I am going to tell you from the beginning that this will be a long post. I have a lot of things to say, so settle in because this is going to take awhile. I am going to start by telling you our "reading story". I have discussed parts of it on this blog before, but here is the whole thing: First, Kaytie and Nate pretty much taught themselves to read. When they were 2 and 3, they watched Sesame Street and learned the alphabet, both the letters and their sounds. I played some games with them, and we worked on writing a bit, but for the most part, they just seemed to know them. When they were, oh, around 4 and 5, I started "teaching" them to blend their letter sounds together to make words. Again, they caught on quickly, so I offered them some "early reader" type of books I found at the library and we struggled through them for about ten books or so, and then, one day, they started reading. Overnight, it seemed, they went from "See Spot run" to reading Nate the Great on their own. And they have never slowed down. Even now they both read effortlessly several years beyond their "grade level".
I thought this reading thing was easy. I thought I knew what I was doing and that phonics curriculum were just a waste of time and money. Ha! Then came Daniel and Abbie. First off, they struggled to learn their alphabet. They struggled to learn the basic sounds of the letters. Some seemed to just click, others they just could not remember. There did seem to be a method to their madness, but that really didn't help me in overcoming the issue. Finally, they did manage to get the majority of the alphabet down, so I nudged them into CVC words. Then into more difficult phonemes. We not only tried those "worthless" phonics curriculum we tried more than one. We played games. We read books. We pushed forward. We retreated backward. We wandered in circles for awhile. I will spare you the excruciating details, and just say, here we were, after roughly four years and three (four, in Daniel's case) different phonics programs, STUCK.
Six weeks ago, neither child could correctly, consistently identify the letters: w, y, v, b, or d. Neither child would tell me, if asked, that the letter "g" said "g". They both automatically said "g" says "j". Both frequently confused "w" with "u".
Daniel could read words as complicated as "jumping", but if you asked him, he would tell you he didn't know how to read. Anything. Even if he really, really, really, wanted to know what something said, he would not read it for himself without intense force, and sometimes not even then. He would read in a "school setting" but the entire time he acted as though he were being tortured. He hated reading and would do ANYTHING to avoid it. ANYTHING.
Abbie still struggled with CVC words. She was a little less tormented by reading, but she did not enjoy it either, unless the material was incredibly funny.
I knew we could eventually overcome their gaps, but I was beginning to despair of ever overcoming their negative attitudes.
And then... in our hour of direst need, in rushed our Super Hero.
We were asked to review the Institute of Excellence in Writing's (IEW) learning to read and write program. This program is called Primary Arts of Language (PAL). It was based on Anna Ingham's Blended Sound Sight Learning which was basically birthed in the days when she taught in a one-room schoolhouse. She had forty pupils all between the ages of 15 to 5. Jill Pike took her system of teaching young children to read and authored PAL.
PAL is actually divided into two components: Reading; and Writing and you purchase them seperately. But they are intended to be used simultaneously. I will talk about them individually. And there is A LOT to it, so, I will do my best not overwhelm you with details or confuse the daylights out of you. :) Actually, here is what I'm going to do. I will tell you what each component consists of, first. Then I will tell you how we used it and tweaked it. :) Then I might just rave for awhile about how awesome this program is and how much we love it. Because we do LOVE. IT.
First, the Reading. What you get is: the Teacher's Manual; a big book of file folder games; a DVD-ROM; and the Phonetic Farm. The Teacher's Manual contains 80 lessons, which are not exactly scripted, but do tell you everything you need to know to teach your child. Although I tried to look over the lessons in advance (I'm a planner, what can I say) there were days when I just opened the book and conducted the lesson, so if you are one that doesn't need to or care for planning ahead, then you really don't have to.
The book of games is probably my (and my kids', oh, definitely my kids') favorite part of the program. There are 35 games in this book, and they all teach some aspect of phonics, starting with letter recognition and going from there. Some of the games were, from the very beginning, too easy for my already-can-read-a-little-bit kids, but that did not stop them from playing and enjoying them! There are also some active games included, so your child is most definitely not expected to sit still for your entire lesson!
