Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review: Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons Book Review

Conversations I've had with my four-year-old over the past few months:

Driving in the car, light turns green and I step on the gas.
Josh: Mom! I wasn't done reading that sign! You're supposed to wait till I sound out all the words!
Me: Sorry bud, I have to drive when it's time to drive.
Josh: But what did that sign say?!?!?
Me: I don't know. I didn't see what sign you were looking at.
Josh: Turn around! Drive back! I need to read it!
Me: Sorry kid. You'll just have to read it next time we drive by.

Showing me a piece of paper on which he's writing a story.
Josh: Mom, look! I spelled "pain."
Me: Um, that spells "Epan."
Josh: The E is silent. You can have silent letters at the beginning of words, like the K in "knee"
Me: Yes, sometimes there are silent letters at the beginning of words, but E usually isn't silent at the beginning. In fact, I don't think it's ever silent at the beginning. E is only silent in the middle of words or at the end.
Josh: But the E is silent at the beginning in the word "Exit"!
Me: No, you say the E in "Exit," it's eh-eh-exit. Hear that? The E is there.
Josh: (stubbornly) No, it's silent. The X is just saying its name.
Me: ...

Josh: How do you spell the word "dream?"
Me: D-R-
Josh: No! "Dream" starts with a J!
Me: (totally confused) No, it doesn't. It starts with a D.
Josh: But listen. "Josh" and "Dream" start with the same sound!
Me: (thinking about it for a moment) Okay, maybe you have a point. They do start with a similar sound. But "dream" is still spelled with a D.
Josh: Why is the D making a J sound?
Me: Well, it's still making a D sound, it just sounds kind of like a J because of the R, and because you're only four and can't really pronounce all the sounds right yet...
Josh: ...
Me: I probably could've explained this better back when I took linguistics in college, but that was too many years ago. I don't know.

Nothing like teaching a kid to read to make you realize how weird the English language is, or how our supposedly phonetic-based language system has so many exceptions it really doesn't feel phonetic at all. I can't count the number of times I've had to explain, "Yes, I know that word looks like it should sound that way, but we actually pronounce it this entirely different way and you just have to remember that." No wonder learning to read is tough.

Which is why I really appreciated having the guided lessons in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons to really road-map this process for us. I assume without this book I could've just picked up some easy readers and explained things as we went, but I feel like that would've been a lot more difficult, and once my son put his mind to learning to read, he was super excited about this idea of formal lessons that we would do every day.

I know there are lots of different systems out there for teaching reading, but a close family friend recommended this one and praised it up and down, so I never really considered anything else. What do I think? Did it work? Is it worth your time? I know these are all questions you're dying for answers to, and never fear. I will deliver all my opinions, for what they are worth.

First off, I need to confess that we didn't actually do all 100 lessons. We started some time in June, and zipped through the first 50 lessons over the next month and half or so. Then our pace slowed considerably. I think we forced our way through Lesson 75, but it's been a few weeks now, and I've just kind of admitted to myself that we are never going to make it through those last 25 lessons. So in all honesty this is only a review of the first 75 lessons.

But! Those first 75 lessons really delivered. The reason we're not pushing through the rest of the lessons is that we just don't need them anymore. Josh has fully moved on to easy readers and picture books, and while I wouldn't call him a 100% fluent reader, at this point it's just a matter of practice and time. He's got all the basics down, he can figure out 90%+ of what he reads on his own, and he is well on his way.

So overall, I give this system a strong recommend. I think it generally delivers on its promise.

But let's get into some specifics. In the nitty-gritty, there were things I loved, and some things I thought might not work well for every kid.

First off, I think one of the biggest complaints against this system is the altered orthography of the letters. Basically, they use a special font system to cue kids how to pronounce letters (a line over long vowel sounds, physically combining letters in blends, making silent letters smaller, etc.), and then  towards the end they try to phase this orthographic system out and transition to normal type font. I can see some kids struggling with this. My own kid has a sharp eye for detail, so he got used to the altered orthographic system, and then got really annoyed whey they started phasing it out (they do it subtly at first, without telling you that's what they're doing). My son would point out every "lapse" and insist they'd made a mistake. It bothered him a lot, so he would find a pen and add the symbols back in until the lessons transferred permanently to normal font (at around Lesson 70 or so, so at the very end of where we trailed off). But in the grand scheme, I think this orthography helped more than it hurt. Obviously my son switched to normal font reading without too much of a problem, so I don't really have an issue with this part of the system.

One thing I really liked was the scripting. The lessons tell parents exactly what to say and how to explain concepts. Especially early on, I really appreciated this scripting. Eventually I stopped following the script, because we both got to a point where we could go through a lesson and adapt to our own needs. Once my son figured out the concept of phonetically sounding out, all we really needed the lessons for was introducing new sounds and giving us words and stories on level to practice with. I stopped doing all the read-it-slow-read-it-fast type of stuff, and the writing prompts at the end (he already knew how to write all the letters before we started these lessons), and we just sort of went at our own pace. Basically, I liked the scripting when I needed it, and liked that I could skip it and adapt each lesson as suited our own pace. Also, the length of the lessons was perfect. Early on, we could breeze through two or three lessons a day, but as the stories got longer, we dropped down to one or two lessons a day, and that was just about what my son's attention span could handle. It was perfect.

As you can see from the picture above, our copy of this book was well loved. My son would pour over the stories and accompanying pictures. He colored all the pictures, and wrote and scribbled all over this book. If I decide to use this system for our next kid, I'm probably going to need to buy a fresh book just for the sake of clarity (or maybe try a new lesson system, just for fun). Overall, it's a high recommend from both me and my son.

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