Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A TOS Review: Phonetic Zoo (IEW)




I am generally a good speller. There have been occasions, however, when I have total and complete spelling brain meltdowns. For example, the time I couldn’t remember how to spell “wait.” I blame it on the simplistic nature of our English language (insert sarcastic smiley face). Or I could blame it on growing older, but then I would have to admit in public that I am not 26. Or even 36 (ouch!).

Josiah is a phonetic speller, himself. He is dyslexic and tends to spell words how he hears them….which can have a variety of outcomes. He has difficulty with some of the current spelling instruction trends (which are workbook driven). Recently, we had the chance to review Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A (Starter Set) from Institute for Excellence in Writing. My hunch was that this was going to be a program that would make a difference in Josiah’s spelling abilities.



If you have read any of my reviews (or for that matter my blog) you might know that Andrew Pudewa can do nothing wrong in my book. He is the founder and director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing (also known as IEW). If Mr. Pudewa came out with a suggestion that homeschool teachers need to start encouraging their students to wear green on Thursdays and eat only spam on Mondays I would stock up on spam and green clothing. Thankfully, Mr. Pudewa has shown great restraint when it applies to his thousands of homeschool mom groupies.  IEW focuses primarily on Language Arts.

I have been blessed to review several of IEW’s products through the years and have seen many of Mr. Pudewa’s talks in person.

One of the first talks I ever listened to (via The Old Schoolhouse) was all about boys. I have said this before, but it was like he knew Josiah personally. Busy boys seem to get forgotten in some of our teaching practices. I have always felt like the products I have received from IEW had those boys in mind from their creation.

Enough of the gushing.


~ 5 audio CD’s
~ Lesson Cards (these are printed on heavy paper)
~ Zoo Cards (small business size cards)
~ The Phonetic Zoo Teacher’s Notes (PDF download)
~ Spelling and the Brain (a seminar by Andrew Pudewa)

The Phonetic Zoo has a lot of history behind it. The program based on is Mrs. Anna Ingham “Blended Sound-Sight Program of Learning.” It is considered to be the most appropriate and effective method for teaching Language Arts.  You can read all about it by clicking this link. It will take you to the Getting Started page for The Phonetic Zoo. It is completely multi-sensory, which has been proven to be the best way for dyslexic kiddos to learn. The Teacher's Notes download has more of her fascinating story. She started her teaching career in a one room schoolhouse. Her 40 students ranged in ages from 5-15! 

There are actually three levels of The Phonetic Zoo. We obviously began with level A, which is a primary level. The intended ages for any of these products is 9 and up. One of the neat things about this program is that it is not grade specific. It is completely flexible and is intended to allow the student to work independently after an initial introductory lesson for each set of words (or rules).

There are 47 lessons in all and we have just finished our 3th card. The idea is that the student masters each test TWICE. After he has done that he can move onto the next lesson. Josiah breezed through the first card. The second card took much longer (it was that nasty “I” before “e” rule with all the exceptions).  I despaired that he would never get it, but eventually he managed to surprise me.

Before I get too far ahead of myself I want to talk a little about each aspect of the program and the items we received.

In the process of signing up for this particular review, I had Josiah take a placement test.  I also downloaded the Lesson Notes PDF and Spelling and the Brain MP3. Spelling and the Brain is also available as a video to watch. 

I listened to the MP3 of the Spelling and the Brain one afternoon. It was sooo informative. I am always heartened with I listen to Mr. Pudewa talk about boys in general. I am always reassured that we still have time to “cook.”

To start the initial lesson I showed Josiah the first Lesson Card. It is a large card with 3 lists of words (along with a jingle) on one side and a shorter list with an illustration or two on the other. The jingles are used to for memory prompts. We would read the words on the card together. I then would set him loose with the CD. I also received MP3’s of all the audio tracks in the download, as well, but we primarily used the CD.



It is recommended that headphones are used during the lessons. This was to cut down on distractions. However, I chose to have him to put the CD in the blu-ray player in the front room. It is just Josiah and I at home during the day and I wanted to be present during his spelling tests.  Josiah has a tendency to wander off into space and I had to stop him a few times from recording all of his favorite football stats on his spelling paper.

I personally found the spelling lessons to be charming. There is always a brief introduction and a reminder of the spelling rule. Then the test is administered. After the test the narrators will spell out each word so that the student correct themselves. They take the same test every single day until they have mastered it TWICE.

Words that are commonly misspelled by the individual students are used for a spelling test every fifth lesson.  When the student masters each card he is given the small spelling card as some sort of trophy.


Josiah’s spelling cards didn’t have Peyton Manning on them (thus considered unworthy of hanging out in his room) so we are keeping them on the white board as a reminder of our progress.
I do have just a bit of encouragement before I leave you. Some might consider the pace of this curriculum slow (why can’t we just move on!). That is one of the many faults of modern spelling curriculum in the public school. There is no mastery involved. We have become reliant on spell check and the like. The beauty of homeschooling is that we have the time and opportunity to truly get it right. We can let those that need to “cook” a little longer do so. We can let those who seem to absorb those Language Art skills quickly move on at their own space. In all this we are giving an excellent education…not an education that simply lets the student get by.


This program (as many of IEW’s excellent products) is truly a Godsend for us.  It is consistent…Josiah knows what to expect. It is easy to implement…Thank goodness for that! And it works. 


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