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    Sequential Spelling and School Culture

    March 25, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    We have been using Sequential Spelling for almost three weeks now, and I’m very pleased with it. We are definitely reinforcing phonics through spelling, which was my goal. Instead of learning specific words, we are studying word patterns within the language, but in the reverse of reading study. In reading study, the child sees the word pattern and then learns what it sounds like. In Sequential Spelling, the child hears the sound of the word pattern and then learns how to properly write it down.

    This spelling program is, for us, the perfect addition to our work based on language-mastery goals.

    As far as teaching spelling goes, the protocol is pretty simple. Read the word aloud. Say it in a sentence. Say the word alone again. Pretty simple.

    Actually, there is also a color-coded method of writing the word down in front of the child so that the proper spelling is reinforced while also highlighting the pattern within the word that is the actual object of study, but even that is pretty simple once you’ve done it once or twice.

    For the most part, the instructor is making up his own sentences. But, there are tests. And when I read through them, I was scandalized by the sentences.

    Actually, that is an exaggeration. I just love the word scandalized and rarely have an opportunity to use it.


    But here is a sampling:

    Shoving. A bully is always shoving others around. Shoving.

    Exploded. She really exploded. Exploded.

    Fighting. Those kids are always fighting. Fighting.

    Half. I liked math about half the time. Half.

    Squealing. They are always squealing their tires. Squealing.

    I really don’t understand the point of bringing up a negative attitude toward mathematics during spelling time. And I didn’t even get to the part where there are three or four days using various conjugations of the verb “to mug.”

    I would say that all of these sentences are reinforcing bad behaviors and a general negative outlook on life. As teachers, we have to take every opportunity to pour love and goodness and truth and beauty into the little ones. This is our solemn calling.

    I attended school in the inner city for three years growing up. I understand that it is a hard culture; I saw that first hand as a child. But part of what causes folks to get stuck in the inner city culture is a complete lack of imagination. These children cannot imagine that anything beautiful exists, that peace is possible, that there is a love that is incorruptible.

    Spelling is one more opportunity to reach into the child’s soul and assist them in imagining a good life, and this is just as important in the home school as it is in the institutional schools.

    So what if, instead, these sentences were used:

    Shoving. The hero was shoving her out of the way so as to protect her from the oncoming car. Shoving.

    Exploded. The fireworks exploded into a million beautiful colors. Exploded.

    Fighting. Earlier generations did the fighting for the freedoms we now enjoy. Fighting.

    Half. There was only one candy bar, so the sweet little boy gave his sister half. Half.

    Squealing. The children were so excited that they were squealing like little piglets. Squealing.

    Here we have a test covering the same words, but we have pulled out all of the darkness and replaced it with ideas that are beautiful, or lasting, or somehow more beneficial.

    This is where the teacher in the public schools has a measure of power. Curricula are so constricting from what I hear, and yet something like this is so easily done. A mere twist to the test while covering the exact same ground. I plan to change the word “mug” to “chug” and discuss trains which are happily chugging along. Any teacher using this book can take its wonderful ideas and utilize them in a way that is not held captive by a toxic culture.

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  • Reply Brandy March 26, 2009 at 3:40 pm


    I liked your point about reinforcing the normality of something. Actually, Si and I talked about it last night during our coffee date. He mentioned the propaganda theory that says that if you say something often enough, people will believe it regardless of whether it is true or not. His thought was that if the children are constantly hearing that gangs are a problem, then they will believe it is normal and true. And, of course, the more normal a gang is, the more likely a person is to join it. Or so the theory goes.

    This is, in my opinion, how “global warming” reached consensus level. It was drilled into every public school student in the 80s and 90s and now it has become a given, even though most folks can’t really reason through it enough to even understand why it might not be a rock-solid theory.


    Sorry, babe, but I could never do better than the curriculum that is already out there. Ambleside is incredible and I highly recommend it if you want your children steeped in good literature! The only curriculum I’ve written myself is a manners curriculum, and that is just because I had in my head exactly what I wanted and didn’t see the point in paying for something I could cater to our family’s needs so easily.

