AAS versus WRTR: For Spelling

in 3GRD, 4GRD, 5GRD, 6GRD, Manual Analysis, Spelling, WRTR

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The hot topic seems to be All About Spelling(AAS) versus Writing Road to Reading (WRTR) these days.  I have a lot of detailed knowledge about spelling programs and actually write content for a dyslexia intervention program, so lemme share what I know. I am also open to private questions at ivorysoap76 at gmail dot com.

The Problem

I’ve heard several moms say that they were fine until the scripts in Sound Beginnings ended.  Then they were lost. That approach to phonics was totally new to them.  Sound Beginnings taught them 10 of the 29 rules and now they’re on their own.  Also adding to the confusion is that there is material to unlearn between the two programs without explanation or persuasion. The parent has lost ground and has no way to close the gap without dropping $130 on a support class.

WRTR assumes content mastery on the part of the teacher.  Even in the scripted notebook page dialogue it says that students “need practice” beyond the notebook pages, but it doesn’t provide the material to do that for them (or yourself).  And for rules 17-29 there is no notebook page script to cheat off of at all. It’s TOO BIG OF A LEAP.

AAS assumes that the teacher is UNTRAINED in Orton-Gillingham phonics.  It “teaches the teacher” alongside the child. That’s why most parents switch. For many parents, there’s too big of a leap in their own understanding from the last lesson of Sound Beginnings to the first lesson of WRTR. And by the time they’re at the crisis point, they are so sick of WRTR that they don’t want to do a training class even if it costs the same in time and money.

Different Aims, Different End Product

The programs have one major difference that you need to know about:

WRTR doesn’t represent normal speech! It’s not trying to.  Spalding teachers have kids go down the lists and “Read for spelling” (sounding out, eliminating accents, over-pronouncing vowels, etc) and go a different direction in the lists to “Read it for reading” (instant whole word recognition, normal speech.) The fact that it’s not trying to unite spelling speech and talking speech makes the final system much more compact.  29 rules (for spelling, not reading). Kids without dyslexia have no problem learning two pronunciations.  (Actually, saying it funny adds another layer of sensory info in addition to drawing all over the words cataloging rules and what not.  My kids remember the words with the weirdest spelling pronunciations the best.)

AAS represents normal speech.  “Saying it for spelling” is a strategy, but not a way of life, in AAS.  The fact that it is trying to unite spelling speech and talking speech makes the end product very complicated.  Rules and clues and patterns proliferate like bunnies: 9 ways to spell a long ee, 7 er’s, when “aw” is used in the middle of a word, all the ways to predict what that schwa sound might be, all the ways to decide if /ul/ at the end of a word is al, el, or le, etc.  The final decision matrix is dizzying!

But, for a dyslexic, it’s what you have to have.  They have a very poor visual memory for words, so a “representative” system is where it’s at.  They have to reason it out by ear since the visual pattern never stuck, no matter how many times you marked all over it or read it funny.

Let’s pretend that you hear “towel” but you have no visual memory for it.:  “I hear /tow-ul/.  /ow/ in the middle of a word is usually “ou”.  And that /ul/ I hear.  Is it a schwa or a real /u/ sound?  The accent is on the /tow/, so it’s most likely a schwa.  Consonant LE is the most common “ul” but then I need another consonant sound between the “ou” and the “le.”  So it’s likely not consonant-l-e.  My other choices are “el” and “al.”  “Al” is usually a suffix.  What does it mean? Like?  Can something be /tow/-like?  Maybe. But if it’s “el” then that /ow/ could be an “ow” since that’s one of the exception cases. So my most reasonable options are toual, touel, and towel.” Heaven forbid they heard it said /towl/. But that process will generally get them close enough for spellcheck to catch it.

Complicated right? But it’s what you have to do if there is going to be no visual memory for a word for YEARS.  All that reasoning and mental effort helps burn it in, eventually.  But it’s kind of overkill for a normal kid who just needs to memorize a spelling list. He has a working visual memory.  A cute marking system and some pronunciation corner-cutting and he can totally handle the “ie” phonogram LONG before the 100th “Step.”

Parent Training Cost

It has to be done. You will pay it in money or sanity or both.  Let’s look at the options.

  • AAS Cost: The first Level of AAS and materials are $50 retail. An additional child is $15 (unless you have a scanning printer and card stock).  Each additional level is $40, plus $20 for each additional child.  AAS costs about $300 for a single student beginning to end, but Level 7 is roughly comparable to Wordly Wise 4, so let’s say SIX levels and you have a scanner.  $260. Your parent education in OG phonics costs $260.
  • WRTR Cost: Since WRTR is NOT representative of normal speech, it can be learned by the parent MUCH FASTER.  There’s no multi-year parent training required. After that first year, it’s just rinse and repeat. And you continue to have access to the recordings and the teacher, like, forever. The book ($22) plus Starting a Spelling Notebook ($12) and the class ($130), no matter how many kids.  (If you aren’t using MoDG, your class would be the $60 recorded one from Spalding Institute plus $150 materials?) So assuming it’s all retail, a complete parent education in WRTR through MoDG is $164.

