Monday, February 28, 2011

Crew Review: I See Sam books by Academic Success For All Learners

My baby (yes, I know he's five, but he's my last) is starting to read!!!!!

Levi's new friends Mat, Nat, Nan, Ann and Mit are the ones to thank.  He was introduced to this case of characters in December when I started using the I See Sam books that we recieved as part of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew.  These books are published by Academic Success For All Learners to review.

The company: The I See Sam books are the results of decades of work at Utah State University's federally funded grant program and Dr. Alan Hofmeister (link to a YouTube video of an interview).  The company seems committed to getting kids reading from the pre-reading stage of phonological awareness (being able to recognize that there are a variety of sounds in a word and being able to break those sounds apart and put them back together again) through fluency. Additionally, Academic Success has developed products for spelling, math, and behavior.

Look for the symbol on the left.  It will take to to a variety of free downloads the company offers (they start at about page 3 of the store's site). These support materials can help you decide if this will be a helpful tool with your child.

You can also visit their YouTube channel for more information.

What I received:


At first I was planning on using the set of books with Luke, who is struggling with reading consistency.  Some days he botches simple words like "the" yet other days he can read 3-syllable or more words!  In the long run, however, I decided to take Levi along on this ride, and I'm so glad I did.

The books incrementally introduce children to the phonograms (the written representation of sounds) of English through the silly antics of animal friends Mat, Nat, Nan, Mit and Ann (those are the friends we've met so far -- oh, and the poor teddy bear that Levi pointed out, "Mom, he doesn't have a name!").  Each book is set up like this:
  1. You introduce the targeted sounds to the child by pointing to a single letter or two-letter phonogram (an example is "th") and have the child say the sound (or repeat after you if they don't yet know it).  You stay on this page until the child can sound out the phonogram with 100% accuracy.
  2. Next, you introduce the targeted words for the book.  This involved blending and "mushing" the sounds of the letters together to say a word.  Levi has never had trouble with the blending part of reading, since this is a skill we have practiced a lot in his young life.  However, for some kids, getting from saying the three sounds of s-i-t to blending the sounds to create a word can be difficult. The placement and assessment manual guide you to stay on this page until the child also achieves 100% accuracy.
  3. Now you are ready to read the story.  I find that covering up the picture helped Levi to focus on the words first.  We'd uncover the picture (almost like a prize for reading the words correctly) after he finished the page and before moving on to the next page.  By doing this, I was sure Levi was actually sounding out and reading the characters' names instead of using the draw picture to recognize the characters and guessing at the name used in the text.
  4. After reading the story (we usually read each story twice or more depending on the ease with which he completed the story), there is a section that helps prepare the child for the phonograms and words being introduced in the next storybook.  Again, no errors is the goal.
  5. At the end of every sixth or so book is an assessment.  These are sentences using some of the targeted word and phonograms that the child is to read before moving on to the next book.  If a child does not reach the criteria (thankfully printed at the bottom of the page), you go back to the first book after the last assessment test.  For example, if there was an assessment at book 6 and 13 and your child missed a few words on the book 13 assessment, then you return to book 7 and read through those to build more fluency.
Here is a YouTube video of a teacher/tutor working through one of the books with the children (she's holding a Big Book, which is identical to the Little Books that we recieved for our review):

    You can thumb page-by-page through one of the books here.

    My impressions:  Overall, I'm very happy to have this set of books to give Levi a boost in his reading skills.  It certainly has built a sense of accomplishment in him and he looks forward to reading.  I appreciate that he and I can sit with the book only, yet all the teacher/tutor prompts are written in small type for me at the bottom of the page.  I don't have to juggle an instructor's guide on my lap.  I See Sam books stress giving positive feedback for reading success and attempts, so little smiley faces are put at the bottom of pages to remind you to praise the child.  Comprehension questions are asked as well (again, printed on the bottom of the page). 

    We've also enjoyed the option to do some review with just the sets of flashcards.  Flashcards are provided for the individual phonograms as well as for the words themselves.  The cards come with colored rubberbands which remind you to review harder words/sounds more often than those the child can read easily.  Levi like seeing cards that he had trouble with be moved to the "easy" pile.  It certainly is a good feeling to see that pile shrink.

    After using this for over a month and a half, we've have sort of hit a stumbling block with some of the words in the story.  I can tell Levi has learned to sound out many new words, put the sounds together, and gain meaning from them.  But there are some words that I can tell he's memorized as sight words, and I want to be sure that we don't head down the whole-word path. Now, I'm not saying that this program is a whole-word program.  I'm honestly not sure if I'll continue using this with Levi to teach him to read, or if we'll use the books as easy readers as he gains phonics skills through a different program.  I'd like to be able to finish the first set of books with him so we can "graduate" from this set of books, I neet to be sure whatever I use with Levi will be phonics based and will lead smoothly into spelling and reading fluency.

    I am planning on  developing a strategy to use these books to help Luke with his reading.  I just haven't quite figured out how, but I'll let you know!


    You can see what other reviewers said at the TOS Review Crew!

    Happy reading,



    FCC disclaimer:  Thank you to Academic Success for All Learners for the opportunity to check out your product.  I received a kit from I See Sam in exchange for my honest review of the material -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. No other compensation was awarded.

    1 comment:

    Very Blessed Mamma said...

    great thorough review.
    We are still in the first set too. i have wondered if my son has remembered some of the words, but I guess we do too. We don't sound out all of our words. But I can always sho him the same words in another place, and he can still sound them out. So I think it has really helped my son.
    I hope you figure out a way to make it work for you.