Does SWR work for Wiggly Willys?


My first five boys could be called the Wiggliest of Willys (some are wigglier than others) and they have all benefited beyond compare from Spell to Write and Read, by Wanda Sanseri.

The reason that Spell to Write and Read (SWR) works so well with Wiggly Willys is that it is multi-sensory and actively engages all four senses simultaneously: hearing, saying, writing, and seeing each phonogram and word.  There are special instructions in SWR for a process called “finger spelling or finger grams.”  This is where the mom holds up one finger (or two if it is a two-letter phonogram) while the child says each sound in a word.  The child does this before writing the word in his spelling log and is given a perfect picture of how the word will be spelled.  If there is more than one possible phonogram that could spell a sound in the word, the mom tells the child which one to use.  This cements the correct spelling in the child’s mind before he makes an error.

 Finger spelling is a very multi-sensory process, not to mention catchy!  My 3 1/2-year-old daughter can be seen at various times holding up her fingers and making letter sounds one by one to spell simple words like “cat,” “bug,” or “top.”  I have not directly taught my little girl this active process, but she has simply picked it up from watching her older brothers.

SWR also works very well for that Sociable Sue in your life.  The heart of SWR is logical and direct instruction in spelling through spelling dictation.  That means that the mom (teacher) must appear at every lesson.  We engage our children firsthand in the spelling and reading process, rather than giving them a workbook to fill out while we vacuum the living room.  My children and I are very social people and we enjoy our SWR time at the kitchen table because we interact the entire time.  I often begin our lesson with a phonogram BINGO game.  With the shouts of BINGO coming from four children at the table and the happy anticipation seen in their faces, you would think it was a Friday night BINGO game!  There are many other game ideas found in the Spell to Write and Read book to make learning the phonograms and rules a joy for any active child.  Wanda Sanseri has given us a plethora of ideas to help us improve in the art of teaching.

Finally, I would like to tell you some details about how well SWR has worked with my Wiggliest of Willy, Tom*.   (*Name has been changed to protect the innocent!)

My son, Tom, is a sweet, thoughtful child, but also stubborn and resistant at times.  I have been very concerned about him overall as a mom.  I started him with SWR when he was almost six. At first he could only write one word from dictation before falling off the chair (he was exhausted and stressed out!!)  I’d say, “Get back in the chair, Tom,” then dictate another word.  He could only handle 5 words at a time, which was fine with me.  But he often “fell” off the chair in between each word.  

I was also a bit skeptical about teaching my children the spelling markings.  I purchased Teaching Reading at Home and School (TRHS- Wanda Sanseri’s first book before SWR) and WRTR used, and told my friend Becky that I would teach everything but the spelling markings.  I just didn’t see how these kids (especially Tom The Wiggly) could understand or attend to this type of high-level thinking.  

Well, I got started with the boys.  Things were going better than I thought they would, so I introduced the spelling markings one day.  Boy was I surprised!  This little 6-year-old and his 7-year-old brother understood them perfectly and seemed to remember the rules quicker than I did.

 An interesting side-line:  during the first few months I taught the boys with early books of SWR I made many mistakes.  Even so, the boys progressed more with SWR than they had with any other program I had tried before. In the first few months my 6 and 7 year-old boys jumped up by approximately one grade level as measured by the spelling diagnostic test. This sold me to the SWR system.  If I can mess up but my kids still learn more than ever, it must be good!  

I am not advocating a sloppy approach to teaching with SWR, but beginners naturally do make mistakes and SWR is very forgiving.  This made me love SWR.  Meanwhile, I am always trying to improve my delivery as an SWR teacher.

 The boys were so amused the day I taught them the Silent Final E Page and set up magnet letters as SWR told to do.  When they saw that the word would fall over without the silent final e, they thought that was so funny and remembered it with glee forever on.  After this, I bought the most updated SWR book and the WISE Guide etc. (SWR Core Kit) and took the SWR class from Mary Tanskley, fully committed to doing SWR in the proper way.

In six months, my wiggly Tom could take 10 words at a time from dictation and then a quiz of 10 or more words in the same sitting!  He didn’t stop wiggling and still fell out of his chair occasionally, but not as often.  

Let me tell you Tom’s scores starting out.  He tested at 1.5 on the spelling diagnostic the first fall with SWR and finished with 3.7.  He was easily reading science books and other material at a grade 4 reading level.

Tom the Wiggly, at age 7, scored 4.7 grade level on the spelling diagnostic test.  


And could now take between 10-20 words of dictation in one sitting, followed by another 20 or more words of a quiz.  That is 40 some words in one sitting.  He still occasionally got up and ran a lap around the kitchen in between a few words, but his attention span definitely increased with his abilities. 

Update some years later:  Tom the Wiggly at age 9 years old and would have been in 3rd grade if he were in a public school.  He finished the year at 9.8 grade level on the Spelling Diagnostic, and told me that spelling is one of his favorite subjects (along with history and science!)

I am so grateful for the order SWR has brought to Tom and all my children.  They are reading and spelling at a very high level for their age and simply would not be able to do it without SWR.  A thousand thank you’s to Wanda Sanseri!

Britta McColl

Endorsed SWR Trainer

Film clip of me dictating the word “top” to my son:

Link to my DVD, You CAN Do It- SWR at You Tube.