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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rocket Phonics Review

For the first time in six years, I find myself in an unusual situation. I'm not currently teaching anyone to read. Wow! My older three have all completed our chosen basic phonics curriculum (Reading Made Easy) and have now moved on to stories that I chose for them, and my youngest is just not ready to read yet. And wouldn't you know that it's in this current situation that I get a phonics program to review? So I am going to give my honest opinion based on having looked over the program thoroughly but lacking having actually tried this one out on my kids.
Rocket Phonics was developed by Stephen Guffanti, a medical doctor, and his wife Maureen, a former English teacher, after teaching their daughter, Stephanie, to read. The Guffantis are home schooling parents, and they recognized problems with ordinary phonics programs that were already available. For instance, there was "o" as in "no"; "o" as in "not"; "o" as in "to", and "o" as in "of". Unlike the popular Orton-Gillingham/Orton-Spaulding approaches, Rocket Phonics seeks to eliminate the confusion in learning to read by creating a coded system in which each letter makes only one sound rather than having students learn all the different sounds one letter can make. For example, the "e" sound is taught as being the short "e" sound we hear in "egg" where as the long "e" sound is always coded "ea" so students can see the difference.
Rocket Phonics does however firmly embrace the Orton multi-sensory approach to teaching phonics. In fact, it is probably the most multi-sensory and FUN phonics program I've ever encountered.
The pros for this curriculum would be first and foremost that phonics are taught and reinforced through game playing so the learning hardly seems like learning at all. It really appears to be a fun phonics program. I know my kids love our math curriculum so much because it is heavily game oriented, and I would assume they would have the same response to Rocket Phonics. Second, it seems like students really get into reading quickly using the coding system, and Rocket Phonics has really sought to give them quality material to read and not the usual dribble that beginning readers are limited to. Their goal is to have student be able to read all the words in their vocabulary, and I am impressed at how quickly students really begin reading. Also, they use funny things like riddles and rhymes for students to read too so that even the "work" of reading is fun. And the materials seem to be high quality and are non-consumable, so you can use them over and over again.
On the "con" side there are a few things I noticed. First of all, while the symbol cards on which the letter sounds and a corresponding picture are given are very nice in quality, the pictures are not all easy to distinguish from any distance away due to dark pictures with dark background colors. One that stands out in my memory was the "wolf" for the "w" sound. And in a children's phonics program, is a picture of a REAL wolf the best representative for that sound? It's a little scary to me. And the dog on the "d" card is a German Shepherd, not a cute little dog like a Yorkie. On the "o" card is an otter, an animal not all young children are familiar with, just like the yak on the "y" card. And the most odd of all is the choice of a duck for the "u" sound card when all the other cards have pictures whose initial sound is the one they are representing, leading to confusion that "d" is the sound that card represents, not "u". An umbrella would have been a better choice. My last con would be the price. While most Orton programs I've seen are fairly price ($200ish), many other phonics programs, especially marketed toward homeschoolers like 100 Easy Lessons or Reading Made Easy, are in the $50 or less category. Rocket Phonics blends the two approaches, but the price is in that higher range at $160.
That Rocket Phonics is the phonics curriculum that Critical Thinking carries in their catalogs speaks volumes to me, since I love their products. Knowing that, and seeing all the glowing recommendations Rocket Phonics has gotten from other educational people and companies in the know, makes me think that there must be something to Rocket Phonics that really makes it work. And the games and fun approach are what sets it apart, and clearly they also yield successful results.
But the bottom line for me is that it seems a little pricey (although they say it covers 6 years worth of vocabulary) and I'm not personally sure about the coding system. (I'm not against coding systems at all, Reading Made Easy uses one, and my children have all done very well.) I'm not sure I can wrap my head around the "each letter only makes one sound" idea when clearly that's not actually true, and using "ea" to show the long "e" sound does not do justice to the children later as they try to spell words whose long "e" sound comes from a different letter combination (like "ee"). It may be that it poses no problem at all, but having not taught it myself, I feel like that would be a concern I would have.
To read what other members of the TOS Crew have to say, go HERE.
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abcmomof3 said...

would you be interested in trading this for another TOS Crew curriculum. I am on the TOS Crew and really would of loved to try this out on my two boys but didn't get the chance :) Let me know by emailing me privately either way.. :)
Loved the review
lovetolearn (at) bresnan (dot) net

abcmomof3 said...

Hey there. Thanks for emailing me. I am not sure if my email went back to you so I will try here :) I am very interested and willing to pay shiping if you need me to.. Just let me know when you get it back.. Thanks again! Lynn P TOS CREW