What if Dictation is Not Working?

A Reader asked:

My 9yo dd does not seem to do so well with the word photography. She studies words from the passage, closes her eyes, and I know she is not picturing them, she's sounding them out in her head. She has always sounded out words to learn them. (e.g. Missouri--she will say "miss our i" quietly to herself before spelling it). She continually misspelled that word until she used the trick of sounding it out.

I read your post on word photography and read that Miss Mason says it is a habit; how do I help her become visual instead of auditory? Will frequent dictation sessions help her? What do I say to her to help her visualize the words? (She won't sound them outloud now, but I know she's still doing this in her head.)

She was unable to sound out the spelling of "reign" today, so she had to visualize it, but I'm not confident she'll remember the spelling on Friday if I ask her.

My Response:

It sounds as if your daughter is a strong auditory learner. She prefers to hear rather than visualize. Often, these children have troubles spelling words correctly because their natural ability to visualize is weak. Charlotte Mason pointed out that correct spelling, however, is mostly a visual skill so it must be strengthened if one wants to spell well. You mentioned the word 'reign' earlier. This is a good example. In order to spell it correctly, one can't rely on the ears, 'rayn', but rather the eyes.

Miss Mason explained that children should strengthen their visual sense by practicing visualization of new words in the minds' eye regularly. It is understandable that the auditory-strong child may struggle with dictation at first and need much review and encouragement. If I were you I would step up the dictation exercises to two or three days a week and continue to urge my daughter to visualize. Words in context are generally better remembered rather than those that are in list form, so I'd dictate sentences more often than word lists. I wouldn't let her use her ears until she developed a habit of using her eyes--and I'd be firm about this. I would also review older words if needed.

There are some words that a child can spell by hearing the sounds and I have nothing against my naturally strong auditory learner using her ears for appropriate spelling words from time to time. But it seems logical to me that visualization should be done first and foremost so that the child can strengthen the weaker area.

If my daughter continued to struggle with spelling AFTER I had faithfully applied dictation two or three days a week for say, three years, well...I know myself-- I’d certainly try something else! After all, when Charlotte Mason spoke about the success of her schools, she said,

These read in a term one, or two, or three thousand pages, according to
their age, school and Form, in a large number of set books. The quantity set for
each lesson allows of only a single reading; but the reading is tested by
narration, or by writing on a test passage. When the terminal examination is at
hand so much ground has been covered that revision is out of the question; what
the children have read they know, and write on any part of it with ease and
fluency, in vigorous English; they usually spell well.

This indicates to me that some children didn't spell well, but most did. I think this shows that her method was quite successful. But once in a while, a child needs a little more help and it is the mother's duty to help her child find as many attack skills as she can in order to help him be a successful speller. This, however, has not been the case in our home even though I have three different kinds of learners. One is very auditory and because of rich literature, copy work and dictation exercises combined, she spells well now. I suspect that some mothers, unsuccessful with dictation, give it up, believing it to be an inferior method. But if the truth were to be told, they didn't use it faithfully and unknowingly misapplied the technique- so it really wasn't the method's fault.

If a child is having troubles spelling because she is dyslexic, then I cannot speak from my own experiences, but I have heard some wonderful success stories from other mothers of dyslexics who have used dictation often and carefully. That is encouraging news to me and I hope it is for others as well.

If you are beginning Charlotte Mason's methods with an older child who is a poor speller (7th grade plus), I recommend using the following website's sentences for dictation. They focus on frequently misspelled words.


one step at a time...