How I got started with SWR

I am Britta and my husband is Rob. We have seven children; our first five are boys and the last two are girls. 

Before coming home to teach my children I was a music teacher for about 10 years.  I taught elementary music using the Kodaly method (do, re, mi), which is the phonics of music.  Of all the jobs I have held, teaching my own children at home is by far the most challenging BUT also the most rewarding! 

When my oldest son was only two I saw that he was very bright -- because he had the entire Psalm 19 memorized. We had read to him for hours on end and thought that was how you prepared a child to learn to read.  I was very surprised when he struggled with learning how to read in Kindergarten and First Grade being taught with whole language methods in the public school.

When we brought our son home to home school him starting at 2nd grade, I was sure that I could quickly turn around his poor reading ability.  I thought without the distractions of school and me dedicating my time with him to reading he would take off.

I really didn’t know much more about teaching reading than asking my son to “sound out the words.”  But this was not the explicit phonics instruction that he needed. It was a lonely and frustrating time for us--as my oldest son’s reading was progressing at a very slow and laborious pace.  I felt like a failure as a teacher and a mom.  I knew my son was bright, but I simply did not have the tools needed to teach him properly.

With a lot of effort my son finally did learn how to read, and even began to enjoy it.  To my surprise he nominated reading as his favorite subject in 5th grade.  But I was still concerned because he seemed to have some holes in his reading comprehension and his spelling was poor, despite my trying a number of different spelling books. 

I have been on a quest since this difficult starting reading with my oldest son to find the best way to teach reading and spelling.  I wanted to find a method for my oldest to really learn how to spell and I didn’t want my other children to have to struggle with learning to read and spell.

Some years ago when my penpal, Becky, introduced me to Spell toWrite and Read (SWR), I was both skeptical and intrigued.  The explicit phonics part reminded me of the Kodaly method which I taught and loved. But the phonograms and spelling rules scared me and I didn’t see how I could learn them all, let alone teach them all to my children. I concluded to Becky, “I admire you for taking that on, but it looks like too much for me right now.” 

I have no memory of learning how to read as a child, but reading came easily to me.  I am pretty sure I was taught to read with the look-say method (whole language).  It was a big surprise to me five years ago when I found out through SWR that “A” had three sounds. I always thought C just made the sound we hear in "cat" and was startled to find that “C” would say –“S” before E, I, and Y in words like cent and city. Yes, yes, I had pronounced these words properly all my life, but hadn’t seen there was a system. 

Becky is a quick-witted, well-spoken person and I secretly believed that SWR was only for smart moms and their kids.  Since I didn’t fall into that category, I thought it would be best to avoid this program.  Why create more stress in my life?

But then I started to hear other seemingly ordinary moms talking about teaching their children with SWR and how well the kids were doing. 

This was the turning point for me.  I was still scared to try SWR, but my desire to have the success with my children that other moms teaching with SWR were having-- gave me courage to look beyond my fear.

I purchased the materials and really liked what I read about this new system. I told Becky that I really liked the program and that I would teach everything but the spelling markings.  I just didn’t see how my active boys could understand or attend to this type of high-level thinking.  I told Becky (in a whining tone) “My children won’t get the spelling markings!”  What I really meant was that, “I don’t get the spelling markings!”

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.   They even seemed to LIKE the spelling markings and would add them spontaneously to their writing outside of spelling.

An interesting side line:  during the first few months I taught the boys with 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….  Meanwhile, I am always trying to improve my delivery as a teacher, and, yes, I do all the spelling markings now! (They’re actually quite easy…..why was I so worried about them?)

I am so grateful for the order and success that SWR has brought to all my children. 

After only a year and a half with SWR my oldest son’s weakness in spelling has been turned into his strength. At age 15, he and his 12 year-old brother reached 11.7-grade level in spelling mastery.

My younger three boys are spelling 2 and 3 years above grade level reading very well.  Both the 7 and 8-year old boys are able to finish a 180 page book, such as the Childhood of Famous Americans, in 4 days with ease.

I am so grateful to Wanda Sanseri for Spell to Write and Read!  Thank you, Wanda, for placing us on firm footing and helping us to succeed!

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.

To purchase a complete line of SWR materials go to the Spell to Write and Read (shop) heading of this website.