Life Lessons Learned through Spelling

Feb 19, 2018 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team

by Ryan Weins


Recently I had the privilege of completing a level of IEW’s spelling program, The Phonetic Zoo. Throughout my study, I found it enjoyable to finally experience how our approach to teaching spelling can be so helpful to the brain’s retention of words. This was a very different experience from my grade school years, when my teacher would hand me a list of words and tell me to learn them for the test on Friday, an approach that I think is pretty common to most spelling programs. Nice and easy, right? “Here are your words. Study these. There’s a test on Tuesday.” But easy for whom? As Andrew shares in Spelling and the Brain, this strictly visual method of processing words can get a bit fuzzy at times. When a brain sees a whole word all at once, it has no way (unless it’s gifted with a photographic memory) of immediately, accurately, and consistently knowing the exact sequence of every single letter. That’s why when we attempt to recreate the words, we often find it difficult to reproduce them with each letter drawn in the correct order.

With IEW’s auditory approach, we still accomplish that visual cue, but immediately reinforce (or correct) the visualized image with auditory input. In Phonetic Zoo, the process goes like this: The student hears the word audibly, then hears the word used in a sentence, and finally hears the word repeated once again. The brain quickly creates a mental image of what it thinks the word looks like, and then the student physically attempts to write the word with the correct spelling. Whether correct or incorrect, each word on the list is visited again, this time spelled out letter by letter so the student can check his attempt against reality. If the attempt is correct, great! If it isn’t, then Phonetic Zoo immediately corrects the mental image audibly by spelling the word out slowly, one letter at a time, eliminating the possibility of taking in the information in the wrong order.

As I’ve considered the brilliance of this method of teaching, I’ve noticed the same solution can be applied on a life-scale. How often do we try to process life all at once? I know I’ve been guilty of this—in fact I’m still frequently guilty of this. I attempt to look ahead at my life and picture it “completed,” visualizing what I think it should look like, with no clear image in my mind of the individual steps I need to take to get there. I do my best to “spell it out” in the correct order as quickly as I can so I can move on to the next life lesson. Unfortunately, this approach sometimes results in me making decisions before I’ve heard the reality of what the next “letter,” or step is. Sometimes I “misspell” on the way to the end result.

The Phonetic Zoo shows us, however, that it is actually possible to communicate in a way that minimizes the chance of misunderstanding information. Isn’t this our ultimate goal as communicators? Imagine never being misunderstood―I’ll take that! I get that it’s is a tall order, especially when considering we have to achieve this with multiple students. But there are some special teachers who are always inching closer to this. The highly respected basketball coach John Wooden gauged himself in his pursuit of masterful teaching (and reminded us to do the same) when he said, “You haven’t taught until they have learned.” That is our measuring stick as teachers (and as learners). The better we communicate, the quicker our students can advance.

There is so much value in processing life through the same format as The Phonetic Zoo—one “letter” at a time. If we trust the process, live in the moment, and allow ourselves to process the correct step in the correct order at the correct time, we set ourselves up for mastery rather than simply memorizing the action needed to pass the next test.


Ryan Weins is an Oklahoma native who enjoys personal interactions with people, adventures with his family, a wide range of music, and all things athletic. He has served as a basketball coach at a local high school for five years and enjoys helping people reach their fullest potential through growth in communication and motivation. With that goal in mind, Ryan is delighted to assist IEW in serving teachers and teaching parents, asserting that "the most transformational belief one can hold is the simple yet often unrecognized knowledge that you are worth it—worth the time, worth the effort, worth the love, worth the sacrifice." He strives to communicate that belief to every IEW customer he serves.


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