Authors Michael Levin and Charan Langton developed The Reading Lesson when the available reading programs failed to work for their 4-year-old daughter. Originally a software package, the program they came up with is now a book, with video, CD-ROM, and online supplements. All you need to get your kids on the road to reading fluency, however, is this book. Using both familiar and unique methods (only lowercase letters are used, for instance), the goal is to get kids reading quickly and well.
How Does This Work?
First off, this is a teacher-intensive program, but it isn't particularly time-consuming, nor does it require a lot of prep time. It should come as no surprise that a reading program is parent/teacher-intensive, though—as the authors point out, without guidance your kids will learn haphazzardly or not at all. A concise introduction lays out the learning philosophy of the authors, giving users insight into the way the lessons are presented and progress.
This is neither a phonics-only, nor an exclusively whole language, course. Phonics is used to introduce the sounds of words and the way those sounds interact to make words, but students are also encouraged to store words they learn this way in their memory to make reading more smooth (typically, this is called automaticity). Throughout The Reading Lesson, kids will learn about 500 words, all closely matched to lists of the most common words in English.
In accordance with this, the lessons are not organized alphabetically, but rather by the letters that occur most frequently. Before the lessons begin there's a chart with all the letter sounds covered in the book. Each letter appears in bold next to a word including that sound and a cute black and white graphic illustrating the word; if a letter has more than one sound, it appears more than once in the chart, with different sounds indicated by unobtrusive marks.
There are twenty lessons, each about 15-20 pages long. Children under five should complete about one page a day; kids aged 5-6 can do 2-3 pages; and kids older than 6 should do three or more pages a day. These are of course guidelines, and if your kids are having difficulty you should slow down. Each page should take 5-7 minutes to complete, and the authors emphasize that too much time will burn out parents and students alike.
Sounds are introduced rather than letter names. Pointing to letters, teachers say the sound, eventually blending the letters to make words. Students read words, sentences, and short stories, all suited for beginning readers to feel like they're actually progressing. There are some exercises, but the focus is on reading; the authors encourage parents to find a handwriting course to use alongside The Writing Lesson, as kids pick up the words faster if they learn to read and write them simultaneously.
There are some fun line drawings throughout the book, but the emphasis isn't on fun and games. As the authors point out, learning is often just a matter of hard work, and it takes effort. Consequently, little attempt is made to make reading "palatable" or fun, though there are suggestions for using rewards or incentives to encourage kids to apply themselves to the content. By the end of the course, students will be able to read second grade-level picture books.
Our Honest Opinion
There are a lot of one-volume beginning reading courses out there, and all of them are defended by lots of reasons why they're the best. The authors of The Reading Lesson do some of that, but mostly they just tell parents how their course works and why, and then jump right into the lessons. That's a pretty strong argument in favor of using this program in itself, but the layout and methodology also speak for themselves.
Of most appeal is the blending of the phonic and whole language methods of reading instruction. The authors don't burden young children with endless rules, instead focusing on phonemes, but they also accept the fact that not all English words can be learned phonetically, and make allowances. For flexibility, ease of use, and approach, The Reading Lesson is one of the better beginning reading courses we've seen, and we recommend it without reservation.
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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