Wednesday, February 18, 2009

TOS Crew Review: Rocket Phonics!!

Rocket Phonics is a fun phonics program to help take the beginning (non) reader all the way through 5th grade level in 2 years or less. Using two teacher/student texts, 2 decks of phonogram cards, several games (and prizes) and some online tools / supplements, put children age 4 to 10 years old on the road to reading success!

The curriculum states if you can play with your child, you can teach them to read. Several games are encouraged as part of the daily lesson such as Bingo, Matching, or Go Fish, to help your child enjoy the learning process.

This program has been proven to work scientifically and has endorsements from several well known educators and learning specialists.

The student and teacher use the same text. There are sections for the student and sections for the teacher. We began the program with our non-reader doing phonemic awareness. These are the fun games you do to help children hear the different sounds that are in words. We asked what is the beginning and ending sound of easy words, such as: doll, cat, it, in, rug, etc.

The next step was to introduce some blending: What word does /c/ /a/ /t/ create? (When a letter is marked with // it is the signal to make the sound of the word.) We did several other "games" to teach phonemic awareness.

When I was comfortable with the progress we were making with the early practice, we moved on to reviewing beginning sounds. Most of things we did at this level were still considered games. We played bingo and matching games. Here would be a good place to make note of the cards. The cards are actual photographs beautifully taken to represent each sound / letter. I was not in total agreement with the choices made, as some could be confusing (ay with an ape - we have taught our children previously: /ay/ "two letter a" that we may use at the end of English words as in day and say; u with duck - all other vowels begin with the sound such as: i with itch, a with apple; k with kangaroo (usually c, comes before an a not k, this is an exception.)) The phonograms are also somewhat different then other programs (zh with treasure, that might make the sound but it doesn't spell it that way.)

My son was able to blend easily after the first reading lesson as the program describes, however he is 6 years old and has sat next to his 7 and 8 year old brothers learning to read with another strong phonics program. I did have problems with one of the items however in the first section (1.3 part 1) They were teaching /nk/ sound at the end of a word. Then they have the words thank, lank, hank etc., in the first blending lesson. Now according to the dictionary they are short /a/ sounds, but I can't make it sound short, and could be confusing in such an early lesson.

This is a fun, play with your child and he will learn to read program. I am seeing progress as I go, but haven't gotten that far in the last 6 weeks that we have had the program. In the next section (1.5) they teach non-phonetic words. They call them "helpers". This is one part I am not sure about, but haven't tried it so I don't know. I do think it may help with reading but I am not sure about how it will effect spelling. I think the repeated looking at the wrong spellings will cement the wrong spelling in the child's mind. You can see an example below of it and their email response to the purpose of the helpers.

For example, they print the words in blue that you are suppose to say, but have the letters they don't want you to read in gray. If you are suppose to say a sound for those gray letters they are written underneath. For example:

Here is an explanation I receive from them about why this is done this way (in italics):

"The way we use our helpers to show the word's pronunciation allows us to teach reading in ways research and experience demonstrate work best:

1. Rather than a traditional text with rules and examples to read, we can use games like Simon Says or the various treasure hunts. These would be too difficult to read without the helpers. And because they are games they are fun -the kids want to do the lesson, and they want to do it for longer periods of time.

2. The activities allow movement, which is essential to kinesthetic learners -and boys are kinesthetic until age 7, long after most parents ask their kids to"sit still and learn to read".

3. The activities link the word to the object, speeding learning - as in the word find game. Child reads "table" and runs to the table to find the bingo chip.

4. Research repeatedly stresses the best way to learn to read is repetition and emotional involvement. In other words, reading stories rather than lists of words or examples in a text. But engaging stories like Aesop's Fables are often too difficult for beginning readers - or the stories used are too stilted because they use only a limited short list of words, and the kids lose interest in them. But the way we structure our story lessons, the kids will read wonderful, rich and engaging stories that also teach cultural literacy (they are where many of our sayings like "don't count your chickens before they are hatched" come from). And they read each story at least 3 times! (With helpers, without helpers, then to the parent)

5. PLUS with Rocket Phonics' approach the kids love the ease of reading and we hear over and over from parents who say their child went from hating reading to loving reading. And that may be the biggest plus of all. "

The program progresses by reading sentences that go with pictures. This is I believe used to practice the "helpers" and what was already taught. There are 18 pages of these. Each page has a colored picture on it and 5-6 sentences or phrases on them. They have to pick out the sentences that go with the picture.

In section 2.0 they begin teaching the short vowel rules, which is followed by a game of Simon Says and some rhymes. The lessons progress with teaching syllables and the rest of the short vowel sounds. Next the child will take a test of "Common words" such as am, and, ask, how, stand, tell, etc.

Section 3.0 starts having them read with and without the "helpers" and includes comprehension questions. Included are reviews and tips for spelling helps or rules. Taught are the different spellings of er (ur, ar, er, ir, and or,) suffixes, plurals, and you are told they can start reading outside books in the 2nd grade level.

The book continues in the second volume where the student is taught long vowel words, and their different spellings and a whole lot more then I can write here, bringing them up to the 5th grade level. The stories are longer in chapters and appear with helpers and without. Comprehension questions are provided for each chapter. There is a scope and sequence in the back of the book and they tell you which volume the lesson is taught. There are new games sprinkled throughout and you can refer the online supplements to help here.

This program essentially teaches how to reach before the why of reading to get the child off to reading success quickly. You must do almost 1/2 the program before the child would be able to read outside books. My oldest 3 children, when I taught them to read using a phonograms method, took off reading on their own rather quickly and were able to quickly jump into chapter books once it clicked in the brain. However my 4th child has failed to do this. He can read early readers, like Dr. Seus, but has not advanced to chapter books yet. So every child has different abilities so different approaches work with different children.
If you like playing games with your children and are interested in using games as the foundation to learning this program (there are more then games, don't worry) is might just be for you. If you have an active learner, a child with attention issues, or one with different abilities then you might want to look into this more. I do believe that most parents who use this program with their child will succeed at teaching them to read. You can visit there website at:

The Rocket Phonics Reading Kit is $160. Each Rocket Phonics kit comes with:

2 big Rocket Phonics readers (includes teachers guide in each of the volumes)
Two sets of Play & Read symbol cards
Bingo chips
Rocket Peeker
Bingo sheets and Word lists for testing
New! Big-movement games for preschoolers and active learners --Plus three bonuses you can read about on the website by clicking here and scrolling down the page.

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