It’s All About Attitude

Sam has come a long way in a month at ALP. He is a fifth-grader here for visual-verbal integration and some phonemic awareness treatment. He was recommended for about 100 hours of treatment to improve comprehension and word decoding and spelling accuracy.

From my first session with him, the one thing I noticed about Sam was how much he hated to be wrong. He would blurt out answers to questions before they were complete or say a word when he had only decoded the first few sounds – all in an attempt to keep me from stepping in with the strategies we have established to make reading independent.

One way Sam compensated for the guessing was by using the electronic spell checker at his station. The general ALP approach to the spell checker is that a student may use one after a word has been proofed to a reasonable spelling. A “reasonable spelling” simply means all the sounds are represented in order with a letter that could reasonably make that sound (an “f” where a “ph” should be is reasonable). When the student has proofed the word, he is free to use a machine to check it.

Sam was quite willing to use the machine, but that “proof it first” step was a struggle. One day I took the paper, pencil and spell checker off the table when the proofing came up on the list.

“Sam, do you know why we do this proofing?”

Sam shook his head. I knew we had talked about it once before, but it seemed like a good time to bring it up again.

“What we’re doing is training your brain to figure out some of this on your own – without the spell checker and without me helping out.”

I could tell by his expression that he thought I was about to take away the spell checker completely. He looked panicked.

“When we practice phonics rules, you can do it without checking our list almost all the time, right?”

Sam gave a cautious nod, still focused on the little machine on the other side of my elbow.

“And when we practice common endings like ‘tion’  you’ve got it down, no sweat, right?”

Another nod.

“What we’re doing now is taking all that information that you’ve got about how words work, and using it to make sure what we wrote on here –“ I pointed to the page “- matches up with what is in your head.”

He seemed a little suspicious. I laid the paper back down and pointed to a word.

Indeeun.

“Indian,” he read.

I nodded. “That has all the right sounds in it. We could use the spell checker now, but I want you to think about endings. Is there an ending on our word?”

Sam thought. “ Yeah – un.”

“Say it again. There’s a little more to it.”

He repeated the word. “Oh! Ee-un!”

“Great work! Now, is there an ending that says that?”

“I-o-n?”

“Or?” I prompt.

“I-a-n.”

“Which one of those do we usually use when we’re talking about people?”

“I-a-n.” Sam erased and scribbled in the new letters.

“Congratulations, Sam. You didn’t need the spell-checker for this one.”

He actually smiled when I said that.

We’re still working on thinking through words and waiting on the whole question before answering, but Sam’s attitude toward the help has changed dramatically. He’s willing to try to figure it out on his own, and more often than not, he’s right. The spell checker is still available when he needs it, and he likes to double check, but it’s not his main strategy anymore. He had the tools, but he hadn’t made the connection that he could use them independently. That connection has made all the difference in our sessions, and hopefully, in Sam’s success.

Rachel Phelps, Clinician

PS – Last week Sam proofed two pages without using the spell checker at all!

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