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discovery-kitMany students struggle with learning to read. Many also learn to read despite poor teaching as more and more schools leave out phonics and reading fundamentals. Students who do well regardless of teaching seem to pick up on these basics naturally. They may not understand what they are doing completely, but the students sense these elements and use them to recognize words and meanings. Other students with and without learning difficulties may not fully sense these factors, and it hinders their reading development. What is needed is a a program that teaches reading basics well and in a multi-sensory method allowing it to be more beneficial for all types of students. One such program was sent to me a few months ago to review. I have been using it with several students since then with great success. One student is a five year old beginning reader. This student is fairly average in all ways except amazing cuteness. Another is a high schooler with learning disabilities including dyslexia who continues to struggle with reading. One is blind and hard of hearing and is nine. Two others are six and seven and have some mild learning issues. The program is Reading Horizons: Discovery. There is an online version. I won’t be reviewing it due to accessibility issues because I am DeafBlind. The website listed below has a page that lists reviews for their products from independent bloggers like myself. You can check out the other reviews for this program and the online program, too.

The introduction to Reading Horizons Discovery states, “Reading Horizons Discovery is an explicit, systematic, research-based phonics program based on the Reading Horizons method. Multi-sensory techniques are employed via direct instruction and the use of interactive computer software programs. The manuals and computer software are correlated to support each other, but each can be used independently of the other for instructional purposes. All students can benefit from using the explicit, sequential, direct instruction the Reading Horizons method has to offer.” The program is ideally suited for students with learning disabilities including those with dyslexia, but it is also very beneficial to all students because of its multi-sensory techniques and methods that integrates not only phonics, but also basic language arts skills. In addition, vocabulary development and spelling are integral parts of the program.

Providing posters, worksheets, software, online support, Reading Horizons’ method, in a nutshell attempt, involves using hand directions to dictate a letter, sound, or word, use hand directions to receive that letter, sound, or word repeated by the student. The letters, sounds, or words are dictated twice and the students repeat twice. The students will then write the letter, sound, or word once. These aspects helped the student to learn to focus and prepare to listen carefully. Another aspect of the method, is the markings and slide which are taught early on and used throughout the program. The program teaches 42 sounds of the alphabet. The vowel “a” is taught first. The consonant “b” is next. The slide is then introduced to teach, emphasize, and remind students to slide from the consonant to the vowel sound smoothly developing fluid pronunciation from the beginning. In word decoding as the students progress, students learn to mark the vowel first. Then slide through pronunciation of the consonant and vowels before adding the ending sound. The program teaches not only phonics, but also phonological awareness besides just phonemes, all of which is imperative for developing good reading skills for all students including dyslexics. The well-designed program of Reading Horizons ensures that these skills are not only learned, but mastered. The thorough teacher’s manual including complete, scripted lesson plans helps the busy teacher with lots of Reading experience and the less experienced teacher in the classroom or home.

Reading Horizons Discovery program is suitable for many types of students because it is multi-sensory and that phonics and phonological awareness are emphasized. What about other Special Needs besides Learning Disabled or developmentally delayed, for example? In my case, that question would be, “is it Deaf, Blind, and DeafBlind suitable?” Obviously, there are some that the program or any program based on auditory alone or visual alone would not work. With modifications, it could work for those who are hard of hearing, hearing blind, low vision, and DeafBlind who have some residual sight and hearing. As always, if you wish to try this program with these populations, you must focus on modifying the material and the methods emphasizing the primary mode of communication. Use ASL or a visual communication mode to go along with the hand motions of the program to ensure that the student understands the letters and words being taught. For low vision students, use larger print. For braille users after tactile readiness has been developed, you might think that there is no point, but many braille courses for young learners puts little focus on phonics or phonological awareness. Braille is still reading, but recognizing letters and words by feel, so the need for phonics and phonological awareness is still there and should be emphasized more to improve reading skills. Also, homeschoolers, who are an audience of my blog, often find that braille curriculum is too expensive for them and their blind students to use. Therefore, it is often necessary to modify regular programs for braille learners. Using the auditory cues of dictate and repeat either with or without tactile hand motions (DeafBlind, especially need), the student will still be taught to focus and prepare to listen carefully. Marking can be done verbally to note aspects such as finding and identifying the vowel sound first as can “slide” where the vocal or tactile motions are the reminder for the steps to help the students decode the words they feeling with their fingers. For those with less sight and hearing, we were using these signals both verbally and with hand motions that the student could feel with their hands as we spoke the reminders. At first, you would think this must be frivolous additions, but we have been finding these techniques are useful for helping students decode regardless of their learning issue. It was an easy task, too, understanding what the markings and motions were intended for to modify the techniques as needed while working with our students who have varying degrees of hearing and vision loss. For those who use less speech, their comprehension was occasionally gauged more on their signs and fingerspelling, though most had some ability to speak and/or receiving speech therapy time. Even the braille learner used the techniques while reading with fingers. We did the steps after the student read the individual letters first and indicated what the letter was. Then used the steps to indicate what the sounds were followed by using a motion of the hand forward to indicate the slide (the word “slide” was also spoken)  as the slide of the sounds (ex. fa) was then pronounced verbally. As with anything, some of our initial modifications were cumbersome or ineffective, but we recognized that the system can be useful if we are thoughtful of the purposes of the techniques and adjust as needed. The best educational research always goes on in the grassroots of  the individual classroom.

