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Dr. Guyla Nelson initially wrote the American Language Series to meet a perceived need—a phonics reading course that gave children the core skills they needed to read independently, rather than having them simply memorize long lists of words that they could recognize on sight but couldn't sound out on their own. The resulting curriculum for kindergartners (equally useful for first grade beginning readers) takes a holistic approach to reading instruction, covering phonics, handwriting, spelling, and critical thinking skills. Dr. Nelson approaches the subject from a Christian perspective, incorporating a few Bible stories and morals in the stories and exercises.
Previously published as the Little Patriots Series and the former Horizons Kindergarten Phonics program, the American Language Series has been road-tested for nearly 30 years and has yielded great success; this reprint has been greeted with gratitude by many parents and educators. The course aims not just to get kids reading, but to get them spelling and figuring new words out on their own. You won't find extensive vocabulary lists (there are a few), but you will find lots of teaching and review of phonics rules, concepts, and sound-letter patterns.
How Do These Work?
Two Phonics & Reading and two Spelling, Writing, & Vocabulary consumable student worktexts and six readers present exercises and reading lessons to students. The workbooks contain 80 two-page lessons each. Colorful pictures and abbreviated texts keep their attention while still maintaining a high level of instruction. While all this is intended only for kindergarten, there is enough here that it could conceivably be stretched over two years. Some parents even opt to start the program when their kids are four and have them competent readers before they even start kindergarten.
This is a teacher-intensive curriculum. At the real core of the course is the teacher's CD-ROM (compatible with Windows or Mac) which contains PDF files of two teacher's guides and a Phonics/Spelling Manual. (Additional content includes split-track phonics rule songs and an audio alphabet and phonetic sounds introduction.) The teacher's guides and manual provide comprehensive parameters for presenting the material, as well as answers to all exercises on reduced student worktext pages. Suggestions for games, activities, flashcard drill, and complete daily lesson plans help parents with logistics, but the real meat of the teacher resources are the phonics rule and sound tables. Teachers are expected to learn not just how to teach the content but also the content itself, and these tables provide the means by which to do so. A printed comb-bound Phonics and Reading Guide offers vocabulary lists for each lesson and the page numbers for the corresponding reader assignments.
Emphasis is placed not so much on memorizing each rule word for word, as on understanding the rules and how they relate to each other. This is very much the decoding method of teaching reading, in which students are taught to recognize and associate letter-sound relationships so they can piece together larger word pronunciations on their own. This method is designed to ensure that kids are able to read fluently and competently on their own and to spell words they may or may not have encountered.
Our Honest Opinion:
Those who have learned sight-reading are limited to understanding only as many words as they have been able to memorize. In contrast, those who learn the rules behind language are able to become versatile and competent readers. At the same time, arduously memorizing endless phonics rules can lead to undue frustration, especially for young kids. The balance presented by the American Language Series is appealing both for its adaptability to different ability levels and its focus on getting kids reading without a lot of extraneous (and distracting) bells and whistles.
The course is fairly fast-paced (learning in one year what most courses teach in two or three), but the results are worth it. You as the parent will have to invest plenty of time yourself, but that's true of every good phonics course. There may be more "fun" programs out there, but reading isn't just about fun, it's about learning. Once you establish a strong foundation for your young readers, they will be able to learn much more rapidly and independently. We believe the American Language Series is an excellent portal to such self-guided learning.
You can see sample pages for all four workbooks by clicking on any of the following:
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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