There are really two kinds of phonetics-based readings programs: those developed through observation and research, and those born out of an immediate need on the part of parents trying to teach their children. Valerie Bendt's Reading Made Easy is squarely in the second category, and in the interest of full disclosure we're generally predisposed toward programs of this kind (though research doesn't hurt anything!).
The reason such courses are usually so good is that parents who are teaching their children directly are A) motivated to find the best method of instruction, and B) mold their theory in accordance with their practice. Whereas professional educators often develop a theory first and build the practical elements later, parents generally build a theory after having seen what their kids like or don't like, and what works and doesn't work.
This is the method Bendt claims to have followed when developing Reading Made Easy. One of her main beefs with the available reading programs was that the stories were inane and senseless, and even her kids were able to see this. Not wanting to turn her kids off to reading, and certain that giving them "Jan has a pan" type stories would do just that, Bendt wrote her own curriculum that would integrate phonics methodology while foregoing cheap stories and endless phonetic rules.
How Does This Work?
Reading Made Easy is a one-volume curriculum comprised of 108 lessons that range betwen one and eight pages in length. This is a decoding course, with students learning letter sounds and blends a little at a time, gradually building their repertoire. Because a lot of decoding depends on understanding context, Bendt has written her own sentences and stories (including a long story with chapters called Gideon's Gift that appears in the later lessons) that provide such context.
Each lesson is fully scripted, though parents should read the lesson before working through it with the student. Portions to be read aloud to the student appear in a specific font, while portions to be read by students appear in another. There are also a number of visual clues given to students to help them sound out each word properly (for instance, soft vowels appear in gray, silent letters appear in dotted line form, etc.).
Lessons should be completed three per week, though if your students need more time, give them more time. There's no rush, and the point is that students learn to read well and enjoy doing so, not that they simply complete a course. One way to help them enjoy good reading is to read excellent books to them, and there are short lists of books for parents to read to students as well as leveled books for students to read on their own in the back of the volume.
This isn't one of those "let's make learning to read as fun as possible!" courses, but there are plenty of elements to make things a little less burdensome. Bingo cards to be copied are included in the appendix, there are some games outlined throughout the text, and kids make their own readers from construction paper. Because there is a craft-oriented element to this course, parents will need to do some prep work at the outset, but this shouldn't take too long.
Parents will also need to make flashcards. Cute black and white illustrations, mostly of animals, appear throughout the lessons, and are meant to inspire sentences to be written out by students and used later as supplemental reading exercises. If your child can't write the sentence, however, parents should write each word on index cards so that kids can arrange the words into the correct order. Bendt also uses the pictures to improve observation, as kids need to distinguish between letters visually.
Using the visual clues of different fonts, colors, etc. allows Bendt to present whole words that would otherwise not be able to be decoded by students. For instance, kids learn words with the silent e fairly early on, instead of being tied down to two- and three-letter words. Those words do appear, and the earliest lessons do focus primarily on lists of words, but it's not long before students are reading longer words and whole stories.
While all that you need (other than some craft supplies) is in the main Reading Made Easy book, there are four student activity books providing exercises to support what they're learning. Each book is matched to a specific group of lessons, and includes exercises very similar to those found in the Explode the Code books, as well as copywork and narration, pictures to write about, and word and picture games. These aren't necessary, but they are very helpful.
Our Honest Opinion
This is a good course, and (like all the others we sell) is suitable for teaching young children how to read. Bendt's methods are genuinely unique, particularly in regard to the decoding clues embedded in the text, but they're also intuitive and organized. She doesn't spend time talking about phonograms or phonics rules, instead helping children to recognize patterns, to use context to decode words, and to identify meaning in their reading content.
One major drawback is exactly the thing that makes this program unique and easy to use. The different fonts and visual clues, while a good idea, tend to get cluttered in the lessons, and disentangling them may be difficult for many students, especially those with learning disabilities. And while there are plenty of opportunities for students to read text without the decoding clues, there is the possibility that they'll be somewhat lost when reading books without such markers.
Overall, this is a good course, and because it engages students on a variety of levels (aural, visual, kinesthetic) it's a good option for kids with overactive bodies and imaginations. Bendt resists insulting even young kids's intelligence, and does a good job providing exercises they can understand which nonetheless push them forward. If you want a good one-volume program that offers visual clues but aren't keen on the extra activities, we'd suggestThe Reading Lesson.
<span class="body_italic" lic;="" line-height:="" 20px;"="">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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