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.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    God Spotting: In the Bible


    Today is a day that I"ll fall behind in my Bible reading.  My oldest caught a stomach bug, I got distracted by homeschooling legislation threading its way through our state.  And today had Psalm 119 -- 170-ish verses, which I think makes it the longest chapter in the Bible (plus the other 20 ish or so Psalms to read).

    My husband asks at least once a week, "Are you able to absorb anything?" since I'm ready approximately 12 pages of the Bible a day (which ranges from 10-14 or so chapters of the Bible daily;  now that I'm in Psalms, it seems to be about 20 or so chapters from this specific book per day).  What I'm getting out of reading the Bible at this pace is:

    • A feeling of accomplishment!  I've wanted to read the Bible through for over a decade, and this is the furthest I've gotten - 45% through! [yes, I realize how me-centered this reason is]
    • A sense of themes in the Bible.  Reading the amount I'm reading in the limited time I have doesn't give me much opportunity to ponder Biblical details.  I'm seeing grand themes:  God sovereignty, holiness, perfect plan in every situation, redemption, and the depravity of man desperately in need of a savior.
    • My reading in the Psalms have made me acutely aware of how absolute big, huge, gargantuan God is.  He has planned every part of the atom, every cell in every creature, every planet, star, mountain, creek and ocean......and he still answers our prayers, carries us through difficulties, and yearns to be in relationship with us.
    • I'm building an anticipation towards Jesus.  
    I realize I've not uncovered anything new to a Biblical scholar or student of the Bible.  But, it has been a blessing to reflect on what can potentially be gained while sprinting through the Bible.  I'm very glad to be working toward this goal.



    Monday, February 14, 2011

    Another Try at Organizing Our Day

    I'm sheepishly admitting that we aren't necessarily consistent in our strategies to track progress through our daily schoolwork. I mean, I keep an assignment book for the kids.  But I do intent to teach my children how to redirect themselves to the next task in their day. 

    Last year I made a weak attempt at pseudo-workboxes.  I decided to organize our "boxes" in file folders, and I've actually kept that system for my middle son, Luke, and youngest, Levi.  This year I purchased an assignment book for Ben from URTheMom.  That has mostly been successful;  we meet on Monday mornings to put his assignments into his book.  Most weeks, I let him divide his reading up as he wishes.

    At the end of the school supply season, I happened upon two small pocket charts at Target for about 75 cents apiece.  They had been patiently waiting for their purpose until I had a brainstorm over Christmas vacation.  They are now used for our assignment charts:


    The cards are from a download temlate at Avery.  They are nametag badges.  I printed the subject that needed to be completed on one side and then on the badge template just to the right, I created an outline of the subject with the word DONE boldy printed across it like this:


    This weekend I have to laminate the cards so that they won't flop open.  The system has been working great;  we are trying to get back into it because we had family visiting for two weeks. 

    What I like -- and what all my boys like -- is that they are feeling a sense of accomplishment when they turn over a card. Even for my oldest who has his assignment book, we've put items like "math drill" on a card so that it doesn't get lost amongst all the other assignments.  For my Lukie, it helps him stay focused and he ends up being a good reminder: "Mom, it's time to do Bible!" and I don't mind if he's telling me what to do next for school.  To make the boys happy, we made cards that say "snack."  They made their own cards that say "Adventures in Odyssey" so that we don't miss listening to that.  The best outcome is that I made a card that said, "Read Aloud."  We're back to making progress through some favorite read alouds.  Right now, we're working through a book I scored at a recent trip to Goodwill:  a three book combined volume treasury of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. 

    Honestly, I don't know how long this organization system will last.  With my luck, it'll last about 3 days after I spend all the time laminating the cards. :)  But, at least we're trying.
    .

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    Rethinking and Retooling Our Dialect Education

    I'm planning on using this blog post as a mental clipboard of all my thoughts about the Dialectice stage of learning. Some who read this blog might not know what I'm talking about when I refer to "stages" of learning or "dialectic level."  In that case, I'm providing a link to a wonderful article by Ms. Dorothy Sayers called "The Lost Tools of Learning." It is rather long, but those who are homeschooling or considering homeschooling or who are wanting to be actively involved in their children's education and instruction should carve out the time to read this.  It may strike you as a foreign way to think about education, but it certainly has passed the test of time more than our current educational models.

    Briefly the dialectic stage of learning is the logic or argumentative stage of learning (no, we don't really argue a lot).  We are learning the "If...thens" of our subjects.  We are figuring out the connections between information.  And, we are learning logic -- like formal logic:  if a is equal to b, and c is equal to b, then......you get the picture.

    This stage of learning generally begins in 5th grade through 8th grade.  Someone told me that it begins when children begin growing hair in places other than their head.  Another person said it begins when kids start arguing with you all the time.  Well, regardless of that the precursor was, I know we're in the dialectic level.

    Last year was a transition year for Ben.  I assigned some dialect reading to him from our history/literature/geography/worldview program Tapestry of Grace,but we did not focus on forming the connections in our reading -- mostly we just stuck to the facts.   Honestly, my attentions were more focused on helping him with math (we encountered a fraction hiccup and spent a lot of time going over and over fractions until he got it) and helping his brother with his reading.


    But somewhere around September/ October this year (Ben's 6th grade year) I realized that the dialect years aren't just "coast" years for me as a teacher -- they are very important.  My goal for my children's education has been to glorify the Lord and prepare them to serve Him however He has gifted them, but it has also been to create thinkers and learners.  To that end, I need to engage Ben in discussions, guide him in notetaking, and help him organize his ideas to answer more challenging questions -- in writing.  [side note:  Ben is a minimalist.  He's a smart guy, but puts forth the minimal amount of effort in any work that requires writing.]

    Therefore I've been overhauling how we complete our studies this year.  In some ways, it resembles how school used to be when he was a 1st or 2nd grader:  a lot more cuddle on the couch time, reading and discussing together.  Then I send him off to write paragraphs for me about what we've discussed, or I send him off to finish a simple outline from a book.  I'm much more hands on this year than I was last year, and I'm happy (and exhausted) with the plan.

    More to follow.....

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    A Monday in All Her Glory

    I Hate Monday Graphics

    1. Ben woke up late for his paper route. Accidently set the alarm for 6pm instead of am.  I use the term "woke up" in a general sense --- he wouldn't have woken up if his dad hadn't woken him up.
    2. Not only did he wake up late by half an hour, he was half an hour late finishing his paper route.  Dave tracked him down and he was no worse for wear.

    3. As we are working on writing out his assignments for the week, he breaks down in tears and just wants to go back to bed.  I wrestle with this idea.  I mean, we've had company for the past 12 days, and *really* need to find normal again.  I actually planned out lessons for this week.  If he goes to bed, these plans will get totaly ruined and we'll be behind before we get started.

    4. I let the kid sleep.  He's wiped out.  Besides, I might have to take a nap later in the afternoon.


    5. In typical Monday fashion, Luke, my little love, performs his reading lesson as if he's never read a word in his life.  I cannot tell you how many reading programs I tried for him, but there has to be *something* out there for him.  I'm going to try ElizabethB's The Phonics Page lessons.  He can regroup in math, though!

    6. Did I mention I woke up in the middle of the night with a sore throat.  I know where that is headed...