Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Reading Lesson-My Review

When it came time to teach my children how to read, I did a LOT of research on the various theories, methods, and products available to teach reading.   One product that I liked right away was The Reading Lesson.  
The Reading Lesson is a complete reading program created especially for young children.  Before beginning the program, children need very little prior knowledge of the alphabet or phonics.    Everything is taught within the context of the lesson.  Lessons are also taught in a way that makes learning to read very simple.   In other programs I have tried, they make learning to read very complicated.  Children are expected to memorize long lists of phonics rules—and then all of the exception to these “rules” that we have in the English language.   Children will not need to do that in The Reading Lesson.   Yet, they somehow manage to give a very thorough introduction to phonics without making it so complicated.

Overview of the Program:
I think it is important for the parent to read the introductory material at the beginning of the book.  Don’t skip over this material!  It is short, well written, and very much “to the point”.  This material also gives suggestions on how to keep children motivated during their reading lesson, and it provides pacing suggestions for children of various ages. 

The book is divided into 20 different lessons.  However, each lesson will most likely be spread out through multiple days (or even weeks).  Parents are instructed to move through the book at their child’s individual pace. 

Another thing you will notice right away in The Reading Lesson is the unique use of font size throughout the book.  In the beginning of the book, the font size is very large, and there is a lot of blank, negative space on the page.  My son (5 years old at the time we went through these lessons) very much appreciated this aspect of the book!   It made it so that his little eye muscles didn’t have to work so hard when learning to read.   It also allowed him to easily complete several pages at each lesson with very little “work”—which gave him a sense of confidence.  As you continue on in the book, the font gradually (and very slowly) becomes smaller and smaller.  There is also more text on the pages as you continue on.   This is one thing I found VERY unique about The Reading Lesson.  I have yet to see that in any other “learn to read” book.

The next thing you will notice about The Reading Lesson is the unique use of symbols and marks on the letters.   For example, many young children struggle with telling “b” from “d” when first learning to read.  So, beginning in lesson 5 when the letters “b” and “d” are both used, they put a little dot inside of the letter b so students can easily tell that letter apart.  Again, my children really liked this!  I was initially worried that they would become overly reliant on these little marks when telling letters apart.   I was worried that once we removed the dots, they would not be able to tell the letters apart anymore.   However, a year later, my children now very seldom mix those two letters up even without the special dots.  So it wasn’t a problem.   

Notice how the letter "b" is uniquely distinguished between the letter "d".

Another symbol that you will notice are the little lines under the letters.  This is suppose to provide a reminder to children about which letters they need to make the sound of when reading.  Another unique feature of The Reading Lesson is that consonant and vowel blends (such as “th” and “ee”) are taught VERY early on.   The children are also introduced to “silent” letters right away (example:  the silent “e” common at the end of words.)   These lines are there to remind children which letters make their individual sounds, which letters need to be blended together, and which letters are silent.  Words are introduced and reviewed over and over again with these “helping” markers.   (There is a lot of built in review which I appreciated.)   After awhile, most children will no longer have to “sound the word out” and will eventually be able to read the word by sight.  At that point, the “helping” symbols are eventually removed, and the words are written normally.    At the end of each lesson they give you a list of “key words” that your children should be very familiar with before moving on.   This list is sort of a warning that after this point, these words won’t be written with a bunch of “helping” markers.   This was extremely helpful.  I knew that if my kids were not fluently reading these words, I should go back and review the previous lesson before moving on.

Notice the lines under the different letters and consonant blends. 

 The final thing you will notice right away about this book are the cute black and white line drawings throughout the book.  Right away kids see that this is a book made for them!  I didn't see that in other "reading program" books on the market.  They were mostly just dry, pages full of text.  Some kids will also enjoy coloring these drawings in when they finish a page in their reading lesson.

What a typical day was like teaching this lesson:
 The thing I like MOST about The Reading Lesson is how easy it was to teach.  It requires next to no prep work.  It is very easy to open up the book and just start using it.   Typically, what I would do is pour myself another cup of coffee, and invite my kids to come and sit with me on the couch.  The book itself would guide me through any teaching that was required. 

If I happened to be starting a new lesson that day, I would very quickly read the one page introduction to the lesson before I called the kids over.  The introduction to the lesson tells you which letters or letter combinations will be introduced.    It also guides the parent on how to properly pronounce the sounds of these letters or letter combinations.   (It is VERY important to make sure you are properly pronouncing the phonemes when teaching a child how to read.) 

