Thursday, March 5, 2015

Still alive! - and Reading Progress!

Ok, it has been a long time since I posted.  Honestly, it is because we are struggling a bit this year, and my time is also limited. This year I have 3.5 students, with only a small amount of independence, and it is keeping me swamped.  We are 'behind' where I would like us to be, and I don't have enough hours in the day for what we are doing.

I thought I would update with a program I am trying for reading progress in my students.  This is so totally NON-CM - but our first week with it has gone well.

In December I was sharing with a friend of mine my frustration with the work on reading with the kids. Her husband happened to be nearby, and mentioned an old program that they had downstairs - hooked on phonics.

So, I took it home and looked through it, and did a bit of research. It is based on 'SRA' Reading Labs - but scaled down for home use. Basically it has short readings at a basic level, followed by some comprehension questions, and then a few questions in a section on 'learn about words'. It is designed to be done independently, and checked independently.

With this home version, it has 100 of these little cards that start at a 'basic' reading level, and progress to 'high school'. It looked intriguing (and a little familiar) - but I wasn't quite sure how to implement it... it says to do one daily - but obviously even a normal child can't go from basic to high school reading in 100 days - so I wasn't sure what to do when the child hits their limits..... Delta was also fascinated by the look of the program and wanted to do it.... 

So - I started researching the program it is based on. It apparently has been around since the 60's and has been used in a lot of schools and still is in some. I am quite sure that I used them as a child in grade 1. The big thing is it lets a teacher have students of varying levels work on reading skills at the same time.... and it helps struggling readers.

There are lab kits of various levels (kits 1a, 1b, 1c are generally used for kids in grades 1-3 (well, more like 2-3) kits 2a-2c are generally used for kids in grades 4-6) there are level 3 and 4 kits as well for higher grades.. In each kit there are 10-12 colour levels which have readings of all the same 'level' - and there are 12-15 readings per colour level. The levels go from below the target grade level to above. Students would take a basic placement test, and then pick readings from their colour level and do the questions, and evaluate themselves. After doing a few in their level, the teacher and the student would look at how they are doing and decide when to switch colours.

Well.... I checked our teacher library (which we get to use) - and they had 2 of the kits! I got them on Monday (I took both, one is a kit 1b and the other is level 2b.) These ones are pretty old, 1969 and 1973 - but fairly complete considering. There wasn't a sample student book for the level 1b - I've had to make my own from guesses and descriptions and looking at the 2b book. I also have made a student book for 2b looking at the sample one in the kit. I've looked at a few of the readings and they are pretty interesting. Oh, the one other problem is there is no placement test in the 2b book.

So - it is time to return the kits to the teacher's library and here is my results.

We ended up just using the 1b level because it had less writing.  The stories were still interesting for all the kids, and I think there was things to learn for everyone even using this level.  Foxtrot and Echo do enjoy the 'Power Builders', and did learn things from them.

But Delta is definitely a success story in my book.  He has worked to the top colour level in 1b (about a 4.5 grade reading level) -  and is ready to move to a mid-level in 2b.  He hadn't really hit a ceiling where he needed to stay for a while, so could potentially be reading even a higher level.  But even more important - his reading in general has improved.  He has read a couple of books that I think before he would have not been able to understand what was happening.  And I got a comment from his Sunday School teacher about how his reading in class has improved and that he seems more confident.

Besides the SRA Labs, I intended to do Sequential Spelling as well as Alpha Phonics.  Actually that was my plan last September.

I was going to do Sequential Spelling with all the kids at once because it is designed for a classroom or just a few kids, or just one.  I didn't have the DVD - just the book.   We did a few lessons - but the different speed of writing was annoying them and it was getting frustrated. So it fell by the wayside.

The Alpha Phonics was going to be my reading remediation with Delta.  We have done a number of the lessons - and although he was doing great (we are in the early lessons that are easy) occasionally he would first say the wrong word or syllable.  I do have to say - it is a pretty boring process.  I've tried to be consistent - but as I mentioned - I've been struggling to juggle with 3 students that need me for a lot of things.  

 Today I got in the mail a gift from an internet friend - it is (Classic) Phonics Tutor.  It is a CD-ROM program based on Alpha-Phonics (but NOT the CD-ROM/DVD that now comes with phonics which seems to be just the book and a few videos.)  No - Phonics Tutor (Classic - no idea about the new version) actually does the Alpha-Phonics book in an interactive way.    It presents the phonograms and words (reading them to the student) then lets the student study them by clicking on them to hear about them.  It also presents spelling rules, as well as basic Capitalization and punctuation.  It then has exercises where words are typed in, as well as word read.  There is also dictation to be typed in.   And the great thing - although there is a teacher's manual with some notes on things to teach/do (and information about every lesson on the computer including the screens) the program is designed to be quite independent!   So we will be giving this a try to see if it helps.   This might be a nice change to focus on while we have a break from the SRA Labs.

Just in general otherwise - I have decided that for the rest of the year, that Ambleside Online is being put on the shelf for re-evaluation for next year.  I need something that I can (yes, I'm saying it) combine my kids for a little while, and just focus on a combination of some basics and some fun items for a bit.  I think I have a basic plan in my head for this half of the year that will not feel like a never-ending to-do-list while still keeping our options open for next year.