Possible Low-Cost Workaround:  Borrow the manuals for AAS this summer and READ them instead of teaching them.  Blast Off to Reading is another program you could borrow and read this summer.  Recipe for Reading stops a little early, but that one will get you far enough too. Find a friend and borrow them.  WRTR is a “Say it funny” short cut version of every other O-G phonics program; most of them are identical except for order of instruction.  If you need to learn the rules, ANY comprehensive dyslexia intervention manual will have practice material for you to play with.

Time Investment

You are going to spend some serious time learning with either system.

  • AAS lessons are all parent-led. There is NEW material every lesson for 7 Levels of about 25 steps each.  The parent continues to learn along with the child until the very end of Level 7. But, we said you could stop in the middle of Level 6.  That’s still 150 Steps before you have the big picture.  And as I said above, since it’s representative of normal speech, it’s a complicated picture.  And, it’s still parent led for each additional child. However, the level of frustration involved is VERY LOW.  No one screams at AAS teacher’s manuals.
  • WRTR class takes a year.  The total pile of material to be mastered is much less in WRTR than AAS, so that should affect the time required to learn it.  Assuming you get what you need from the support class in a year, you are DONE, no matter how many hours that year took.  After that, Mari’s lesson plans are only parent-led once a week. In the end it’s much less mom-intensive, but if it means trading in your sanity, it might not be worth the time-savings.

Again, if you can borrow any of the above resources or get them on inter-library loan, you maybe could skip this.

What to do?

Well, it depends on your mental space and goals. I’ve used both at different times.  But in the end, I always end up teaching the marking system.  Even my daughter’s dyslexia therapist said, “She’s done all the curriculum levels twice now.  It’s time for mixed lists and a coding system.” So that’s my bias.  Coding happens eventually. But that may or may not be you.  Here are some thoughts.

Borrow the AAS manuals* and read them. Then do WRTR knowing the spelling pronunciation and normal speech is NOT going to line up, and that’s okay.  You’ll already understand the “long way around” and maybe the WRTR’s “say it funny” short cut rules will be a relief. (*Recipe for Reading, or Blast off to Reading.)

If you don’t already have WRTR PTSD, take the WRTR class through the school and wear out the phone support. It’s a lot of money at once and a year of time, but then you’re out like a trout. And since it’s a REAL PERSON, that’s a huge bonus.

If you hate WRTR, but you liked SB, do AAS, but add the SB marking system into the mix for at least a year before 7GRD.  It will do several things for you.

  1. It prioritizes the rules. AAS has a ton of clues/rules/patterns. You’ll be cross-eyed by Level 7. The most important ones are cataloged in the SB marking system.
  2. It gives you a portable system to carry into 7-8GRD spelling.  The marking system catalogs how to “Say if for Spelling” or how we “Analyzed the Word.”
  3. It gives your child a lot more visual and tactile material to work with when deciding which one “looks right.” He drew all over it, a lot.
  4. It will give you a fast way to explain a spelling while you’re on the phone or changing baby britches. Without speaking, you can underline this, put a 3 over that, r. 11; you just short-cut 5 minutes of conversation.

If all marking systems are dead to you, the AAS levels do roughly line up with our grade levels.  AAS 7 looks a lot like Wordly Wise 4 in content.  Lots of roots and suffixes.  The difference is that without a marking system, you’re back to rote memorization in 8GRD or a protracted analysis of each word and no way to record it visually.  But if you’re cool with that, then it might be a good option for you.

I hope that helps!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Molly July 29, 2016

Thank you, Deanna and Mary, for your insight! Your knowledge has helped deepen my understanding of the pedagogy behind AAR and SB and WRTR. As much as I sometimes wish to just use a program, the academic in me *needs* to know the “why” of an approach, in order to do the “how”. So thanks for helping answer my why questions!


2 Mary May 23, 2016

Hi Molly, I think that that’s a very useful article. I also think that the word traditional is confusing. To me traditional would have meant “the way we always learned phonics” before the Carnegie type interference as with look-say. If Orton-Gillingham is what Memoria means by “traditional” I think you can do well with it.

Even though Spalding students seem forestalled in the first three years, they often excel in the long run. If the teacher knows what she is doing and how much to assign different levels of children.

I do like teaching cvc words with the short vowel sounds early, as I did have one of my children read the word ran as r-a-A-ah-n. Oops!

If we’re homeschooling, our one on one time helps fill in the gaps whichever program we use – as long as the sounds of the letters are taught throughout. Tutoring has a similar advantage.

