I highly recommend PhonicsTutor if you have children who are learning how to read. We have a set of Bob Books at home, and my son Jonathan was able to read the first two Bob Books by himself after just finishing his second lesson in PhonicsTutor!
PhonicsTutor is a complete phonics, reading, and spelling curriculum based on Sam Blumenfeld's Alpha-Phonics book. PhonicsTutor teaches the phonograms (the sounds of letters and letter combinations), and then presents word groups that use those phonograms. Each word is broken down into its individual phonograms before saying the whole word. There is a phonics drill, a reading drill, a pronunciation drill, and a spelling drill for each word in the list. Capitalization and punctuation rules are also integrated into the program, which contains over 600 sentences. The student is required to type correctly, so he learns where each letter is on the keyboard at the same time. All this, in only 15 minutes a day!
PhonicsTutor is easy to use, both for the student and for the teacher. It is self-paced, self-explanatory, and simple enough for my 5-year-old to do by himself. It requires no preparation or grading time. Everything is repeated until the student gets it right. I like the fact that PhonicsTutor is based on the traditional Orton-Gillingham phonograms. I had tried other phonics programs, but their methods seemed too complicated and/or unnatural.
With its basic color scheme of large black letters on a white background, PhonicsTutor is not a showy program - but it isn't boring, either. The phonograms and words are spoken by pleasant-sounding people. (Usually it's a man or a woman, but every once in a while we hear the voice of a little girl.) Since PhonicsTutor contains no silly songs or cartoon characters, it is suitable for children of all ages and adults. In fact, my neighbor who came from Mexico and didn't learn to read English very well has used it successfully. In addition, when my 2-year-old is playing in the same room while we are using the PhonicsTutor program, he listens along and repeats the sounds, so it has helped him learn some words as well. PhonicsTutor really works!
The PhonicsTutor CD-ROM stands alone, but a Teacher's Manual, Student Reader, and Workbook are also available with additional activities to expand on and review what was learned in the PhonicsTutor lessons. For more information, and to download a demo, go to www.phonicstutor.com.
Following are some questions from readers, with my answers:
Q. "I have a few questions about the phonics program you reviewed. How much does it cost? Is it suitable to help a struggling reader, no matter what age? What can you expect a child to be able to do when they are finished with the course, such as what grade level will they be reading and spelling at?" (From Kelly, via e-mail)
A. PhonicsTutor's list price of $104.95 sounds expensive until you realize that it contains enough lessons to last from kindergarten to third grade. [CBD sells PhonicsTutor for $99.99.] While most phonics programs are geared for 4-7 year-olds, this one is uniquely designed to meet the needs of struggling older children and non-reading adults as well. They say that most students, after completing the Phonics Tutor curriculum, test in at least a fourth grade reading level or higher. PhonicsTutor has a reputation of teaching students of all ages to read when other methods have failed. Special education teachers and dyslexia experts highly recommend it for dyslexia and other reading disabilities. There are some excellent testimonials, reviews, and additional information about the program at www.phonicstutor.com.
Q. "I'm trying to make some final decisions on curriculum and I have a question for you about the Phonics Tutor program you reviewed. I've been using Teaching Reading at Home and I do like the phonics based teaching and how she ties all of language arts in with the program. I find that it just takes so much time for each lesson and I'm thinking about using something different. I looked at Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Lessons, but I read that it was weak in spelling. I'm just wondering if there is something that does basically the same thing as TRH, but not quite as time consuming. Did you try TRH or have you heard of it? How do you think it compares with Phonics Tutor? Does PH incorporate writing and penmanship? I know how well Peter writes and reads and I know how talented his mom is, so I do regard your opinion very highly.:) So, when you have a chance I would appreciate any thoughts you may have on this." (From Priscilla, via e-mail)
A. I have to admit, I didn't formally teach Peter phonics or anything like that. But Peter was always interested in books, and when he was two years old he started reading! The only thing I did was read to him often (mostly Dr. Seuss books--those were his favorites and he made me read the same ones over and over again), and I guess he naturally picked up on it. Jon was just the opposite, it's hard to get him to sit down long enough to read to him. When Jon got to be five and he still didn't know how to read, I had no idea how to even go about teaching phonics. I was glad when I found Phonics Tutor, because Jon likes working on the computer, and he's been doing good at learning to read that way.
I'm not familiar with Teaching Reading at Home, so I can't compare it to Phonics Tutor. I had looked at How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, but there was something I didn't like about it. Personally, I think any curriculum that can be done on the computer (if it's a good program) is less time-consuming and easier on everybody. Phonics Tutor takes 10-15 minutes per session. You can sit and watch them if they need prodding or encouragement, or once they get the hang of it, they can do it on their own. Jon just goes into the computer room and says "I'm going to do my phonics now."
Phonics Tutor contains 128 lessons, each divided into 8 sections (presentation, reading, saying, spelling, etc.) The phonograms and words are repeated and drilled until you're sure to know them. It covers sounds, reading, spelling, sentences, capitalization and punctuation, although since it's all done on the computer, it does not include penmanship. For that I would recommend ReadyWriter by the Providence Project. It's a great handwriting curriculum incorporating character-building Bible verses on colorful pages. It's basically a series of worksheets on which the kids practice, practice, and practice. I like the pretty, detailed illustrations (farm scenes, flowers, etc.) on which the child completes each picture by drawing lines, loops, criss-crosses, curves, circles, etc. This develops their pencil control in preparation for writing the actual letters. It's fun, kind of like a coloring book, but they're learning important stylus skills.
A Testimonial from a Reader:
"Your product review always makes me want to go out and get what ever it is. By the way, Melissa is doing so well with Phonics Tutor, we love it! Phonics Tutor, and the workbooks I got to go with it, are great! Melissa likes it, but better than that, I love it! It was like pulling teeth to get Melissa to do the other program I was using, and it was alot more work on my part. She is really progressing quickly. Her writing, spelling and language skills have improved greatly." (From Kelly Maynard, via e-mail)
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