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Sequential Spelling

by Don McCabe

Reviewed by Martha Robinson and Mary Leggewie

Purchase details: Sequential Spelling and If It Is to Be, It Is Up to Me by Don McCabe. Loose leaf pages in a three-ring binder were reviewed. Published by AVKO Dyslexia Research Foundation. Please support by buying this program from our Christian Book Distributors link or Amazon affiliate link.

Don McCabe, a former reading teacher and dyslexic, founded a non-profit organization to help people overcome reading and spelling problems. His materials are designed to help dyslexics in particular, but may be used with other adults and children who find spelling and reading to be difficult. Reading is addressed through the "back door" by working to improve the student's spelling.

Sequential Spelling uses word families to teach spelling. Beginning with a simple word such as "at," the student gains confidence by adding letters on to spell words such as "pat," "spat," "batter," and "battle." The study of a word family, or "rime," continues for eight lessons before a new word family is introduced. A few weeks later the first word family is reviewed, and eight more lessons introduce new forms of the words with suffixes such as "ed" and "ing" added.

The method of teaching is explained in seven example scripts in the manual. Each spelling word on the daily test is given alone and in a parent-provided sentence. Then, after the student attempts spelling, the proper spelling is provided for the student to correct on his own. Positive performance is rewarded, while negative performance is either ignored or corrected without judgment and with a few encouraging words. Heteronyms, words with the same spelling that when pronounced differently have different meanings, and homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently, are shown for discussion in the manual. Weekly tests provide a sentence and the beginning letter of the spelling word that goes in the blank. One level of Sequential Spelling consists of 180 days of lessons.

A Student Response Book, that has blank columns for each daily test, is available for $3.95. It is convenient, but the teacher's manual explains how to use notebook paper to achieve the same effect.

Sequential Spelling may be purchased one level at a time for $12.95 each or as a complete seven-year program with one student response book for $89.95. The complete program is available directly from the publisher.

If It Is to Be, It Is Up to Me is very similar to Sequential Spelling but organized differently. It offers 180 lessons of spelling/reading with much more detailed scripting and discussion of the lessons. Specific, positive ways to build self-esteem and willingness are included. Each of the first 60 lessons includes the sentences, a daily written test/worksheet, and a motivational statement such as "Mistakes are opportunities to learn." at the bottom of the lesson page. In the back of the book are an additional 480 "simple" words, 500 "fancy" words that follow foreign phonetic patterns, 450 "insane" words that do not follow phonetic patterns, and over 2000 "tricky" words such as homonyms and heteronyms. Suggested order for teaching these words is explained.

The If It Is to Be, It Is Up to Me manual costs $22.95. The Student Response Book could be used with this program if desired.

Martha's Recommendation: Don McCabes programs offer a non-traditional approach to spelling that could work for many families who have not had success with other programs. The method of starting with very easy words is sure to improve reading skills.

Because of the more detailed scripting, I would recommend going with If It Is to Be, It Is Up to Me to start. The instructions are clearly laid out in this manual and will allow you the best opportunity to see if this program is right for your child. A parent who is willing to do some planning can easily use this manual for many years of spelling lessons with the lists in the back of the book.

Mary's Recommendation: My 11-year-old son was diagnosed with vision problems, which has made it nearly impossible for him to learn to spell up until now. We have completed Lesson 22 of If It Is to Be, It Is Up to Me, and I am amazed at the difference in his attitude and ability. This program makes SENSE to him, and he's learning to spell without the drudgery we've seen in other programs of re-writing everything ten times. With this program, he is learning from his mistakes! My son does not like the blank lines used 2-3 times per spelling lesson in the first part of the book, though--the author wants the child to write a sentence he invents using the spelling word. I finally just started making up a sentence, and he's happy about it again. Occasionally we run across terms he's never heard, so it's also a good learning lesson. From personal use so far, I highly recommend this program! resources related to this review:'s Special Needs Resources Section with helpful information and encouragement!'s Language Arts Resources Section for tons of ideas, links, and more!
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