Topic outline

  • Johnny Can Spell aligns with the science of reading

    Johnny Can Spell is an explicit, systematic approach to instruction and practice of word recognition skills. The JCSpell approach seamlessly integrates phonological awareness, phonics, handwriting, spelling, vocabulary, and word grammar instruction concurrently in daily lessons. Highly researched word lists are used.

    In the beginning weeks of school, the heart of the lesson is the phonograms. Around the fifth week of instruction, the heart of the lesson shifts to words.

    The daily lessons are framed by five instructional routines--best practices that are based on cognitive science principles for effective teaching and learning, i.e., retrieval practice, space repetition, interleaving, desirable difficulty. Students acquire the knowledge and skills needed for automatic encoding and decoding, the foundation for fluent reading and writing.

    "Whole group instruction is easy to scaffold to include all students regardless of skill or age level," says Alice Nine who developed the JCSpell lesson framework and routines as she taught her classroom of 30+ students, kindergarten through fourth grade, a microcosm of an elementary school.

    • Teachers must have the answers to three questions:

      1.What do I teach? -content
      2.How do I teach? -methodology
      3.When do I teach? -scheduling

      Johnny Can Spell training provides answers to those questions as it equips teachers for integrated instruction in phonological awareness, including phonemic awareness, phonics, penmanship, and spelling. JCSpell wraps those areas together in an easy-to-implement approach that can be integrated into your existing ELA curriculum. It will fill knowledge and skill gaps with its systematic, explicit approach.

      Note: Be sure to read the research report "Put Reading First" (below)

    • A synopsis of the meta-analysis of reading research conducted by National Institute for Literacy, addressing the five components of reading instruction. This booklet is a must for every ELA teacher at all grade levels. It is a 60-page document. Download this reading brief or print a copy for your professional library.

    • From "A Synthesis of Reading." National Institute of Child and Human Development. Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning. 1996.

    • Video Sketch: What is direct and explicit phonics instruction? How does the JCSpell approach provide direct and explicit phonics instruction? (06m 43s)
      Documents for video:  Document 1  (linked above)

    • JCSpell phonics aligns with the characteristics listed on this table.

    • Video Sketch: What are the frequent, highly regular sound-symbol correspondents? Who is Dr. Samuel Orton and what are the Orton Phonograms? How do we teach these phonograms in the JCSpell approach? (02m 07s)

    • Video Sketch: What is the history of Dolch Words, of Fry's List of High Frequency Words, and of Ayres Word List? How were these lists used to create the JCSpell word list for grades kindergarten through fifth?  (09m 12s)

      Note: See the documentation concerning Ayres list (below)

    • Read the research base for development of the Ayres List, one of the high frequency spelling word lists used in JCSpell lessons (JCSpell Lesson Planner series and JCSpell Word Analyses series).

      JCSpell has incorporated the Ayres List not only because it is a list of high frequency words for both writing and reading, but also because it is a list of words ranked by spelling difficulty. Students are always moving upward in spelling difficulty as they systematically and explicitly analyze words during the "Think to Spell" lesson routine.

    • Video Sketch: Why is systematic, explicit, direct instruction necessary? How does the brain function during reading? (03m 59s)
      Notes for video ( linked above)

    • Video Sketch: What makes reading and writing English difficult? How complex is the English code? Why does English seem to have so many exceptions? (12m 01s)

    • "When we think about learning, we typically focus on getting information
      into students’ heads. What if, instead, we focus on getting information out
      of students’ heads?"

      According to cognitive scientists, retrieval practice is one of the most power learning strategies. Retrieval practice activities focus on getting information out of the brain, instead of putting it into the brain.

      JCSpell provides retrieval practice daily through flash cards, dictation with self-checking, and during the first steps of the "Think to Spell" routine.

      Read more: Retrieval Practice Guide  (Document source:

    • "Practice problems are interleaved if the problems are arranged so that consecutive problems cannot be solved by the same strategy."

      You can better understand interleaving by knowing what it is not: it is not blocked practice. Blocked practice is focused on a narrow segment of knowledge or a singular skill. Block practice typically yields better performance during the training period which is often incorrectly interrupted as mastery. However, it yields poorer retention on a future tests or during future use.

      In JCSpell, we front-load phonograms and rules. Then, we are able use the interleaving approach as we analyze words (Think to Spell ). Since we are using interleaving in our word study, we do not group words by a rule or spelling pattern (blocked practice). Instead we work with words based on their frequency in print (reading and writing) and spelling difficulty level. We begin with the most common words that are easiest to spell and move to the ones that are more difficult to spell.

      When words are occasionally grouped in Alice NIne's Word Analyses Series (grades 4 and 5), they will be grouped by a common root in order to practice word construction principles or by sound (homophones).

      Read more:  Interleaving Guide This is a document about how to use interleaving in math. However, I recommend you read it and think about its application to spelling and grammar.  (Document source: 

    • "Requiring students to organize new information and to work harder in the initial learning period can lead to greater and deeper learning.  Although this struggle, dubbed a desirable difficulty by investigator R.A. Bjork (1994), may at first be frustrating to learner and teacher alike, ultimately it improves long-term retention."

      JCSpell employs "desirable difficulty" by using words from the Ayres Word List to analyze during the learning routine Think to Spell. The list is composed of high frequency words ranked in order of difficulty. So, with each lesson, students are continually moving to more difficult words. This means that students are studying words that are at or above their reading level.

      Read more  "Desirable Difficulties Perspective on Learning" (Document source:

    • Visit the Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab at UCLA and read more about retrieval practice, interleaving, desirable difficulties, space practice, metacognition, and more.

      JCSpell instructional routines align with cognitive research. That is why students taught with the JCSpell approach are so successful.

      "It's exciting when your students are successful, and it is satisfying when you find out that what you are doing aligns with learning and brain research." -Alice Nine

    • JCSpell strategies and activities align with research-based strategies as reported in Classroom Instruction that Works (Marzano)

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