I was teaching two kids how to read simultaneously, so my children would then take turns reading directly from the book.  (All teaching and student work comes directly from that single book.)  My kids had about a 10-15 minute attention span when it came to a reading lesson, so we would typically get through 2-3 pages per day.  This was exactly the pacing suggestion given to us at the start of the book. 

My Bottom Line:
I compared The Reading Lesson thoroughly with other reading instruction books on the market within this same price range.  (My comparisons included some of the most popular reading instruction books available including:  Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons , The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading, Reading Made Easy, and Phonics Pathways.  The simple fact of the matter is that all of these books are going to give your child a solid foundation when it comes to reading.  These books are popular for a reason.  HOWEVER---I found that only The Reading Lesson made learning to read a bit more fun for the child.  (Many of those other books were extremely dry and felt like a huge chore for the kids to get through.)  I also found The Reading Lesson to be extremely easy to teach.  I have never taught a child to read before—however, I was able to do so successfully with only this book.  This book required no teacher prep and was able to accomplish a huge amount of instruction in just 10-15 minutes per day. 

So what is my bottom line?  When it comes to finding a reading program under $30, The Reading Lesson is by far the best product out there in that price range. 

The same company, who makes The Reading Lesson, also provides these other products for sale.  Some parents may want to supplement the Reading Lesson with these optional books, DVDs, and CD-ROM s.  Here is my quick “review” on these “extras”--

Letter Sounds DVD--  This DVD (which runs approximately 44 minutes long) teaches children the basic sounds of the letters of the alphabet.  Parents can optionally use this DVD before or during The Reading Lesson.  My thoughts:  This DVD was nice.  However, I personally prefer the Leap Frog learning DVDs for teaching this information.   
The Reading Lesson Animated CD-Rom-  There is also an animated CD ROM available which walks you through every lesson in the original The Reading Lesson book.   Children who like being on the computer may prefer this method of instruction over the book (or along side the book).  This certainly isn’t an essential item to own, but it is a nice addition to the program.   (I should note that we are a mac family and had no problems getting this CD to install and run.  I can’t say that about a lot of educational CD-ROMs!)

The Storybook CD-ROM-  Another cute supplement to the program is the Storybook CD-ROM.  It contains 40 animated short stories for your child to read.  The animations do a nice job of keeping the child interested and motivate them to practice reading.  My children also enjoyed the “clickable” words if they got stuck.  Again, I wouldn’t say this product is essential to teaching your child how to read.  You can do the exact same thing by simply checking early readers out of the library and helping them with words they get stuck on.  However, children who like being on the computer, might be more motivated to practice reading with this product.  This product is also nice because it follows the same letter-sound introduction used in the lessons. (It is nearly impossible to find other readers that follow the exact introductory order used in The Reading Lesson.) 

The Writing Lesson-  The Writing Lesson is an inexpensive handwriting program which corresponds to the lessons in The Reading Lesson.  If your child is ready to learn handwriting when you are teaching them to read, you may want to get this product as a supplement.  This product comes on a CD, and gives you a plethora of writing exercises to chose from.  Parents are able to print just what they need and as many copies as they need for children in their family.  The CD contains three different scripts (primary, script, and cursive). It also contains activities that work on forming of all upper and lower case letters, common words, and even stories.  So this single product could potentially provide handwriting practice for an entire family from grades 1st-4th grade!   

Big Words For Little Kids:  Advanced Vocabulary for Elementary School Children--  This book teaches children specific strategies for figuring out the meaning of unknown words they encounter in their reading.   In this book, they systematically teach children to break familiar words into their individual parts (prefixes,  suffixes, and roots)….then transfer the meaning of those parts to new words.  I personally really liked the approach used in this book.  I have never seen a book like this written to the level of elementary aged students.  I plan to add this into our language arts program down the road. 

The Verbal Math Lesson-- There are two levels of these books which provide a step-by-step math program for children.  The first level is meant for children ages 4-7, and the second level is meant for children ages 7-8.    As the title implies, these books attempt to teach math completely verbally…. without paper and pencil.   So obviously, this program might be a good fit if you have a child who does well taking information in while listening.  If your child has poor receptive language skills, they are not going to do well in this program and may need a more visual or “hands-on” program instead.  As far as the quality of this program, I can see using this with a preschool or kindergartner who I wanted to gently introduce to math.  Many children this age do not have the fine motor skills to complete the more typical “worksheet” based math programs on the market.  As far as for older children (in the 7-8 year old range), I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable using this as my only math program.  I would definitely use this book to supplement another math program.  I found the book to contain some fantastic word problems and activities. 

Disclosure:  The products reviewed here were given to me free of charge in exchange for my HONEST review.   I was not obligated in any way to provide a favorable review.  These are my actual opinions of the product.



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