Okay, this has been a long time coming, but I've had a number of people asking me about my impressions of this reading and writing program.
To skip to the end: It is amazing.
Institute for Excellence in Writing, aka IEW, has come out with a program called Primary Arts of Language. This is split into two parts -- a reading program, and a writing program, and is meant for kids in grades K-2 or so. If a child is reading well, they could do just the writing program. My kindergartner and 2nd grader, though, are going to be doing both parts starting sometime soon.
The above is a photo of what is included in the reading piece. Pretty basic stuff. There's a DVD, which I've watched through a couple of times. There is a Teacher's Manual, which outlines the program. There is a Folder Games book. On the DVD-ROM, there are student pages and mp3 files. And there is an amazing sticker folder called The Phonetic Farm.
The writing program is similar, with a DVD and a Teacher's Manual, plus
Level One of the All About Spelling program. I've only watched that DVD
I didn't really grasp what I was getting with this, even after I received it. It was watching the DVD that started to make it click. Now, we haven't USED this yet. For one thing, I ordered another sticker folder, so Richard and Trina could both have one, and it seems to be lost in Illinois. I won't start without it. (**update -- it went through Denver last night! Yay! I ought to see it on Monday, then. I'm thrilled it is finally un-lost)
So -- how does it work? Well, basically, the reading portion of the program is broken down into four main stages. A total of eighty lessons, which could be done at a lesson a day rate, or it could take longer.
Stage 1: Foundations.
You are teaching the phonograms, starting off with roughly 3 letters per day. At the same time, you are also teaching some sight words. But the sight words aren't at all what I'm used to from other programs. I mean, yes, on the first day you teach "green" and "yellow" and the child is to learn essentially that this shape says green or yellow. But you are using these sight words to teach other phonograms... in the first day's case, the ee sound, and that ow at the end of a word often say the long o.
You get to place a couple stickers on the Phonetic Farm, which is so much more amazing than I thought at first glance. You teach the child some new games to play (that are absolutely simple to put together!) There are some worksheets you can print from the DVD-ROM. You read a poem. On the first day, you are "merely" enjoying it and discussing the meaning. On subsequent days, you are using it to do things like find "ee" words.
This stage is the most teacher-intensive part, and usually it takes about a month, according to what I've read. At the end of that time, the student would know a lot of the phonograms and about four dozen sight words.
I know, so many people are cringing at the sight word part. So I want to re-emphasize this. It is not "sight words" in that whole language memorize the shape of the word type of way. This is sight words done right.
Stage 2: Activity Time
This stage continues with poetry, presenting new phonograms and new sight words. But now the student has been taught the games and can display more independence. Now you have the option of using the readers that are available as pdf files on the DVD-ROM.
In most cases, this stage will take 2-4 months, though it could go faster, or it could take longer. There is more material here than the average child will need. That means that a struggling reader should not run out of material. I love that.
Stage 3: Discovery
This stage includes working with stacks of cards (included in the Teacher materials) that the child should be able to decode. There are thirty stacks of ten words. This section is pretty phenomenal. It starts off with words such as: light, pick, shall, and bunch. List 15 includes words like: happened, broken, every, and work. And the final list includes words including: spaghetti, energy, hour, and island.
The amazing thing is that I do believe that by the time the child would get there, he could decode all of that.
Stage 4: Library
After mastering the 30 lists of words, the child goes on to reading real books from the library. There is a list of suggested books, split into easy, medium and hard. The hard books are at about the level of the 2 Intermediate Readers that Sonlight used to carry. (I know they are called something different now.)
So essentially, after a school year, a child could go from not really reading to reading at about a 3rd grade level. I haven't done it yet. But this is the first thing I've ever looked at (and believe me, I've looked at a lot) that makes me believe it is possible.
I don't expect Trina (age 5) to move that fast. I do expect Richard will. And I will be pairing up William and Thomas, my struggling readers, with their younger siblings... and I expect their reading to improve as well. I expect that Trina will probably finish out her kindergarten year still in the Discovery Stage (which is at least past a kindergarten reading level) and that she will finish up a couple months into first grade. We shall see though.
That doesn't even get into the writing portion of this program. Basically, the writing program moves you through a few stages as well.
Part 1: There are three main things you are focusing on here. First is keeping a class journal. Mom, you are the one writing this.
Another is summarizing stories. So every single day you are telling a story, and then working with your child to create a story summary. Phenomenal. And a major "duh" moment for me.
The other main thing is you are teaching the child to write the letters. I plan to have all five of my children doing this. Yes, even the teen. The older guys will be doing cursive.
Part 2: You continue the class journal, and the story summaries, with the student getting more involved. And you add copywork, with a "style" focus for each day. Those start off with concepts like ending punctuation and proper spacing, but eventually get into ideas like using quality adjectives. All five of my children will be doing this too. Yes, even the teen. He can roll his eyes at me all day long, I don't care. He is doing it anyway.
This section is also where you start using All About Spelling, which reinforces the phonograms and provides additional writing practice with single words and phrases. And, um, yes. All five will be doing this too. Good thing I already own six levels of All About Spelling. I'll be using at least three of them (I'm thinking of making Thomas and William do it together, and keeping Richard and Trina together as well.)
Part 3: This is teaching composition. I have to confess, even though this all seems so easy and straightforward and achievable, I have a hard time believing my 2nd grader will actually be doing this by the end of a year. But the lesson plans look straightforward and do-able. You teach how to outline, you teach summarizing from notes, writing a story (turning those story sequence charts into a written work instead of an oral one) and creative writing.
So besides the fact that of all the bazillions of learn-to-read programs I have looked at, this is the one that has actually made sense to me, why do I like this? Primarily because, like almost everything IEW puts out, this program is teaching ME. I haven't even spent 30 seconds using this program with my children, and I already feel it was worth every single penny I paid for it. Just for the teacher training.
The DVDs are phenomenal. Jill made me understand things about teaching reading that I had never before grasped. The mp3 talks are incredible. Connor (my 14 year old) was listening to one in the car with me a couple weeks back. He made me pause at one point, and he told me that he was jealous. Had I known half the stuff we were hearing in this seminar 8-9 years ago, I could have been doing this with HIM, and he wouldn't be struggling with writing the way he does.
But it is also in the teacher's materials. You go along, and in virtually every lesson there is a little box or note that describes some aspect of teaching this material.
IEW clearly cares about kids. But it is equally clear that they care about those kids' teachers too.
I know this sounds like a paid ad or something, but I simply cannot say enough good things about this program.
Disclaimer: I purchased everything mentioned in this post myself. I was under no obligation to ever tell anyone about it, or to be positive. I'm posting this because people keep asking me what I think of it, and I think it is fabulous and more people need to know about it.