For the last week or so, Alex has been working on spelling words that end with consonant-le: uncle, table, maple, and so forth. She started out well enough, dividing the words into syllables and learning to put a silent e on the end so that the second syllable has a vowel.
Then we hit C-le words in which you have to double the consonant, and Alex hit a brick wall.
It all has to do with the distinction between open and closed syllables. Did you learn this as a child? I didn’t. Apparently, when a syllable has a single vowel that is “closed in” by a consonant at the end, the vowel sound is usually short. When a syllable has a single vowel that is not “closed in” by a consonant, the vowel sound is usually long. This rule is why robing and robbing are pronounced differently: ro-bing (o not closed in, long vowel) vs. rob-bing (o closed in, short vowel).
Alex’s spelling curriculum has had her identifying open and closed syllables since early in the first level of the program. So now I taught her that in words like little and paddle you have to double the middle consonant so that the first syllable of the word will be closed: lit-tle, pad-dle. If you didn’t double the t in little, it would have a long i sound (li-tle) and rhyme with title.
Supremely logical, right? Alex dived right in and started doubling consonants like a pro. Except that she seems to have come away with the idea that WHENEVER you know that -le is coming, you should double the consonant before. She was writing words like needdle and marbble.
She tried a list of words and made a bunch of mistakes. I re-explained. She tried some sentence dictation and made a bunch of mistakes. I re-explained again. She re-tried some of the words and made the same mistakes. When she spelled needle with two d‘s for the third time in one twenty-minute lesson, I stopped her.
“You’re really confused about when to double the consonant, aren’t you?”
“Okay, let’s go back over it one more time.” I knew that the poor kid would scream if I brought out the same ten consonant-le words she had been struggling with again and again.
“…Okay, Alex, what do you know about tweetle beetles?”
A tiny revival. “When tweetle beetles fight, it’s called a tweetle beetle battle.”
“Right.” I made beetle and battle on the whiteboard with magnetic tiles. We divided them into syllables. We saw that battle needs an extra t to make the a say its short sound. We saw that beetle doesn’t want to make a short e sound at all, so there’s nothing for an extra t to do.
Mercifully, my phone chimed just then to say that our twenty minutes were up. But we’ll jump back in tomorrow with a tweetle beetle puddle battle. If need be, we’ll take it all the way to:
When beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles, and the bottle’s on a poodle, and the poodle’s eating noodles…they call this a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle bottle paddle battle.
If she can master the spelling of that, I think we stop school for the day and have ice cream.
This isn’t easy right now, but I do appreciate that she’s being given logical reasoning tools for figuring out things I learned through brute memorization. And I value that with homeschooling we don’t have to sweep on to the next concept while she’s still confused. We can just park here until she gets it figured out.