The Phonetic Farm is a fun, tri-fold poster with stickers that you add as your child learns/ is introduced to the different phonemes. This poster is intended for fun review and reinforcement of the phonemes.
Finally, the DVD-ROM holds your student book on PDF (you print it), an overview of the program by Jill Pike, and a ton of other awesome, inspiring talks by Anna Ingham, Andrew Pudewa and others. The overview is video, the others are audio.
Ok, so, good so far?
Now the Writing. What you get is: the Teacher's Manual; a DVD-ROM; and the complete package of All About Spelling Level One. The Teacher's Manual has detailed lesson plans that are divided into three sections. Part one teaches the child to print upper and lower case letters, numbers, and words. Part two begins All About Spelling and has 40 lessons of copywork. Part three is 16 lessons of composition with style. Each lesson also includes a short story for the kids to use to learn the art of narration. The stories are provided for the first few lessons, and then suggestions are given for how to find your own stories.
The DVD-ROM is, again, an overview of the Writing program, a printable student book on PDF and more talks.
Each Reading lesson consists of these basic elements: a poem to read and enjoy; a class journal that you and your child write together; a Writing lesson (there is a point in each reading lesson where you are told to jump over and do the Writing lesson); instructions for the games to be introduced or added to for that lesson; instructions on what to add to the Phonetic Farm that day; suggestions for a "work period" or Agenda (including the worksheets from the student books); and review that you can do later in the day.
The Reading worksheets consist of coloring pictures (if desired), reading short sentences, cutting out the sentences, and gluing them with the correct picture. The Writing worksheets are for practicing their lessons.
PAL uses both "sight words" and phonics to give the child instant success as well as the tools to decode words later on. This is brilliant, I think, because it made my kids love reading again. It gave them the idea that they could read and then it gave them the ability to make that idea reality.
Alright, so this is what we did. First, I looked through the TMs and then I freaked out because it was all so overwhelming. (don't do this) Then I watched Jill explain the programs on the DVDs and felt much better because now I understood the program. (you should just watch the DVD first, it's better for your health) Then I cut out, copied, and popped into file folders about two or three weeks' worth of the games. And I printed three weeks of student sheets from the Reading PDF. All of this took me a couple of hours one Saturday afternoon and then we were good to go.
Now, my kids were not beginners, but since this was a brand-new program to us and because they had so many gaps, we started with the very first lesson. However, I did tweak it a bit for them. We worked very quickly through the first few lessons because it was mostly review and they grasped it easily. When they hit a rough spot we slowed down and eventually we were no longer doing a lesson a day, but dwelling on each lesson as long as we needed to do so. Also, I didn't worry about keeping the reading and writing lessons together. I didn't worry if we were on Reading Lesson 5 and Writing Lesson 7 because the writing was easier for them (they had both been exposed to writing already). In fact, we started our writing lessons using dry erase boards with primary lines even though the lessons begin with the child not using lines in any form. Then, later, we skipped over the lessons teaching how to write on the lines. We don't use all of the worksheets from the student books, I usually print every other lesson from the Reading and didn't use the Writing ones at all. I also write their reading practice sentences in a notebook so that I can give them more with out them knowing. They need more practice than a beginner would. Another thing we did was write out the names of some of the picture cards from different games and the kids would read the words and match them to the games. I am telling you this so that you can see the program is extremely adaptable to each child. I was even able to easily adapt it to the two children I was teaching at the same time by using the games and adjusting my expectations when necessary. PAL taught me how to teach the kids and from there, it was easy.
Now for the raving. :) I love PAL. I would recommend it to anyone in a heartbeat. I don't have any more kids, but if I did, PAL is what I would use. It is amazing. It works. What else do you need to know? Here's why we love it. (Pssst. I'm starting with little stuff and working up to the parts that make me cry with joy that we were so blessed with PAL.)
