KINDERGARTEN & PRESCHOOL PILOT READING PROJECT

Our pilot study currently combines two curricula that have demonstrated success in teaching preschoolers how to read. We felt there was also a vacuum in kindergarten and wanted to apply the combo curriculum in both the kindergarten setting. For the second year, we are recommending that a third curriculum be added to further enhance reading vocabulary and cognitive development.

About 1/2 hour of class instructional time is required per day, emphasizing Frontline Phonics. This curriculum includes a powerful music-based component that helps students to learn letter names and sounds very quickly, as well as many fundamental phonic rules. Children can typically begin reading within just a few weeks. In addition, we recommend:

WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT

Teachers during Year 1 agreed that Frontline Phonics is the best curriculum they know of in teaching the letters and sounds. A rating of 4.6 on a 5-point scale (with 3 meaning AS GOOD AS anything they had ever used before) in "teaching letter sounds" means most teachers feel this curriculum is head and shoulders above anything they have ever seen. While Frontline Phonics teaches superb decoding skills, Reading Master and the Doman Picture Dictionaries can help students build their word recognition vocabulary and general knowledge base.

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None of the schools participating in Year 1 of the Early Reading Pilot Project used the combined curriculum exactly as recommended. Those implementing the pilot curriculum most closely to how it was recommended seem to have the greatest success Ė and, thus, rate the curriculum more highly overall in the Teacher Survey. For Year 2 several of the schools are making an effort to adjust their implementation more in line with original recommendations.

Frontline Phonics President John Lant points out that some teachers are not achieving as much success because they are not following the program as designed. Those teachers, for example, who say they have used the curriculum to teach all the letters and sounds before their students complete at least the first set of books are clearly not following the lesson plans because they are intended to go together.

Teachers who are teaching letters and sounds separate from the individual reading books are missing the primary power of the curriculum, he says. "One of the things that drives the program is that children start blending words and reading books after learning just a few letters. This really motivates them. They need to be reading words and they need to be reading books after just a handful of letters to reinforce these skills. If they do not follow the lessons as outlined, they wonít have the same results." However, even those teachers who did not use the curriculum as designed still said it was the best they have ever used.

Kindergarten teacher Kim Remsberg of the Entiat (Wash.) Elementary School says her students were "leaps and bounds above where they were last year. I couldnít be more pleased." She says some of her students knew no letters or sounds when they arrived at class, but with this program knew all letters and sounds by the end of the first quarter. By mid-January, she said most of her students were "emergent readers" able to "sound out many words" and do "a lot of blending. ... They donít have the problem theyíve had in the past with blends. Itís really been amazing."

Kindergarten teacher Teresa Wilkins from the Initiative Learning Center in Nampa, Idaho, says. "The kids really get into it. At first I thought, ĎThe boys arenít going to get into this.í But they really do enjoy it. ... I never had so many kindergartners reading so soon, so thatís exciting." Preschool teacher Diana Bradshaw, also from the Initiative Learning Center, only has her students 5 hours a week, but saw most of them learn all the letters and sounds -- and read the first set of 13 books.

Trish Fairbairn, kindergarten teacher at Selkirk (Wash.) Elementary School, says, "The children are further along than they have ever been." In January she noted, "There is only one kid in the whole class who is not reading. But usually by this time the kids are just barely starting Ö.  What I like best is that it gets them through so quickly. When I first saw that they had two letters a week, I didnít think they could do it," but early success with prebooks gets the children excited that they can read, and away they go.

Kari Arlint, kindergarten teacher at Rose Valley Elementary School in Kelso, Wash., was hindered by illness much of the first year, finally having to miss a couple months of class for surgery. In December, before she took her leave of absence, she already felt that "even the slow kids are 5-6 months ahead of where they would have been."

The music is one of the most important elements of the Frontline Phonics curriculum, she says. "The more they listen to the music, the more they like it. I was afraid they would get tired of it." She added that the curriculum and the early reading success encourage parental involvement. "Most parents are now involved Ė even those who obviously havenít been as involved with their children as they should have been in the past."

Ms. Arlint has developed puppets to go along with the curriculum so children can each, in turn, stand up with their puppet letter as the class reviews the alphabet or sings the curriculumís Alphabet Song. She also glued magnetic strips on the back of the letter figurines the children "earn" as they pass off each letter so the children can stick them on their refrigerators at home.

