Oct 27, 2015

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Phonetic Zoo

IEW Phonetic Zoo
Ok, so, first, I'm going to admit to you that we have a spelling program that we have used for years and we love. However, I have such a great admiration, respect, and out-and-out love for the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) that when the opportunity arose to check out their spelling program, Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A [Starter Set], I just could not resist. I had to know what it was like and if it was as great as all their other products. 
IEW Phonetic Zoo
We were sent the Starter Set, which includes:
  • 5 audio CDs
  • Lesson Cards and Personal Spelling Cards
  • Zoo Cards
  • Teacher's Notes PDF file
  • Spelling and the Brain video seminar
Of first importance is the Teacher's Notes file. This is an e-book on PDF and tells you not only the "why" of the program, but the "how". Phonetic Zoo is based on Mrs. Anna Ingram's Blended Sight-Sound Program of Learning that she began teaching 50 years ago. Since this is the same program that inspired Primary Arts of Language, which was the deciding factor in my two youngest finally learning to read, I was sold right there. You can read for yourself about the multi-sensory, sequential approach and why they call it a "zoo" in the sample pages offered by IEW.

The Lesson Cards are large flashcards with a rule and three lists of words that follow that rule. Each rule has an animal that demonstrates the rule on the card. These cards are sturdy and one-hole punched so you can keep them together on a ring. Since I have a weird issue with the noise that stiff paper makes on metal, we opted just to keep them in a stack.

The Zoo Cards are small flashcards with the animal and the rule on them. The rules (which are on the back) are all written in fun jingles that rhyme to make them easy to remember. 

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The audio CDs contain all the lessons, but you can also download them as MP3 files. 

The Spelling and the Brain seminar is a streaming video that fully explains the how and the why of teaching spelling this way. You, as the teacher, should start by listening to this seminar. Your child can join in, but this is not required.

The next step is to take the first Lesson Card and go over it with your student. At first, I thought they were expecting the kids to learn an awful lot, but then I realized that the cards contain all the words for all three levels of Phonetic Zoo. This is cool because it saves you money (you only have to buy them once) but it also intimidated my kids a little bit at first! 

Then you give them the corresponding Zoo Card to use for review. There are several suggested ways to do this: hang them on their bedroom wall, let them carry them around, put them in a "zoo" with the provided template that you can print off and assemble on a file folder.  My kids rolled their eyes at the mere thought, so we kept all of our animals on display in a pocket chart.

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Finally, you set them up to listen to the lesson on the audio CD. They need headphones and a pen and paper. The lesson consists of several readings of the rule and the spelling list read aloud for them to spell on their paper. When they are finished, they and/or you make corrections if needed and then retakes the test every day until he/she makes a 100% twice in a row.
Then you move on to the next lesson.
The last component of the program is the Personal Spelling Cards, which are layered in with the Lesson Cards. These are for the student to write down the words they personally have trouble spelling, from their tests and from other writing throughout the day. Having the problem words all in one place helps with review. They are also used in every fifth lesson throughout the program. 

Here are the details of how exactly I used this program with my 3rd and 4th graders who are 8 and 9 respectively: 

I read the rule out loud to the kids, had them take turns spelling the three words out loud from the card, and then we talked about how the name of the animal fit the rule and that was our first lesson. 

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For the next lesson, we read over the rule again, then turned the card over and spelled out loud all fifteen of the "A level" words. The benefit to teaching two at the same time is that they got double the exposure to each word.

The third lesson, I set the kids up on the computer with headphones, pencil and paper and they took the test. At first, they were quite frustrated because they couldn't keep up...

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But they were always smiling by the end...

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We corrected their tests together, but instead of writing their problem words on the cards provided, we wrote them on our whiteboard that hangs on the wall in our dining room. This is because there were two kids and only one card. Plus, they see the board much more frequently. And finally, this is where the big kids write their troublesome spelling words, so it was just a no-brainer for the little kids to do so as well. 
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I liked Phonetic Zoo for several reasons:

I like rule-based spelling programs. English is a phonetic language and when people complain that there are too many exceptions to the rules it is simply because they don't know all the rules! If I teach you how to spell a single word from a list, then you know how to spell that one word. However, if I teach you a spelling rule, then you know how to spell a lot of different words by applying that rule! Plus, it helps you know how to pronounce words correctly without having to hear them, first.

I like that it is based on success. The instructions for the teacher say to focus on how many words they spelled correctly, not how many they spelled incorrectly. And the words they do have difficulty with are kept track of and mastered. 

I like mastery based programs. The point of education is to learn, not just to pass tests and make good grades.

I like that the kids could do most of the work independently. I spent a little time at the beginning of each lesson going over the new rule. I was also always "on call" if needed, but they could study and take the tests on their own without waiting for me.

The kids said: 

Daniel: I liked it because the tests were easy. He would pause between each word. One thing I didn't like was how many times they repeated the rule on the CD. I liked the Zoo Cards.

Abbie: It was fun and exciting. I liked that I learned how to spell a lot of words! I liked the animals. I liked that the guy sounded like Stan Lee.

All in all, we were glad to be able to review Phonetic Zoo and we highly recommend it. It definitely lives up to the high bar of excellence that IEW has set for itself!



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