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Friday, February 20, 2009

The Phonics Road to Spelling and Reading Review

I'm a no frills-no fuss sort of girl. And despite my background as a teacher, that approach has carried over into our homeschooling methods too. When it came time for my first child to learn to read, I went with a curriculum I had seen a friend use with good success with her children. It's just one book, with what the teacher reads in one font and what the student is to read in another. It takes them from letter sounds to reading a 12 chapter story in its 108 lessons. That curriculum worked for us too, so I have never sought another. But now my three older kids have all finished that, and while they are good readers, they are deplorable spellers, with my daughter being the worst of all. She spells phonetically, and most of the time it's wrong.
So I was blessed this year with the TOS Crew to have the chance to review several spelling curriculums, and I was especially excited about Schola Publications' The Phonics Road to Spelling and Reading-Level One. Honestly, because of my laid back approach to homeschooling, I'd never heard of Orton, Spaulding, Gillingham, Riggs, or anyone else with an idea about how kids should learn to read or spell. But I have many friends who use a similar approach to The Phonics Road to Spelling and Reading, and I've often felt that the things they were covering were things I really wanted my kids to learn. But I've also heard them comment over and over how teacher intensive those curriculums are, (just the other day my friend said, "SWR is making me swear"), and I have to admit I just felt like there was no way I could take on something that intensive.
Yet when I was offered the chance to review The Phonics Road to Spelling and Reading, I jumped at the chance because here was a program that offered the best of both worlds; a comprehensive language arts program that covered all the sounds our letters make, rules for spelling, a history of our language that explains WHY words are spelled like they are, an emphasis on good penmanship, writing activities, AND all the prep work done for you, the teacher, including DVDs to watch to show you how to teach all the material. PLUS all the student paperwork already organized and ready for use. It was like a dream come true!
On the "pro" side, I have to say this material is meticulously organized. The teacher's materials are in a tabbed 3-ring binder called the Foreman's Construction Guide and include a history of our language and how the Classical approach to education and the Orton inspired language arts programs fit in, 10 DVDs containing all you need to know to instruct your students in this program, your "blueprints"or lesson plans, and the "building codes" or completed versions of what your student will produce as they learn. The student manual carries on the Construction theme and is the Apprentice's Building Manual. Their binder contains their blueprints, building codes, composition papers, and readers. Also included is a clipboard with a plastic protector so that students can practice their work on the plastic overlay first and then write the final version on their paper. And they include markers for using with the clipboard and even pencils for writing their work in the binders. The DVDs are clear and concise. The program has a clear scope and sequence that goes through each of the four levels in The Phonics Road to Spelling and Reading and segues into Schola Publications' other curriculum The Latin Road to English Grammar.
I do have a few personal "cons" as well. First, the DVD's would only play on my computer (not our DVD player) and so I found myself having to spend large amounts of time sitting in front of my computer just watching a video, which is not something I normally would do. I was hoping it would play on my TV and I could at least fold laundry too. Also, the DVDs are very professional and amazingly helpful, but not very exciting (my daughter in particular asked why I would want to watch them because they were BORING...although I'm sure they'd be boring to most 9 year olds). Second, I have issues with the fundamental idea that "y" does not say "e" that is presented in The Phonics Road to Spelling and Reading as well as other curriculums like it. In my world, "y" says "e" at the end of words like baby, happy, plainly, crazy, and scary, just to name a few. And even if "y" takes the place of "i" and only makes the sounds "i" makes, "i" says "e" in radio, so why can't "y" say "e"? History aside, the fact is that in today's English it does, and I won't teach my kids that it doesn't ( so in that one case, I have just modified what I teach them to reflect that). Lastly, I do wish there was a printed version of the teacher's instructions...something more detailed than the lesson plans and maybe less than the DVD so that I could have skimmed it and presented the material even if I couldn't watch the whole video. It's hard for me to get uninterrupted time to sit and learn what I am then going to regurgitate to my kids, and then repeat the process all over again. It takes twice the time-the time to watch the video myself and then the time to teach it. But I do understand that without the DVDs, I'd probably feel like "swearing" in frustration at having to figure it all out myself just like my friend. The last con would be the price. For a thrifty person like me, $199 is pretty steep.
So what's the bottom line? I really like the information presented in The Phonics Road to Spelling and Reading. I think it lays a solid foundation for everything they will do relating to English, grammar, and language arts for the rest of their lives. And I appreciate all the work that is done ahead for me in terms of organizing the materials and showing me exactly how to present it. All those things outweigh the negatives enough that I would purchase it to use myself. I wish it cost a third of what it does, but if we continue to have good results with it, I do think the ends justify the means, even financially.
To see what other members of the TOS Crew have to say, go HERE.
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Anonymous said...

I will be starting this with a 2nd & 3rd grader (level 1) my sister gave it to me.

Will you be using level 2?

Thanks for your review =)

Anonymous said...
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Heather Matson said...

All I have to say is "All About Spelling". Fabulous program that has all the explanations right in the small teacer's guide and yes 'y' says e and it tells you when to use k or ck at the end of words and when to use k or c at the begging of words just for example.