MCP "Plaid" Phonics (1995)

Like MCP Math, MCP Phonics drills concepts over and over to achieve mastery before moving to another topic. In the short term, kids who "get it" may get frustrated by this method; in the long term, most will find they clearly remember everything they've learned (except those kids with short-term memories who need consistent review of past material). Full-color texts for levels K-C (grades K-3) will help keep even squirmy kids interested, while for levels D-F (no longer full-color) there is enough written work to keep them busy. K-C cover phonics; D-F are largely concerned with word construction and vocabulary.

The emphasis here is on internalization through practice. While some memorization is required, there are enough exercises that by the end of a section most kids should have the concepts and rules down pat. At first they will need instructions read to them (obviously—they can't read, they're just learning to), but the rule descriptions and exercise instructions are clear enough they will be able to work largely on their own after the first two or three books.

How Do These Work?

Each consumable worktext is intended to take the student through one school year. There are no accompanying readers or textbooks, so the cost is manageable. Each one-page lesson either reviews or introduces a new phonics rule or phoneme (smallest pronounceable language unit with attached meaning), and the following exercises illustrate and reinforce that rule. Written work increases as the series progresses, though emphasis is not placed particularly on handwriting skills.

As kids learn first vowels and consonants, then small blends and syllables, and finally multi-syllabic words, they are taught how to put these sounds/letters together to make words. This decoding apporach is very popular among writers of phonics curricula, partly because it aids overall comprehension of the language and partly because it encourages excellent spelling habits; it also gives kids the confidence they need to become competent independent readers. MCP's approach focuses on sounds rather than rules, explaining each one in relatable, practical terms.

The later books (D-F) are more concerned with words themselves and assume that students are by that time capable readers. This shift in focus is meant to bring about stronger vocabulary as well as critical thinking/reading comprehension skills, though this is not a literature analysis or comprehension course. Students will be required to do quite a bit of writing, but lessons remain short enough that they shouldn't have much trouble staying abreast of the work.

The teacher's manuals include answers to all exercises on reduced student worktext pages, and notes for teaching each lesson. While some parents may appreciate the ideas for activities and games provided to help convey concepts, others will wonder where the actual teaching advice is. Given the amount of exercises in the student worktexts, the teacher resource guides should be welcome if for no other reason than that they greatly reduce grading time.

OurHonest Opinion:

While there isn't anything to really dislike about this curriculum, there isn't anything that particularly sets it apart. If you invest the appropriate amount of time, your kids will learn to read, and they shouldn't be any more frustrated using MCP than most other basic phonics programs. The shift from phonics to word study is smoothly accomplished, and doesn't make an awkward distinction between phonics and vocabulary.

The teacher's manuals leave something to be desired. There are plenty of fun ideas in them, but not much about how to teach the content itself. The instructions in the student texts are clear enough that most parents should have no trouble explaining them to their kids without the minimal teacher notes. They are expensive for what you get, and don't provide enough background information to make them indispensable. MCP Phonics isn't a bad choice by any means, but it isn't the best of its kind either.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and 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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