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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bonnie Terry Learning Review

The one thing about doing reviews is that you end up with products you never would have bought yourself...sometimes because you never heard of it before, and sometimes because the product isn't something that is a good fit for your family. But sometimes, I've found, the products that I like the best are the ones I had never heard of before AND would have assumed were not a good fit for us, but it turns out they are really great. That's what happened with Bonnie Terry Learning's Five Minutes to Better Reading Skills and Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills.
I'm not much for self help books. Not that I don't need them, but after years of buying them, reading them, being impressed with their life-changing information, but then never implementing it, I have decided to stick to the Bible for self-help and admire all the other things from afar, knowing that with my track record, they are a waste. And based on the above titles of the Bonnie Terry Books, I thought they were "self-help" sort of stuff. But they aren't. At least, not in the "all text, not easy implementation" sort of way. In fact, these have very little in the way of tedious instruction, and TONS of easy to use helps.

First, let me talk about Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills. Again, let me admit my own folly. I read the title and thought, "We don't need this." See, we are kind-of laid back homeschoolers. Definitely not the "recreate school at home" sort. And "study skills" just smacks of school or at least a school like approach. Boy, was I wrong. Instead, it has a TON of easy to use forms that student can fill out to aid in reading comprehension. They are short, and they are...well...fun. At least a lot more fun than the stuff I did in school. And there are a myriad of forms across the grade levels to challenge the students to look deeper and deeper. There are book report forms, compare and contrast forms, text book note taking forms, research paper forms, letter writing forms, and several other that I can't even describe, but are really useful. These forms make it easy for students to organize and keep track of the information they are reading. They aid in comprehension, and train students to develop better "study skills", which really equates to better retention of what they read. In the back of the book are rules for capitalization, spelling, punctuation, etc. and also tips on writing (citing resources, etc.). VERY COOL. And the book comes with a "Read this First" page that helps you jump right into using it effectively. At $37, it is a little high priced, and that would be my only "con", but if you have no other resource like this, then it might be a wise investment.

Five Minutes to Better Reading Skills confused me at first. I suggest you definitely get the teacher's manual and READ the first few pages of that first :-). It's not hard to use at all, but I opened and looked at the student book first and couldn't figure out WHAT to do with it...then I saw the teacher's manual and it all made sense. The ides of this book is that it presents a page full of words that all have the same sound in them (say short "e" for this example). It looks very much like a spelling list, but the students look at it and read the words. You give your student 3-4 minutes to read as much of the page as they can first. Then, you give them a minute to read as many words as they can aloud to you. You record (on charts in the teacher's manual) how many words they read (which gives you a words-per-minute calculation) and how many words they read incorrectly. You then have the child repeat the exercise each day until master is achieved (the instructions on this are all included in the teacher's guide and the handy "Read this First" page). The goal is for the child to progress to reading on grade level in terms of speed to increase their fluency. With greater reading pace comes greater retention, and with greater retention comes more enjoyment from reading. I have two cons to this book. First is the fact that the words they are to read are separated into phonetic sounds with small spaces in between. While I am sure this can aid some students to easily recognize the sounds, it may puzzle others as it's hard to read fluently a word that appears dysfluent on the page (so instead of "growth" it says "g r ow th" and instead of "south" it says "s ou th"). The other con is again price. For the teacher's manual and student book, it is $60. Individually, they are $37 and $32 respectively. That's a bit much to frugal little me, but you COULD get by with just the teacher's manual, as the student pages are included in there as well, with the addition of word number tallies on the side of the page to make it easy for the parent to see how many words a child read. I am confident this is NOT the way Bonnie Terry Learning would encourage you to do it, but the reality is money is tight everywhere, and if your child struggle with fluency, but $60 is beyond your reach, you could really get by with just the Teacher's manual for a little more than half that.
The bottom line is that I really was pleasantly surprised by these products, and they met my family right in a place of need both in fluency and in being able to organize on paper what they have read. I am VERY glad to own these products and foresee years of use from them. But I'm cheap too, so I have to say that I am not sure if I would have bought them on my own...But that's a decision you have to make. To order these books, or check out the many other resources offered by Bonnie Terry Learning, go HERE. TO read what other TOS Crew members had to say (some of them reviewed other books), go HERE.
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