Rainbow Price: $26.50
Indeed a sound approach to reading, this program is a solid, phonetically comprehensive program with reinforcing reading text incorporated directly in the book. It reminds me somewhat of a cross between Alphaphonics and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, but with improved teacher instruction, lesson implementation, and textual presentation. As in those popular programs, your child will begin reading as soon as the first letter sounds are taught. And, in a mere 90 "byte-sized" lessons, your child will be reading at a beginning 3rd grade reading level. This program is also recommended for both remedial and ELL students. In fact, the school version of this program it is currently being used in more than 20 elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school.
Prior to beginning the lessons in this book, your child should have letter name and recognition skills and some phonemic awareness (the author provides background and methods for teaching these, or use another product that teaches these skills; see our Early Childhood section). You will want to read all of the preliminary teacher pages before actually starting lessons; otherwise you will miss out on helpful background information and other resources provided for you. While instruction in each lesson is devoted to reading, the author presents a great spelling methodology, complete with word lists, to integrate with lessons along with (brief) guidelines for incorporating handwriting, vocabulary, and creative writing into the program. Also in the intro section are specific instructions for teaching letter sounds, blending, playing Scramble Spell, and other implementation directions which would be redundant to include in each lesson. You should also teach the first four letter sounds introduced (a, t, s, c) BEFORE lesson 1-1, using the approach outlined in the teacher section. Here, the author strongly recommends using a set of flashcards WITHOUT pictures on them (such as the Alphabet Basics cards we've included below).
The program teaches roughly 80 common sound/spelling patterns, based on the Orton-Gillingham phonograms as well as nearly all of the 100 most common sight words. I appreciate the author's sentiment below her Sequence of Skills table as she says, "Words from the list of 100 most common sight words that are not listed here are words that are decodable," as this echoes one of my pet peeves. Too many programs introduce phonetically decodable words as "sight words". Other features that captivate my heart for phonetic instruction are: integrated review of previously-learned sounds in each lesson; large, readable font with initial extra spacing between words and letters; immediate phonetic skill reinforcement in reading selections; word "play" incorporated into spelling lessons; longer "introduction" of each short vowel sound to prevent confusion; emphasis on blending from the beginning; and helpful review of phonograms by phoneme (yes!) in the latter lessons.
Prior to the first lesson, a "How to Teach Sound Bytes Lessons" section concisely recaps directions in the teacher section of the book. Most lessons follow a similar format. Previously introduced sounds are reviewed, 1-2 new sounds are introduced, sight words (if any) are presented, new sounds are practiced in words, then sentences, and a story using only old and newly learned sounds and sight words is read. Lessons should take from 15-30 minutes per day. Lessons are generally grouped into units of 5 (lesson 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 1-5), though there is no apparent reason for the grouping (maybe to accommodate a 5-day school week?). Units are also divided into chapters. Chapter One (38 lessons) teaches letter sounds and CVC words, ending with an impressively-long reading selection. Chapter Two (10 lessons) focuses on long vowel, silent-e constructions. Chapter Three (25 lessons) covers more advanced phonemes like r-controlled vowels, vowel digraphs, silent letters, and multi-syllabic words. Chapter Four (17 lessons) is "Challenge". Here is the synthesis of phonograms by sound as well as some final review and a list of additional sound patterns not included in the lessons. Font size and spacing between letters and words on the student pages tapers as the student progresses but, even at the end, is not too small or tight for an early reader. Line drawings scattered throughout the volume are sparse, attractive and non-distracting.
The author suggests that your child practice handwriting the capital letters when learning letter NAMES and practice handwriting lower-case letters when learning the letter SOUNDS in this program. This can be done informally with a ruled white board (or paper) and marker or by using a beginning handwriting book (see descriptions and graphics on our website).
I would strongly suggest incorporating the author's Scramble Spell game (word lists included) into most lessons rather than a standard spelling program, especially for beginning readers. This provides additional reinforcement for newly-learned sounds and adds a kinesthetic element to the lessons. By making additional words from an initial "base" word you explore onsets and rimes, word building, and practice encoding without all of the writing and rewriting that might turn your fun learning session into "work". A set of paper letter "cards" is provided in the book, but you may want to use a ready-made set of letter tiles or manipulatives for this (some suggestions below). If you want your child to have more practice actually writing words, follow her advice for incorporating creative writing into the program. Even the youngest students will enjoy making their own books that align with their budding language skills.
The author suggests following up her program by having your child read books from a carefully sequenced list included at the end of the book. She thoughtfully provides lexile scores, implementation instructions, and further resources for locating other appropriate reading materials.