Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TOS Review: The Phonetic Zoo

I first discovered Andrew Pudewa and the Institute for Excellence in Writing nearly four years ago.  At the Midwest Homeschool Convention, on a whim, I skipped out on a lecture by Jessie Wise (of the Well-Trained Mind fame) and instead went to hear a talk by Mr. Pudewa on "Freedomship Education".  I was blown away!!!  Mr. Pudewa has some very keen insight into how to teach, what to teach, and why you should teach them.  Although this isn't really a review on Pudewa or IEW in general, I'd like to start out by highly recommending the audio download on Mastery Learning.  It's only $3, and worth $300 in the incredible amount of information and ideas you'll get for it.  I tell everyone I meet that it's a must-hear for every parent, teacher and definitely every homeschooler.  Mr. Pudewa is very entertaining to listen to, so let your kids listen too!  Even my 5 year old asks, when we go on trips in the car, "Are we going to listen to Andwew Pood-wah?"

Since hearing Mr. Pudewa speak for the first time, I've eagerly looked forward to the day when I could start using some of the IEW products in our homeschool.  I actually have been saving up for the Teaching Writing Structure and Style/Student Writing Intensive, without realizing that there was a real GEM of a product, for a fairly low price, right under my nose the whole time!  The Phonetic Zoo (set A - $99.99)!

My oldest child is an excellent speller.  Like his mom, he tends to pick up spelling intuitively.  The rest of my children are forever turning in papers with "creative" spelling, or asking me "How do you spell...?" for every single word on the page.  We've tried several different spelling programs, with very little to show for it.  Maybe they retain the words long enough to take the test, but that's it.  Two or three weeks later, they're right back to the creative spelling, or asking me to do it for them.

The Phonetic Zoo has been a lifeline in this household.  I only wish I could hurry my younger three children through it at a faster pace.  (Patience, mom, patience!)

The Phonetic Zoo program teaches spelling using a multi-sensory approach.  The child sees the word, hears the word and then hears the spelling.  As Andrew explains in the included "Spelling and the Brain" DVD, just seeing a word can allow letters to be transposed in a child's brain.  That's why we so often see a child spell BIRD "brid" or TWO "tow".  The sequence of the letters doesn't get fixed in the brain when the child just sees the word and hears the word.  In order to have the sequence fixed in their brain, the child must repeatedly hear the correct spelling of the word.  That's the first part.

The Phonetic Zoo also teaches the child the spelling rules.  This can help a child beyond the limit of a set of words they learn for a test.  When a child understands, for example that the long-a sound they hear at the end of a word is most likely spelled ay, they have a basis for spelling words they don't know.

The program is short and simple.  Each set of words is on a card, with the rule on one side and the rule "reminder" on the other.  You teach the rule to the child several times, until they can say it with you.  Then you give them the card to study their words (the words for program A, B and C are all on the card; they only work on one program at a time).  When they think they're ready, you give them a cd-player and a set of headphones.  They listen with headphones because that puts the sound right at their ears, without any distractions coming between them and the spelling words.  They then spend about 10 minutes listening and writing.  First, they listen to the word and spell it on their paper.  Second, they listen again, and re-spell the word next to the first one based on the CD track, which says the word, then spells it.  This allows the child to self-correct, by marking out any words they spelled incorrectly the first time around.  The child must spell every word in a set correctly two time in a row before they receive their "zoo card" (a collector-type card with the rule on it that can be kept and displayed) and move on to the next set.

You can find out more information about the Phonetic Zoo and how it works by checking out the first two pages (after the Table of Contents) of this document.

This program definitely works better for my creative spellers than any other program I've tried.  It works on the same principle as working on a spelling lesson with mom (20 years ago for me!) - say the word, spell the word, correct the spelling, re-spell the word - you just do it over and over until it is solidified in the child's mind.  It's short enough that even my child who bounces off the walls after sitting for 10 minutes can do it and be done, without the dragging "do I have to?" every single time you start working on it.  It makes sense to study the words that have the same spelling rules together.  We will continue using this program for my three younger children, and will most likely continue on with set B and set C when the time comes.  I think the investment is well worth the results!

The Phonetic Zoo complete program comes with:

  • Spelling and the Brain video seminar
  • Introduction to The Phonetic Zoo DVD (showing how to use the program)
  • Phonetic Zoo teacher's notes PDF
  • Phonetic Zoo CDs (5 CDs for level A and B; 6 CDs for level C)
  • Lesson cards with the rules (or "jingles") and spelling words
  • Zoo cards collector-style cards for reminders or rewards
  • Personal Spelling Cards to keep track of misspellings 
Each program set is $99.  You can also choose to use the audio program only, for $79, or to get the budget package (no audio CDs) for $29.

Any of them would be an excellent investment for a child that struggles with spelling!

Want to see what other people have to say about this program, or Andrew Pudewa's "Teaching Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day" (also an excellent listen!)?  Check out their reviews here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary set of The Phonetic Zoo Spelling Starter Set A in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

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