‘Just an idea.


3 admin May 24, 2016

I don’t think Spalding kids are forestalled, are they? SB students seem to be, but Spalding lesson plans are all about whole word reading, daily. The forward in WRTR even calls sounding out a bad habit in reading. Sounding out (in WRTR) is for spelling. Have you seen the videos? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FGb_BDpfiw Those kids are reading smack in the middle of KGRD. They know so many high-frequency words on sight that they can read a lot.


4 Mary May 24, 2016

Hi Deanna, you’re right. Forestalled was not a good word choice. It seems to me that experts and schools think that Spalding kids do not read as fast as other children, but I think that those experts judge according to the basal reader success, not real book reading success. At about fourth grade is when it is easier to see how many more skills Spalding students have because they can read and understand words they have not studied.

Yes, I’ve seen many of the videos and they wow me! It really must help to have the training as well as the classroom experience. I remember my father saying that when he visited the schools in Arizona the whole classroom answering in unison self corrected any child who might not have known the right phonogram. Amazing!


5 admin May 24, 2016

Yeah, I love that choral stuff. We’ve used it in phonogram review and catechism and poetry across grades in my house. I forgot how effective it was. I need to bring it back!

Oh, and I just posted a set of KGRD spalding lesson plans I found and totally blabbered on about the “taking a while to kick in.” Sorry! That was not directed at you!


6 Mary May 23, 2016

Deanna! This is an awesome comparison! I’ve really wondered about the benefits of AAS. I’ve got a good handle on WRTR and look alike programs, yet have seen so many recommendations for AAS that I felt like I might have missed something.

I’m linking to this article from my phonics worksheets page at PrintNPractice. Thank you so much for this excellent comparison!


7 admin May 24, 2016

Mary, I don’t see a link! Try again? I think there is much to be gained by reading the manual for AAS (or any other comprehensive OG manual), but I don’t think teaching it is required. Understanding everything “behind” the Spalding rules is super cool and persuasive FOR ME, but my fourth grader doesn’t care.


8 Mary May 24, 2016

Ha! Too funny: “Understanding everything “behind” the Spalding rules is super cool and persuasive FOR ME, but my fourth grader doesn’t care.”

Over the years, though, that fourth grader will appreciate your facility and consistency with the rules. We’ve homeschooled all the way through 12th grade now and I marvel at how helpful it is to be handy with the rules through all the years.

If I see a used AAS manual. I’ll snatch it up. That’s great! I’ve read so many of these books, that I’d be interested to find if I learn something new. My link to your article is under number 4 here:


Thank you for posting.


9 Molly May 23, 2016

Okay, this post is helpful and a guide post. But having yet not delved deep into SB yet, I am also perplexed about where to go. The friend who shared her lessons plans uses SB for K/1/2, then phases in the Pathways program starting in 1 through 4. Wordly Wise gets in later, maybe grade 3. She doesn’t use WRTR.

I started my K kid with SB, got through day 33 and then it was WAY too challenging for her. The markings (which I presumed were the same as WRTR, but maybe not, based on what I glean from your posts?) layered on the phonograms were TOO much for her (I suspect my friend does a pick-and-choose from SB to ease into Pathways – which has a different marking system than SB). I also ended up buying AAR Level 1 readers, as they best fit with her abilities at SB pause time.

I thought I would delve deeper into SB next year, but layering on Pathways (sticking with Pathways markings, given that this program runs longer in my friend’s curriculum), but then I read this article at Memoria Press: https://www.memoriapress.com/articles/what-classical-approach-phonics/ and I thought maybe I should throw in the towel on SB (i.e. a WRTR-based program, and thus avoid WRTR). But then I read your post and I’m back on the fence!

Argh, long comment to short question – can you comment on the MP article? From my understanding, the author’s conclusion is similar to yours – very different methods and outcomes.

What do you think?


10 admin May 24, 2016

Hi Molly! I can’t imagine using SB with a KGRDer. YIKES! In our curriculum, we use it for 2GRD spelling, after the child is reading.

So, the article. I agree that they are very different methods. Our school uses both. They get the kid reading and use WRTR/SB for spelling, later. See this comment from the article:

“In traditional phonics, however, spelling is secondary to reading. Students are able to read ahead of their spelling ability. While spelling is important, it should not slow down or impede reading fluency. The spelling patterns are taught first for the purpose of decoding, and secondarily for the purpose of encoding (spelling).”

We do that. We don’t avoid SB/WRTR, we just hold it off a while. My recommendation is to put SB on the shelf for a year and get that kid reading any way you like. Then pull it back out for spelling, later.

I would also like to say that the daily lesson plans for WRTR KGRD are very different from SB. I have a set that I found posted online from a public elementary school if you’d like to peruse the pdf. ivorysoap76 at gmail dot com.


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