When I think back to elementary school, the subject I disliked most was spelling (and it’s probably the subject I struggled with the most as well). I remember spending what seems like hours drilling weekly spelling words with my mom’s help, only to still get mediocre grades on spelling tests and still spell words wrong on papers in later grades when spelling tests were only a memory. The only thing that really helped my spelling was starting to use spell check on a regular basis as a high school student. I was an editor of my high school newspaper, and after seeing certain words with the familiar red underlining many times over while typing up stories, I finally memorized the correct spelling. I went on to get a degree in English and I now even do some freelance editing, yet I still struggle to spell certain words.
As I began researching phonics and spelling programs a few years ago for Miss M, I made an exciting discovery: There are actually reasons why some words are pronounced or spelled the way they are. This seemed like a much better way to learn spelling than the “memorize a random list” method I experienced in elementary school.
It didn’t take long to find out that even with an approach to spelling that included some rules, Miss M still struggles to learn spelling. She is so much like me! We’re on our second spelling curriculum already, and I haven’t been 100% pleased with either of the ones we’ve tried (but that is a subject for a different post!).
So, I was quite intrigued when I saw a few messages on a local homeschooling list about a book and curriculum called “The Logic of English”. After some quick googling, I quickly decided that my first purchase with a recently-received amazon gift card would be the book “Uncovering the Logic of English” by Denise Eide.
Eide is an educator (and a homeschooling mom herself) who sets out to prove that English is not nearly as illogical as most people think it is. Eide first discusses the need for students to learn the 74 basic phonograms (one or more letters that represent a sound) of the English language (a common idea among many spelling programs that don’t rely on sheer memorization or visual patterns). I’ve been meaning to work on this with Miss M, but have failed to put good intentions into practice. Whoops! There are also 33 more “advanced” phonograms in English that occur less often.
Besides the 74 basic phonograms, Eide offers 30 spelling rules that explain the spelling of most words in the English language. Most of the rest of the book is devoted to these rules. While most people might not consider this riveting reading, I was fascinated.
These aren’t rules like “i after e except before c”, a rule with many exceptions. For example did you know that English words do not end in I, U, V or J? That’s rule #3. A key thing to note in the this rule is the word “English.” There are a few foreign words adopted by English (like “chai” and “ski”) that break this rule, as well as “three very old English words, I, you and thou.” But the vast majority of English words follow this rule, explaining why we need to write “hedge” instead of “hej” among many other things.
This rule also gives some sense as to why words like “give” have a silent “e” at the end, yet that silent “e” does not make the other vowel say it’s long sound — “v” cannot be alone at the end of the word, so an “e” is added.
“Uncovering the Logic of English” is full of fascinating examples and rules like this. I feel like it is unlocking a code as to why our language is the way it is. I breezed through the book at a fairly fast rate — but I would definitely like to spend more time studying it to glean even more spelling knowledge to commit to memory.
Eide has also developed a curriculum that follows these principles — the “Logic of English Essentials” curriculum. I’m very intrigued by it. I think I could implement many of the principles in her book with the curriculum we are currently using (for example teaching the phonograms — our current curriculum recommends that anyway). But, part of the reason I don’t think we are succeeding with our current curriculum is the lack of scripted lessons…or really any lesson planning at all. “Essentials” takes care of that. However, I’m also wondering how well Miss M could really keep the rules in mind while trying to write out words. She seems to have trouble already applying some of the rules she has learned. But that might be lack of practice coming through as well. I’ll need to do more research and consideration.
If you are at all curious about why words are spelled the way they are (whether you are looking for a new approach to spelling or not), I highly recommend this book!