Wednesday, February 29, 2012

All About Reading Successfully!

If you have read my blog very often, you probably already know that I am a huge advocate of homeschooling on the cheap, or even better, for free. After all, I have a website I maintain called Homeschool-for-Free, which lists many useful free sites for homeschoolers. But I am also quick to admit that there are times when FREE! isn't necessarily the most appealing, or effective, choice.

One thing you will find about FREE! resources is that they usually involve a lot of planning and prep time. Not only do you have to decide what it is you want to do for your unit of study,  but you have to determine what you are going to use to teach that topic, you have to find those FREE! resources to support your choices (or make them yourself), and you have to prepare your lesson presentation. If you have a lot of kids, a job, other family or ministry obligations, you just don't feel well, just had a baby, or maybe just don't feel as if you are really comfortable with the topic you need to teach, well, then maybe FREE! isn't always your best choice.

I think most people who are likely to read this blog will agree that other than Bible/Character training, the most important thing you will teach to your child in your homeschool is how to read. Now for some kids, reading is sort of like breathing. They figure it out by osmosis, or some other mysterious method, and the teaching parent really doesn't have to do much but keep up with library and/or bookstore visits so budding bookaholic doesn't run out of appropriate reading material.

Other kids, however, need to be deliberately and diligently taught how to read. Many of those students will do well with almost any program you decide to use, from a twenty dollar book to a two hundred dollar program, as long as you learn how to use it correctly and use it consistently. Every child is different. Some will love one program, and others (even in the same family) will prefer something else. In my opinion, as long as the program is phonics based, with sight words thrown in as you progress, you will manage to get most kids reading most of the time. 

BUT (and this is a big BUT), some kids will need extra help along the way. If they were in public school, they might be labeled as remedial students and have to leave their favorite art class to get extra help in a tiny room at the end of a long hallway every day or every week. They might get a great teacher (like my mom, a veteran Reading Specialist), or they might just get a complex, thinking they just aren't smart enough to read as well as the other kids.

There is research that shows that the majority of students average out with their reading skills by grade three. That means that many of those who read at age four are reading at about the same level as those who learned to read in first grade by the time they all get to third grade. If your child isn't reading on level by grade three, that is generally an indicator that you need to get some help. 

Well, Marie Rippel, author and developer of the All About Reading and All About Spelling curricula, has designed a curriculum guaranteed to take the worry, the guess-work, the searching, and the planning out of teaching your child to read, whether they are learning to read at age four, or working on recovering reading skills in grade three. She wants all children to be successful at learning to read right from the beginning, with no concern over whether they will "get it" or whether the curriculum you just bought is the "right" one for your child.

In fact, she is so confident that the curriculum she has put hundreds of hours into refining will help almost any child to read, that she offers a full refund on any of her packages if returned within a year. Now that's confidence you can take to the library (because you will be driving your new reader back and forth to pick out bag after bag of books!), don't you agree??

The Basic Set costs $99.95 and includes:
the comprehensive Teacher's Manual, a Student Workbook, 
three hardcover readers, a set of phonogram cards, a set of word cards,
a viewfinder bookmark, and a reading success chart (in manual).

The Deluxe Kit costs and additional $48.95 and includes:
An All About Reading storage bag, 
a set of letter tiles with magnets, dividers and storage box
for flashcards, phonogram cd-rom, and star stickers 
for the progress chart.

All About Reading is a logical, multi-sensory, step-by-step, program with no gaps, and is based on sound research using the respected Orton-Gillingham Method. Okay, I am lost right about there, too, even though I was an English Teacher in "my other life" (I taught Eighth-Grade English, not Primary reading). I decided to ask an expert what she thought about this curriculum so I could give you the best possible evaluation of it, and I just happen to be related to mom. Nanny is a Certified Reading Specialist with a Masters Degree in Primary Reading Education. She was a Title One Reading Specialist for 35 years for students grades 1-5. You can depend upon her to give you the real low down.

Nanny's retirement ceremony.

