Topical CM Series

Charlotte Mason's ideas are too important not to be understood and implemented in the 21st century, but her Victorian style of writing sometimes prevents parents from attempting to read her books. This is an imperfect attempt to make Charlotte's words accessible to modern parents. You may read these, print them out, share them freely--but they are copyrighted to me, so please don't post or publish them without asking.
~L. N. Laurio

The Charlotte Mason Series in Modern English Arranged Topically

Spelling and Dictation

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 203-204

Early Spelling

Teach the child from the beginning to close his eyes and try to spell the word he has made. Reading isn't the same as spelling, and you don't have to spell well to be able to read well, but it's still important to be able to visualize the way a word is spelled. A child who can see quick enough to take in the letters of words while reading them will be a good speller. The child should start developing this habit from the start. Get him used to seeing the letters that make up words, and it will become second nature to him.

If words always followed the same rules in English, using the same spelling patterns, then reading would be easy. The child could simply learn the rules and be able to read anything. But many words in English are a rule unto themselves. The child has no choice but to learn those irregular words by sight. He must memorize and recognize words like 'which' as familiarly as he knows the letter B. And he learns this by looking at the word intently so that the image of the word is stamped into his mind. This process should happen simultaneously while learning letters. The more variety there is in his reading lessons, the more he'll enjoy them. Making words will encourage his interest in words, but learning to recognize words by sight will help him to be a good reader.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 205-206

Good spelling is no more than proper seeing by observing the letters in a word in the same way one might see the features of someone's face. To encourage this, ask the child, "Can you spell sky?" or any of the other short words. The first time may catch him unaware, but he will rise to the challenge and be sure to get it right the next time you ask. Don't let him spell the word, or even say the letters out loud while the word is in front of him.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 238

Transcription [copying text word for word] should be a child's first spelling lessons. Children should be encouraged to look at a word, imagine a picture of it in their mind with their eyes closed, and then write it from memory.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 240-243

XII.--Spelling and Dictation

Of all the troublesome subjects that students spend hours on, dictation is probably the most troublesome, at least the way it's usually taught. People don't realize that every school subject rests on some kind of philosophic principle.

A Major Cause of Bad Spelling

Generally, the teacher dictates a passage phrase by phrase. She repeats each one three or four times because the students ask questions and ask her to say it again. Every line of the students' work has one to three spelling errors. The teacher, trying to be conscientious, marks the errors with red ink. The students use various methods to correct their mistakes. They might exchange work and grade each other's paper, correcting errors by copying the correct spelling from the blackboard. A few unenlightened teachers still make students copy their errors, with the correction written three or four times to learn it, and then spelled out loud to the teacher. The teacher is surprised that, with all her painstaking effort, students continue to make the same mistakes again and again.

The Logic of Spelling

But the truth is, the ability to spell depends on the person's ability to see the word and stamp a photographic image of it on their mind. This is a skill and habit that must be developed in children from the beginning. When they read the word 'cat,' they must be taught to try and see the word with their eyes closed. This same technique works equally well with big words like 'Thermopylae.' Imprinting words on the retina seems to be the only sure way to become a good speller. Once an error is made and corrected, there will always be doubt as to which image is the right spelling, and which is the wrong one. Most of us are never quite sure whether 'balance' has one l or two, and that's because we saw both spellings when we corrected it. Once the eye sees a misspelled word, the image is imprinted for good. If there is also an image of the word spelled correctly, we will never be totally confident about which image is the correct one. That's why the common way of doing dictation almost guarantees bad spellers. Every misspelled word makes an image in the mind that even the correct spelling can't obliterate. Therefore, it's the teacher's duty to prevent wrong spelling in the first place. And if an error is made, she must cover it quickly before the image gets fixed in the student's memory.

Steps of a Dictation Lesson

Dictation lessons done the following way usually result in good spelling. A child of eight or nine studies a paragraph; older students study one page, or two or three pages. The students prepares for the lesson by himself. He looks at any word he isn't sure of and tries to see it with his eyes closed. Before the dictation begins, the teacher asks him which words he thinks might give him trouble. He usually knows, and she can write them on the blackboard. She asks him to look until he has a picture of the word in his mind. Then she erases each word one by one. If he still isn't sure about a particular word, she should have him attempt to write it on the blackboard from memory. She must watch closely so that, as soon as he begins to add the wrong letter, she can erase it before it lodges in his memory. When the word is on the board correctly, the student again tries to make a mental picture. Then the teacher dictates the passage, a phrase at a time, and only repeating once. She reads expressively enough to make punctuation evident, and students are expected to include correct punctuation. But she should not say, 'comma,' or 'semi-colon.' After students have spent maybe ten minutes preparing for the dictation as outlined, there are rarely any spelling mistakes. If there are any, the teacher would be wise to cover them with adhesive paper or white-out to erase the wrong spellings from the student's mind as much as possible. At the end of the lesson, the child should study that word from his book until he's sure he knows it. Then he should write the correctly spelled word on the adhesive paper, or over the white-out.

Children cooperate enthusiastically with this kind of lesson because they feel like they have a part in it. It also prepares them for the second thing necessary to be a good speller, which is lots of reading with a trained habit of making a mental image of words as they are read.

Bad spelling is usually a sign of not much reading, or, sometimes, reading so fast that words are skimmed over instead of really seeing each word.

Spelling must not be overlooked and lost in the rest of the curriculum, but children also shouldn't be nagged to spell. It's good to write long, difficult names on the blackboard as they come up during history or geography lessons. When the children say they've made a mental image of the word, it can be erased. The secret to good spelling is visualizing words from memory, and students must learn how to do that by visualizing words as they read their other lessons. Children do enjoy learning to spell this way.


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Paraphrased by L. N. Laurio; Please direct comments or questions to AmblesideOnline.