- Reviewed on Saturday, August 1, 2009
- Grades Used: Pre K - 5th
- Dates used: 2002 - 2009
I am a home school consultant, and I use Rocket Phonics as the primary curriculum in small-group classes I call "Rocket Readers" at our charter school. I also teach these classes to public-school children at my local community center. Parents are always amazed at the progress their children make by attending only one 50-minute class each week. Some parents have said to me, "My child's teacher can't believe the progress she has seen!" I receive rave reviews from parents, teachers and students alike, but my classes are a success because Rocket Phonics is simple to use, extremely effective and a blast for children.
Unlike many other reading programs, it's easy to get started with Rocket Phonics. The directions are easy to follow and the program requires minimal preparation time. Adapting the program for use in my small-group classes is easy.
One reason Rocket Phonics is so effective because it offers systematic, explicit instruction. Students begin by learning the first nine sounds in the Initial Teaching Alphabet. Then they blend those sounds together to form individual words. Before they know it, they are reading! The curriculum goes on to show children to read using a prompting system. This system makes decoding easy and shows the child how the word is spelled as well as how it sounds. Once children decode a word in the prompted text, they can read it in authentic literature. They learn to read without memorizing rules and then memorizing words that break the rules (a long and winding road!). The Rocket Phonics system takes children on a shorter path to the same destination. (Hot tip: When we come to the prompting system, I always tell children, "This is written in a secret code (or "pirate code", depending on the child!), and I'm going to tell YOU the secret! Using this code, you can read any word in this book...)
Equally as important, children are motivated to learn because Rocket Phonics is fun for them. Children become engaged because they learn through playing games; the first text they read is silly and interactive; and because reading is no longer a mystery for them! Rocket Phonics empowers children, which generates an excitement about reading -- especially for those who previously have not experienced success in reading. For those children who are already successful readers, the program accelerates their reading. It takes them to their fullest potential.
I highly recommend Rocket Phonics to any home schooling family with children pre-K through 5th grade. It is an integral part of a balanced literacy program.
- Reviewed on Wednesday, July 22, 2009
- Grades Used: Kindergarten
- Dates used: 2009
When I taught Primo and Secondo to read I used a whole language approach. There was no deep philosophical reason behind that, it's just how I learned, so that's how I taught them. After reflecting on those experiences, and my own research over the years I decided to go with a phonics-based approach for Terzo. Although whole language can be done with just a large stack of familiar books, for the phonics approach you really need some teaching aids. So, what to use?
The first thing that everyone thinks of is probably Hooked on Phonics. I recalled being bombarded with their ads on tv and radio all throughout the 1990s. However, as I investigated the program I felt that it had too many learning aids! Books, CDs, DVDs, stickers, charts, this, that, the other thing. As John Holt pointed out in "Learning All The Time" all research on reading indicates that any child with access to engaging books, a welcoming lap, and a patient parent, can't help but learn to read in about 30 hours. With such simple needs, the Hooked on Phonics program just seemed overkill.
Next came Phonics Museum. We actually bought this program and tried it out. One thing I really like about it is the large selection of graded readers with fantastic art. Rather the usual "see spot run" the included books are good stories about historical/biblical characters, as well as some mythology. The "grading" of the books means that the early readers have no words over three letters long. The books progress in difficulty. Although I liked it, Terzo just didn't get into it. He flips through the books, but just didn't like the rest of the work.
Fortunately, the third time's the charm.
Herself mentioned Rocket Phonics to me and I checked it out. We love it. Terzo actually gets angry if it's suddenly bedtime and he realizes that we haven't done reading yet that day. He actually looks forward to it.
The Rocket Phonics approach is pretty simple. Children are taught a learning alphabet of specific sounds for letters and some diphthongs. All of the early reading materials work exclusively with that teaching set. This lets the kids get used to the process of recognizing letters, sounding them out, blending the sounds together, and actually reading before they get bombarded with the myriad exceptions to the rules presented by English.
Terzo memorized the learning set (using flashcards with mnemonic pictures (A for Apple, B for Ball, etc)) on the first night. On the second night we played a game of bingo using the alphabet he had learned. Rocket Phonics includes lots of games, puzzles, tongue twisters, etc. with the kit. The difference between it and, say, Hooked on Phonics, is that they are super colorful laminated boards, and color tokens, and stickers, etc. Bingo, for instance, was just a white sheet of paper with black text. I'll tell you why I like that.
I really seriously hate things marketed as "so fun that kids won't realize they're learning!" Destroy with fire. I really prefer to be learning, and have it be fun than to have fun and accidentally learn something. Shades of gray maybe, but I think the intention is important. Terzo actually likes to learn. He understands that by asking questions, and finding things out, he will understand the world better, and provide him with more opportunities.
Another thing I like to the Rocket Phonics approach is that there really isn't that much stuff in the kit. However, after the purchase, you get regular supplements via email. A couple of times per week I get a PDF in the mail with a new game, or a new story, or a set of tongue-twisters. I find that when you get some giant omnibus curriculum it is easy to get overwhelmed. This is especially true for programs for young kids. As you can imagine, parents buying a phonics program are probably very new to home education. They need a lot of help, because they have a lot of "ok, but what do I actually do with all this stuff?" moments. By having the initial package be small, and the guide books be very well scripted for the parents, it's easy to figure out what to do, how to do it, and when to move on.
Hand-holding brings me to the absolute best part of Rocket Phonics. When you call, or email, the person on the other end is Dr. Guffanti (the program's creator) or his wife. I've had numerous phone and email exchanges with Dr. and Mrs. Guffanti and they are wonderful people who are truly focused on childhood literacy as their mission in life. When I've had questions I didn't have to suffer through a lesson in futility with an operator in a third-world call center who is just following a decision tree of scripted answers. I got the two people most intimately familiar with the product, and who have personal worked with hundreds of families in its use. They've also been open to criticism and suggestions. For instance, the flashcard for G had a box with a bow on it. a Gift. However, Terzo kept seeing it as Present. In another section there were quite a few pages of "Simon Says" sentences and Terzo got bored and exclaimed one night, "Simon Says he's tired of 'Simon Says.'" I mentioned these to Mrs. Guffanti and she was quite receptive.
Back to our story: on night three Terzo was reading. 15 minutes of flash cards on day one, 10 minutes of bingo on day two, and on day three, he sounded out words and was reading. P-I-T-CH. He had to work at it, and he referred to the flash cards a few times, but on the third night he was reading. The following week he started blending sounds together to smooth things out a bit. P-ITCH.
He has progressed with similar speed through all of the material since then. He is well on his way to being a strong, confident reader and I'm sure we'll come in far below John Holt's 30 hour mark.
As an aside, Dr. Guffanti has a youtube channel featuring interviews with himself about the program, as well as videos showing how the program works. I encourage you to check it out. http://www.youtube.com/user/sguffanti