Here is what she had to say about this program:
  • This program is laid out exceptionally well. I believe any parent, irregardless of their training or knowledge level, could teach their child to read using this program.
  • The scripted nature of this program makes it very simple to follow. Everything the author is instructing the parent/teacher to say is what I would have said when working with one of my students. If more parents knew how to teach this way when working with their children, fewer children would have trouble learning to read (in public school). The techniques she is suggesting you teach to your students will help them develop solid reading strategies.
  • The use of the tiles on the magnetic board and rearranging them to form new words by switching out one letter at a time is just what a child needs to learn about how words are built.
  • The stories are written using simple words that are taught in each lesson. The stories get progressively more difficult building only upon the sounds and words your student is taught in the each new lesson. 
  • Sight words are added in slowly. This is excellent.
  • The daily review of the previous taught material (sound and word cards) is ideal.
  • The pronunciation cd is a nice addition for auditory learners and ESL students/parents.
  • The activity book exercises are simple and coordinate well with each lesson's material.
  • The readers are sturdy, and the inclusion of the bookmark with the viewfinder widow is a great idea. Some readers need to isolate the print on the page to be able to focus more effectively.
  • I believe that the orderly, progressive, clear structure of this program will allow most students to be successful. 
  • It is worth the monetary investment and would be a good choice for a parent who wants solid support from their program, and reliability. 
My kids in her awesome room on her last day before packing it up (and in!).

Our Experiences With This Product:

My Opinion: 
  • This is what was in our kit (except for the foldable magnetic board, which I had already, but Nanny says a cookie sheet would work, too). At first I felt it was an awfully high price for the deluxe kit (since I had to punch out everything, put on the magnets which wasn't fun, and sort and put it all in order), but my mom said it is definitely worth the work and the money for the ease of teaching and peace of mind. 
  • FYI: It does take longer than the estimate prep times listed to prepare the materials, though. 
  • I also thought it was easier to teach for the week if I prepared all the papers for the one week ahead of time and put the materials I would need for teaching in a large zipper plastic bag.
  • The girls had no trouble using the materials. Firefly was excited. Ladybug was an enthusiastic helper. The format made it easy for me to lead the lessons, and for Ladybug to finish them off with her (they are ages 4 and 8). 
  • The girls (and Cowboy) liked the stories and enjoyed looking at the very sweet (and detailed) drawings on every page. No simple stick drawings or clip art for these stories. Bravo!
  • Most importantly: I highly appreciate the author's insistence that read aloud time with the parents (20 minutes a day) is of the utmost importance. Too many parents feel that if students are doing independent or group reading work, that is enough reading, but it is hearing quality language read aloud to them that will truly accelerate the student's achievement as both a reader and a writer.
  • Even though I am less likely to spend a lot on a reading program (since I have been trained as a teacher), I do think this program is excellent and we feel quite blessed to have it to use with both Firefly and Boo. I would enthusiastically recommend it to my family and friends (and I may even lend it...when we are done with it!)

Here are some pictures of Firefly using the program with Ladybug as her tutor (helping her sister learn helped Ladybug hone up basic skills...she really liked reading all of the stories in the readers):

Reviewing the sounds from the previous lessons.

Reading words using the sounds Firefly has learned.
Also, making new words by changing one letter at a time.

Working on an activity sheet with Ladybug as the tutor...

She says, "I am a very good colorer. It is one of my gifts." 

Ladybug helping Firefly use the viewfinder bookmark
to sound out/identify words she learned.

The drawings are adorable, very visually interesting, and the stories are cute and fun for the kids.
None of the words are too difficult or frustrating.

Working on a later activity (she wanted to power ahead).
I think that judging from the look on Ladybug's face that
the word Firefly picked to rhyme was incorrect. LOL.

 I guess they figured it out.

Firefly's Progress Chart (I used a self-laminating pouch and put the Certificate of Completion that was included on the back. I will fill it out with a Sharpie when she is done and this will go into her reading keepsake notebook).

Great job, girls!!! 
Keep up the good teamwork!


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