Thursday, October 11, 2007

Saxon Phonics Intervention

Well, we’re a few months into the school year. Most of us are now finding out what is working and what is not working for school. So, it’s time for a little curriculum review. I’ll begin with the program I’m using to help my struggling reader/struggling spellers. It’s called Phonics Intervention, strangely published by Saxon Publishers. Why do I say strangely? Well, because it just does not seem like a Saxon product. The author was a special education teacher that wrote the curriculum based on her need to find an effective way to teach her own struggling reader how to read. I can honestly say that it is very well done.

As many of you know, one child of mine is dyslexic – well, I shouldn’t say IS dyslexic. Dys means “hard or difficult” and lexia means “to read.” So, perhaps I should say is overcoming dyslexia, for he is well on his way to reading like a pro. It’s just been a long, uphill hike; yet, I feel we are reaching the pinnacle of the high alps we needed to climb to get him reading and spelling. I can honestly say that Saxon’s Phonics Intervention will play a major role in moving him into the right direction.

After using my Spelling Solutions program, which enabled my son to spell the most common words found in the English language, I knew it was time for him to relearn phonics, as he had missed so much in his early years. I didn't want to do a basic phonics program; he needed something that honored his intellectual maturity, while still teaching the basics that he missed in K - 3rd, when he was struggling to see the words on a page clearly (Dyslexics generally see words swimming around on a page, not sitting still as we see them).

Saxon Phonics Intervention moves much more quickly than Saxon Phonics for K-3rd , teaching to an older audience. The assumption with the program is that you are using this with an older student (5th grade or older) that still cannot read or spell well. It’s an intensive phonics program using coding of words, spelling tests and reading comprehension assignments. It also adds in vocabulary (which you could skip, but my kids LOVE) as well as alphabetizing. It’s not a complete grammar program, as it doesn’t not teach grammar rules, such as capitalization and such.

Since we started the program, I have seen a marked difference in my child’s ability to spell. I can’t speak to the reading aspect yet, as we were already making immense progress with reading.

It really surprised me that coding words helps the struggling speller. I don’t think a normal reader/speller needs to spend the time and energy on coding words as it does expend a lot of time and energy. I know there are a lot of programs that require the child to code words. My good speller never did anything like this and actually never even learned the “rules” for spelling; she simply spells everything perfectly well (I’m always asking her how to spell things). However, for an older child that doesn’t spell well, the act of coding words helps them immensely. I’m doing this with both of my boys (ages 9 and 11).

I can see a difference in their spelling across the board. Coding helps, I believe, because they spend time with each word, becoming familiar with the words, understanding the rules of spelling by actually doing something tangible to represent different spelling rules. This activity seems to ingrain correct spelling as well as the spelling rules into their brain, which apparently translates to other similar words.

If you are not familiar with coding words. Here is an example: They are given the word BRAIN to code. They underline the digraph AI, put a macron over the A and cross out the I – showing that the digraph AI only sounds out the long A, and the I is silent. If they are given the word HUNTER, they will put an arc under the ER showing that it’s a combination, and they’ll put a breve over the U showing that it’s short. They will also separate the word into syllables and write the VCCV pattern under the letters. It’s a lot of work, but seems to really make something click in their brain.

So far, this has been one of the most successful programs to teach spelling for my dyslexic and my struggling speller that is not dyslexic (and I think I’ve tried every single program out there).

Saxon Phonics Intervention is pretty expensive, over $100, and the program requires a lot of you, the teacher. I don’t normally recommend teacher intensive programs, but if you find that your child in sixth grade or above is really and truly unable to spell the most basic words, this program is a must. Most children naturally “get” spelling some time during fifth grade or before. So I don’t recommend you make the investment in both money and time unless there really is a problem.