Monday, September 26, 2016

Spencer Learning Ultimate Phonics Reading Program {REVIEW}

Ultimate Phonics Reading Program {Spencer Learning}
Mr. B is a really good reader when it comes to reading for content and understanding. He can read a college text for goodness sake. So when I had him take the test for the Ultimate Phonics Reading Program by Spencer Learning, I really did not expect him to need the program. Well, color me surprised when I realized he was stumbling over some words, adding in words, or just leaving them out all together. I had no idea! 
What is the Ultimate Phonics Reading Program?

This program is a license download that you can use on any computer in  your home, at your convenience. It is not streamed online, though if it was I think that would be fantastic! It can be used as a core program to teach phonics and reading to beginners, or it can supplement your current reading program. It helps to teach more efficient reading, even for those who can already read, or it can be a standalone to teach reading right from the start. It's good for kids, those trying to learn English, and even adults. I'm reviewing it from a special needs learner point of view. 
Ultimate Phonics Reading Program {Spencer Learning}
How did we use this?

As I mentioned above, I first had Mr. B take the reading test. This is NOT a placement test. You will not receive a reading level, etc. based off this test. This test is just words and a story that your student will read out loud to determine how well he or she reads. Like I said before, Mr. B can easily read college level texts, and does so frequently. BUT he skims over words, adds in words, or reads the wrong words. He uses context for meaning and understanding, so I never knew there was a problem. 
After finding out there WAS a problem (and being shocked, I fully admit this) we downloaded the program and got to work. I had Mr. B start at the very beginning just to see what that was like, but he found it too easy. You can navigate through the lessons on your own, so I was able to look for a more suitable starting point for him. 
Here is a screen snip of the first lesson. 

And here is one of a later lesson, for comparison. 

You can see the similarities that lead to a cohesive lesson format. I like how you can see what lesson you are on at the bottom, as well as what page. You can also see what subsection you are on within the lesson, and the page count for that, as well. This was great for Mr. B so he could see how much more he had to do. At the top are the navigation controls. You can choose a lesson, move between the pages and subtopics, etc. 

Each lesson has 6 different pages that include:

-Sight Words
-Word List

Each page as pages within, that you can move through.

As you move over a word with your cursor, that word is read to you. Mr. B didn't like that part because it was choppy and robotic. I didn't like it because kids with echolalia could start repeating what they hear, in the same robotic manner. A more natural choice would be great. A way to click on an icon and have the entire word/sentence read, while highlighting each part, with proper inflection and emotion would be best for those with autism or speech delays.

The process of finding which lesson to start on was a bit trial and error for us. It would be GREAT if the reading test could provide some insight into starting level. There is a search feature, so if you are using it as a supplemental program or know what you need, you can easily search for that. There's also a Scope and Sequence file you can download. Unfortunately for us, none of that really helped me figure out where he needed to start. I could see how both of those features would be great for others, but his skill level was spread about a bit, so I couldn't figure out where to start him. I was able to use the scope and sequence to pinpoint specific lessons such as Long Vowel Sounds IE (Chief,) but he knows these words already. His problem is trying to read too quickly and saying chef instead of chief. He knows the difference in the words if you put them side by side, but when he's reading he doesn't slow down to really LOOK at the word. He has the sounds down, he needs help in slowing down to differentiate those sounds. So I'm not sure if that is a visual processing thing, or a phonics weakness. I'm leaning towards a visual processing thing. 

 Here is an image of the Scope and Sequence. It is very much like a map of the lessons, and really goes a long way into helping you decide where to start. But for us, I still needed to just pick and choose here and there on our own. We ended up starting with 57-58, then skipped to 73 which were more blends like ng. He needed a bit more time on words like "length" for spelling reasons. He could read it, say it, and understand it. The upper end of lessons is a much better fit for him, for spelling. He can read all of those words with ease, but he has a problem with spelling them. So this has helped with that.


Overall, this isn't your average phonics program at all. Once you purchase your license, you have access to ALL lessons. That's good if your student moves quickly (like Mr. B has done,) or if you need to start somewhere other than the beginning (again, like Mr. B.) I can see how this would be GREAT to teach reading to a beginner or struggling reader. This would have been great for Mr. B during his early phonics time, and it helped me to identify his reading issue. This would also be a great addition to a speech therapy program. His issue isn't a lack of weak phonics necessarily, but more of a lack of attention to detail, so I am better able now to address the problem and help him. It's a really nice program for those who need help with phonics-which is the great majority if students with poor reading skills. Our situation is just an anomaly in that his problem isn't with the phonics, but with sloppy style. I will continue using the program to reinforce the more advanced lessons-like silent letters, and double consonants, as I think this will help his spelling issues, and perhaps overtime it will also help him to stop and identify the words before just auto-assuming he is reading the correct word.

Does Spencer Learning Ultimate Phonics Reading Program Pass My 4 Ingredient Test?

1.) Customization: Is it easily adaptable? Can we customize it to fit “us?” Can we modify or set our own schedule? Can we take breaks, jump ahead, or flat out skip?

It is VERY easy to customize and start where you need. You can follow your own schedule, and take breaks as needed. It is not streamed online, so you are in full control. On the flip side, it's not streamed online, so you must download and install it on a computer. So if you need to take it on the go, you have to take that computer with you. I think it would be GREAT to be able to stream online on a laptop or tablet. This would have been very convenient for us. 

2.) Value: Is it long lasting? Will it cover multiple grade ranges? Are you locked in to one specific grade level? Are there hidden fees?

There are NO hidden fees. This will help students who are just learning to read all the way up to adults. It is not flashy, cartoon'ish, or childish at all. The total focus is on education. You have access to all lessons. I think a little flash would appeal to younger students, so if there would ever be a way to maybe add optional rewards after so many lessons are done, that'd be a great addition!

3.) Attention span: Is it boring? Is it engaging? Is it varied enough for ADHD? Does it last too long? 

Lessons are short and sweet, but it's not that varied. The lessons are all the same, they just increase in difficulty. There are various subtopics in each lesson, but it's repetitive in nature. This is both good and bad for those with ADHD. Structure is good, but the monotonous robotic voice as you move over the words could lead to boredom. It could lead to distraction or stimming in ADHD and autism because you can accidentally move the cursor and hear it. I could see an ASD student getting stuck in an auditory stim loop moving the cursor back and forth over a specific sound or word. Like I mentioned before, a way to disable that feature and just have the entire sentence read with normal inflection, and the words or word parts highlighted, would be better for special needs learners.  Mr. B did not like the robotic sounding voice, and I personally think that could be a negative for those with echolalia, also. 

4.) Does it tie into other things we already have.

It can be used to supplement other reading programs. 

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Ultimate Phonics Reading Program {Spencer Learning}

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