This has been a description of Reading Horizons Discovery in a nutshell. There is no way to cover it well here or cover the many types of students and how the program can be modified to help these special populations. I also know that there is no one program, text-based or software, that is suitable for all students. I can say that Reading Horizons Discovery does work for those I am working with and can for many others. As in my own case, I always have to be creative when using some product, but it is often worth the effort. Reading Horizons Discovery was worth the effort for me and several of my students.

Pricing information for the Discovery at Home reading set is as follows:

Discovery Product      Pricing 

Discovery Online Software     $  199.00

Discovery Instructor Materials     $  299.00

Discovery Software and Instructor Material Bundle     $  439.00

Discovery Little Books Grades 1-3     $  159.00

Discovery Little Books Kindergarten     $    29.99

To learn more about Reading Horizons Discovery program, go to http://www.readinghorizons.com.

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I was recently asked by Critical Thinking Company to review a couple of their products with my students. I didn’t hesitate because I have reviewed some of their products before and felt that they can be useful products. Worksheets and work booklets can often be used for nothing more than busy work and lead to a lack of progress, but if the sheets are well-produced to teach specific concepts and used appropriately by a teacher, benefits can be provided. Critical Thinking Company has a variety of work booklets that do present specific concepts well. I was sent two different topics for two different ability levels. I will begin here with the elementary level for grades 2-3 called “Editor In Chief: Beginning 1”.

This new booklet is the first in the Editor In Chief series, though the series has been in publication for many years. This is an addition as the publisher takes the series to earlier ages which had already been expanded to cover eight levels for grades 2-12+. There are sixteen lessons across sixty-seven pages of content including multiple review pages. Each lesson covers a specific concept from capitalization to verb tenses to subject/verb agreement to homophones and everything in between. Each lesson presents the rules for the concept and ample practice exercises. The publisher states the booklet can be used in individual and group activity for instruction, reinforcement, practice, and assessment of English grammar and mechanics. There are multiple selections to provide instructional examples and others for assessment of student understanding. There are mini reviews and reviews provided throughout the lessons to provide short-term and long-term assessment during the use of the material. Each lesson is also pre-perforated to allow easy removal for use. Answers are also provided in the back of the booklet. The writing samples are varied and interesting to most students to provide motivation to focus on the lesson. In each of the lessons, I, especially, like the list of rules stated clearly with a good example as the introduction to the concept. The rules are not buried in narrative making them easier to refer to as the student progresses through the exercises. Thus, the student frequently reads the rules while making decisions about its use case by case aiding retention and application. Another good feature for this level is the marking of the number and type of errors to the right of each selection. If there are two comma errors and four contraction errors, each are listed with the number of circles with the number inside the circle, so the student knows what to look for and can mark them off as they find them. This guides the student and helps to prevent frustration and possible loss of interest. Editing your writing is always the best way to reinforce your learning. These exercises teach these skills that are often only vaguely learned rules with no grasp of how they are used. Editor In Chief can go a long way helping to improve your student’s writing.

For regular and Special Needs students, the booklet uses a clear, crisp font and a large size for easy reading of the rules and the exercises. Spaces are placed between the lines of the paragraphs making them easier to read and mark to correct errors. The error-tallying feature is also great for some Special Needs students that need more structure and guidance along the way. The age and grade levels are marked, but I also found the Editor In Chief: Beginning 1 useful for high school students who had significant issues with certain concepts or had lower reading levels. The simplicity of the writing samples helped many of the older student’s practice the skills they had not mastered earlier without needing to focus heavily on content helping them to concentrate on rules and practice for retention. The short samples on various and more interesting topics also helped me with providing instruction to my blind and DeafBlind students. Being short, but interesting, I could quickly and easily braille them for use by my blind students to supplement their limited and expensive curriculums. I would like to suggest to educational providers to consider providing for a cost an additional .txt file with the purchase of their booklets for teachers such as I who need more materials that can be embossed in braille for our blind and DeafBlind students.

Critical Thinking Company’s Editor In Chief: Beginning 1 can be used in many ways to help a student. This booklet and many others on various topics in Language, Math/Science, and logical thinking can be found on their web site, http://www.criticalthinking.com. Editor In Chief: Beginning 1 is available for $14.99. This series is a fun way to improve your child’s writing by learning the skills and learning to apply them.

Look for my review here of Critical Thinking Company’s Mathematical Reasoning: Middle School Supplement in a few days. You won’t be disappointed.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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