  • Reply Jennifer March 26, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    I must say that your examples are a million times better. Are you writing your own comprehensive homeschool curriculum? I only have a year left, so please expedite the process. : )

  • Reply Mystie March 25, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    lol! I did not think your sentences were girly, although I admit suspicion of the fireworks sentence. But, see, you know your student and made a sentence appropriate for him that would draw him in. Teachers know their students, know how to reach them and know where they want to lead — that’s the key. To my husband, fireworks are only fun if you’re the one with the match and my boys are always talking about killing dragons. πŸ™‚

    That elementary level stuff references gangs as a normal state of affairs is disturbing, though several of our local elementary schools do have gang problems. Sentences like that would only reinforce the normality of it, though. And, a sentence like yours for “half” reinforces the normality of sharing. It’s something we want our students to identify with and understand. No, a spelling sentence isn’t going to do that, but it does remind them of what’s accepted.

    I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing lately while my son is reading Rod & Staff’s Pathway first-grade reader. I really like it; it is age-appropriate. It reinforces “gentle” living, yet the children in it are not perfect and the parents also are neither yellers nor sticky-sweet, and still bad things (dogs chewing dolls, for instance) happen and can’t be undone (and aren’t immediately replaced, either; the little girl obeyed, the dog got the doll, it’s ruined, and it’s very sad but that’s life). So, I don’t think every story has to be a dragon-slaying story, and I have been pleasantly surprised by the Pathway reader.

  • Reply Brandy March 25, 2009 at 9:21 pm


    I stand before you and repent of my overwhelming girliness.


    Actually, I almost went into alternatives about making something manly (something that also requires imagination in the inner city, as traditional manhood is practically nonexistant there.)

    I love your dragon sentence, and I know that my sentence concerning “half” still probably won’t convince anyone to share their candy. I suppose I was trying to give the antithesis of what I had seen in the text.

    By the way: yes! Age matters! This is a Year One text and yet it included ideas like gangs and muggings! I understand that when we are teaching word patterns, some words that are considered advanced for certain ages will be studied, but I still think the author could have used the opportunity to elevate the children. Even if they, at age six, are all too familiar with gangs and muggings, they are still six and deserve a teacher who honors their souls enough to introduce them to a more redeeming set of themes.

    ps. I used fireworks because they are one of my son’s most favorite things in the world and he spends all year waiting for Fourth of July like it is Christmas!

  • Reply Mystie March 25, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    I taught writing for a few years to homeschooled 4th-6th grade boys, most of whom hated writing. If we had had those words, these are the sentences I would have seen:

    Shoving: The friends were shoving one another around.
    Exploded: The bombs they made exploded into a million pieces.
    Fighting: The boys practiced their fighting skills.
    Half: Only half the class were boys.
    Squealing: The boy’s invention sent his sisters squealing to their mother.

    What would you make of that? πŸ™‚ Not quite darkness and negativity, not quite squeaky clean.

    The age of the students should be considered, of course. But although I do agree that negativity doesn’t need to be reinforced, I also don’t want smarmy or saccharine sentences, either. I don’t think yours are, but using “exploded” as a sentence for a boy in any way that’s “pretty” cuts it a little too close, in my opinion. πŸ™‚

    My sentences would probably run something like

    Shoving: The boy was shoving the bully away from his sister.
    Exploded: Bombs exploded all around the brave soldiers.
    Fighting: St. George was fighting the dragon.
    Squealing: Knights had to be brave and not run squealing from danger.

    Danger and daring-do is a good way to get boys involved and engaged with their work. So, just as we should change examples that are negative or accepting of evil, we also need to be on our guard about trying to be too “safe.”

    I’m glad Sequential Spelling is working out! I found the first level used for $10 and picked it up for next year on your recommendation. πŸ™‚

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