First off, we loved the poems. Even Kaytie and Nate would drop whatever they were doing to listen in and join in whatever the activity happened to be that day. For the poems were interactive. Some days we acted them out. Once we drew a picture of the poem with pastels. And always we used words from them to illustrate the phoneme we were learning that lesson.
We also loved the class journal, which Kaytie and Nate joined in on as well. We even moved the journal to our Circle Time at the beginning of school and intend to use it from henceforth and forevermore. It's just that fun.
We loved the games. The kids have their favorite of the games, but I use the Agenda to ensure they are regularly playing the ones they need to play and not just sticking with the easy ones.
I loved the fact that it was so easy to use. The games are laid out in the book in an intuitive way so that cutting them out and putting them to use was simple. I could do a lot of the prep work during the lesson if I needed to. Or I could spend a small amount of time and prepare ahead for weeks of lessons.
I loved the yahoo! group. I joined before I even received PAL in the mail. I browsed through all the threads that said PAL and learned a lot about the program from the questions and answers there. After we got started, I had a question of my own, and I was quite impressed with the response. Not only did Jill answer the question I posed on Saturday night by Sunday morning, she was most gracious and even said she would change the wording in the book to make it more clear!
I loved how the lessons were so engaging to the kids and how the lessons were really a "jumping off place" for me to teach each kid individually. I'm a born tweeker and this has got to be the most tweekable curriculum ever!
When we learned a new phoneme, the kids and I would brainstorm words that used that phoneme. Then I would write them down and circle the phoneme. Then they would read the words.
And now for my favorite parts. The parts that won my heart forever...
The program begins with "letter stories". Each letter has its own story that "explains" its sound and the way you write it. These stories were awesome and were the first part of the program that made me fall deeply in love. Here is why. Remember when I said the kids had problems remembering certain letters? For years. YEARS! Every single time I asked them what the letter "g" said, they would answer "j". They could not grasp that "g"s primary sound was "g". They just couldn't. Well, the day we read the letter story for "g", after the lesson I asked them again. And they got it right. They have NEVER gotten it wrong since. Not even once. The other letters they struggled with? The same thing. I was blown away. This program is so amazing and it works. It simply does. (They do still confuse "b" and "d" occasionally, but not as often as they did. And when they do, I have the story to sort them out quickly and efficiently.)
But that's not all. About a month after we started PAL, Daniel asked me to read him a book. This is common. However, instead of just reading it to him, like I normally would, I said, "Let's read it together. You read the words you can and I'll read the rest." I have made suggestions like this before, and always he said, "NO." But this day, he immediately agreed. He sat in my lap and willingly, happily, read 99% of a Curious George book, including sounding out words that he did not know. While he read, Abbie hovered at my elbow, waiting her turn to read with me. You have no idea. Simply no idea how incredible this is. In four short weeks, he went from absolutely HATING reading to doing it willingly and loving it. Really, do I have to say anything else? PAL is most certainly the most life changing curriculum we have ever used in our homeschool. Ever.
When I asked the kids to tell me what they thought about PAL so I could include it in this review, I was blown away again, because this is what they said:
Daniel: It's fun! I get to learn how to read. And write. My favorite part is learning how to write the letters. My favorite part is the games, they were fun. And my favoritest part is the reading practice!
Abbie: I loved it! I loved it because it had games. And it helped me learn to read. My favorite part is the reading. Oh, and the games. There was nothing I didn't like about it.
And my Mommy-heart wiped away tears and said YES!!! Their favorite part was the reading. Yes.
Thank you Jill, Andrew, and everyone involved with PAL and IEW. You gave us a love of reading and that's one of the greatest gifts a kid could ever get.
You can see samples of PAL here and here (scroll down to the attachments), listen to Andrew Pudewa describe it here, and read what other Crew members have to say here. The Reading and the Writing are purchased separately.
DISCLAIMER: I was given this product for free for the purpose of this review. All opinions are honest and my own.