Boistfort (Wash.) Elementary School used the supplemental Reading Master curriculum much more than the other schools. Educators there were very excited about the Reading Master computerized curriculum, although they were struggling to find a good way to provide ongoing assessment of the childrenís reading progress achieved with that program. The Reading Master system expects children to absorb reading vocabulary over a period of time using the curriculum Ė not necessarily letter by letter or word by word in an organized fashion. It offers no regular teacherís manual with lesson plans to use in teacher-led instruction. Consequently, some teachers have been uncomfortable with its approach.

Boistfort educators, however, sent 5-6 preschoolers and kindergartners at a time to the library, where Nancy Reber oversees their use of Reading Masterís computerized curriculum. The expansion of vocabulary and the intellectual excitement caused by the program has the educators at Boistfort very pleased. They see the curriculum as much more than a reading program. The curriculum includes lessons on such topics as clouds, zoo animals, birds, astronomy, horses and cats Ė and in all of these subjects, it refuses to speak down to the children. The books include much information that most adults do not know.

"They are definitely learning a lot," says Mrs. Reber. Older students are "in awe" of what the younger students are learning through the program. For example, some overheard the younger children talking about different breeds of horses and how horses are measured in "hands." The younger children were trying to figure out how tall a Shetland pony is, using the hands method.

Mrs. Vandemeer, the special education teacher, has also found the curriculum to be very well received by her students. She has finally found a curriculum that seems to reach a fifth-grade autistic child who was not responding well to anything else. She feels Reading Master will be very valuable in helping her students with "holes" in their education. To help with assessment, she has developed a list of vocabulary words used in each book. She also has correlated the books a little better so non-fiction books and related fiction books in the curriculum support each other better in the development of reading vocabulary.

Several teachers in the Pilot Project have said the Frontline Phonics program needs more practice and review, so they have used other material from their files to supplement. However, Frontline Phonics has now added another set of books to correlate exactly with the initial Blue Readers. The new Orange Readers will help provide the additional practice Ms. Gjelten felt was missing. Some, however, still feel it needs more worksheets -- which is typically easier for teachers to find from other sources.

Debbie Clayton has a full-day ESL kindergarten class at Westgate Elementary School in Kennewick, Wash. Despite their English deficiencies, she said more than half of her students were already through the prebooks and halfway through the first set of 10 readers by mid-December. The book at that time already had 61 words in it. "This program helped my ESL students a great deal. Most of them learned the letters and sounds much quicker than in previous years. They also began to blend letters into words much sooner." she says.

Most of the children Ė including those who came to school without knowing more than a couple of letters Ė knew all the letters and sounds by Nov. 5 Ė "much quicker than ever before," she says. One of the students who made the most progress came to class without knowing any English whatsoever. He seemed to have no problem learning to understand the language at the same pace that he learned to read his new language.

Mrs. Clayton spends 20-25 minutes each afternoon in group instruction of Frontline Phonics, particularly emphasizing the musical portions of the curriculum. "The kids love the ABC songs," she says. She then has four para-educators come in for 1 hour a day to work with the children Ĺ hour on reading and Ĺ hour on math. In the morning she uses the Open Court curriculum with the children, which is a curriculum she has used for several years.

Bonnie Moorhouse of Westgate Elementary is also using both Frontline Phonics and Open Court, and she feels the two work well together. "Open Court can be kind of boring by itself," she says. "I like how fast Frontline Phonics goes along, and I love the music." She also likes the motivation provided when children earn little figurines for learning the name and sound of a letter. Mrs. Moorhouse says the biggest problem in using Frontline Phonics and Open Court is confusion when she is not teaching the same letter with each curriculum.

Debbie Dammel of Wilson Creek Elementary School said the children love the music and benefit so much from it that she copied the music to send home with her students. Debbie also used the Reading Master videos, running them as children arrive to the classroom. During the last quarter the school decided to see how well their preschool children could do with Frontline Phonics. The younger children were able to make so much progress that the school decided next year to begin using the curriculum the first quarter of preschool rather than wait. They plan to finish some of the curriculum in kindergarten as they then begin a new curriculum. "We feel this will give the incoming kindergarten students a very strong start (before) their kindergarten year and expect all to be reading by the end of the year," Ms Dammel said.

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