll start with what I do for my younger (first year doing SWR) child and then I’ll tell you what I do for my older child.
We are supposed to go over phonograms or spelling rules daily. I don’t anymore. It just takes too long. So, I usually review all the phonograms every other day. This takes up to 20 minutes. Once a week, we play a game with them. This could be phonogram bingo where she gets to keep the pennies on the phonograms she identifies/says correctly at the end of the game. I also do where she jumps toward me while I flash the cards & she gets a hug/kiss when she gets to me. Sometimes, I pick 16-20 phonograms and place them where she can see all of them. I will say the sounds for one of them and she has to pick up the correct phonogram card. I time it sometimes (all the cards you can pick in a certain # of minutes). Sometimes I have her compete against her older sister (with a huge advantage for the younger one on the outset) where she gets five seconds to pick up the right card. If she doesn’t in that time, her sister can pick it up. Whomever ends with the most cards wins (something).
On the days we do phonogram work, I have her spell the words for that week that we’ve already dictated. This takes the rest of spelling time (another 20-25 minutes). She is a very tactile/visual learner, and she has to write them – usually on the whiteboard.
On days that we don’t do phonogram work, I try to dictate between 8 and 12 words. Then, we review the words, having her re-write them (in a mini-quiz) on half-size notecards or on the whiteboard. She will also read the words through to me. This means we get around 20 words per week done. I have chosen not to do any of the reinforcement activities for the last several months because 1) I found they don’t add value this year for this child and 2) one activity eats up an entire day of our week, causing me to cut out either half the list of words or a day of phonogram work. We do try to make up a sentence using spelling words at least once per list, but we do not often write it down. We are doing list I-3 right now and I hope to get into and mostly through section J by the end of the school year.
For my older child who has consistently gotten 70 phonograms correct on her phonogram quizzes, we review phonograms only once per week. It only takes about five minutes to go through the stack with her. We spend the rest of the time dictating words, having oral spelling quizzes, and doing reinforcement activities (once per week). We average 30 new words per week (plus 20-40 review words since we are in sections M/N right now). I would like to achieve 40 words per week the several weeks of the school year. My goal is to get through section O this year with the older child. She started in section K-1, reaching new material in M-3.
I spent much of the first half of the year also teaching rules/reference pages several times per week with both children. I am pretty much done with that with the older child, but still sometimes spend a day (or three partial days) teaching the younger child a rule and building the reference page in her learning log.
My older child (8-yrs-old) is now getting 90% or better on her spelling tests each week. Her most recent spelling diagnostic tests (included in the red SWR book) have been above grade level (3.7, 4.3, 4.7 – meaning third grade, seventh month; fourth grade, third month; and fourth grade, seventh month). My younger child’s spelling diagnostic results have been at or above grade level even though she does poorly on her weekly tests (2.0, 2.1, 1.9).
SWR is not for everyone. If you are a mom who does not like structure and repetition, don’t pick it up as you probably won’t use it consistently. If you don’t like heavily rule-based learning, this isn’t for you. If you don’t have time in your schedule to consistently devote 45 minutes per day to spelling, don’t pick up this program (unless you have “natural spellers” who aren’t afraid of writing a lot – then you might be ok). If you don’t have time before you start using this program to devote to reading the red SWR book, building your own learning log, re-reading the red SWR book, and learning some of the phonogram sounds (I still don’t have them all memorized as well as my older child – I struggle with a few consistently), I wouldn’t pick this program up. If you want your children to be able to know all the Dolch sight words at the same time as their friends in public/private schools, this may not be the program for you (unless you add that in on the side).
I am convinced it lays a great foundation for spelling and reading for life-long learning. I was never a great speller and I spell better now than I did before starting to teach this program. But, in my opinion, the best spelling program for your family is one that you are going to be able to teach consistently and well. That may not be this one.