What criteria should I use for picking a reading curriculum?
How do I pick a reading curriculum? I am overwhelmed by the options! I’ve asked in online groups and get the same 8 or 9 responses over and over again. What criteria do I use to pick one?
Homeschooling: 7 months
Kids ages 5 and 6
Choosing a reading curriculum can indeed be overwhelming. There are so many options! It is made more challenging, because which one is right (or wrong) for your learner depends on how they learn and process information. It can be hard to figure that out for reading before they are emergent readers. And let’s face it, this is an area where parents really care about choosing the perfect program right from the start, without a lot of trial and error.
There are four approaches to reading instruction.
When choosing reading curriculum, it can be helpful to understand the approach used by the curriculum developers. I define the four approaches below, and it might seem like overkill to do so, but some learners skew heavily in how they access and process words to either a systematic phonics or a whole language approach. I think it is helpful to have some idea of the different approaches if your child struggles to learn to read. I have personally worked with a whole language learner before, and a MUCH different approach for reading instruction was needed with him. Any time phonics was inserted into the lesson, he struggled.
1. Systematic Phonics explicitly teaches children grapheme-phoneme correspondences prior to emphasizing the meanings of written words. A few different versions of systematic phonics exist, but the most common version is called synthetic systematic phonics. With this approach, children learn the sound of letters in isolation, and then learn to blend the sounds together to form words.
2. Whole Language primarily focuses on the meaning of words presented in text. With this approach, educators provide a literacy rich environment and combine speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Children are taught the use of three cueing systems, graphophonemics, semantic, and syntactic-to guess words that they do not recognize. Whole Language typically includes some phonics, but the phonics instruction is often unsystematic and used when a child is unable to guess.
3. Structured Word Inquiry teaches morphological families with the help of a matrix and explicitly teaches grapheme-phoneme correspondences in that context, as well as etymological influences that make sense of spellings. Like Systematic Phonics, this approach breaks down words into parts, but rather than just focusing on grapheme-phoneme correspondences it highlights all regularities, including, but not limited to, the fact that morphemes (think word chunks like – ing here) are spelled consistently and the way that morphemes are combined in regular ways. As with Whole Language, it emphasizes the importance of meaning from the start, but it focuses on meanings of words, rather than texts. (Structured Word Inquiry is sometimes referred to as Whole Word Learning.)
4. Balanced Literacy is an approach that has long been common in the eclectic homeschool community. A Balanced Literacy approach combines parts of Systematic Phonics, Whole Language, and Structured Word Inquiry resources, starting with Whole Language in the preschool and/or kindergarten years, then evolving into Structured Word Inquiry or Systematic Phonics, while continuing to use parts of each approach to meet your child’s needs throughout their reading instruction.
Start with Your Learner
When someone tells you about a great reading program, that is sure to work for your child, they are basing that on the success their child had using the program. This may, or may not, translate into success for you. To help get more targeted recommendations from people whose children learn similarly to yours, I recommend giving information about how your child learns when asking for advice. Of course, this can be challenging to figure out if your child is just starting formal learning. There are some basic considerations to look for.
- The program should be engaging and motivating for your children. It sounds obvious, but choose a program that has reading material on topics your children want to learn about.
- The program should be appropriate for the student’s current reading level. If the program is too difficult, it will frustrate the student. If it is too easy, it will not challenge the student. There should be clear guidelines for when to scaffold to the next level.
- Get samples of the programs and have your children try them out. The reading program I used with my son was gifted to me (unasked for by me) from my mother-in-law, who I loved so much I gave it a try rather than tell her we didn’t use it. I thought it was the most boring program ever! My son loved it so much, he begged to do it, even on days we were not planning to do school.
- Consider whether the program can be adapted to meet individual learning needs. Can it be tailored to meet the unique needs of the reader?
- A robust multimodal program, one that includes videos, reading, writing, kinesthetic, and auditory, with a variety of activities and materials, is more likely to work for both your children. A multimodal program also takes a holistic approach to ELA learning that will benefit learning in every subject area.
Reading is such an important skill to master that it is common to be nervous about teaching your children to read. If you are nervous, make sure the program is also a good fit for you, “the teacher.” Even if you are not nervous, good teaching support materials should be considered essential.
- Choose a program that provides a good teachers’ manual with the support you need to implement the program effectively.
- Choose a program that was developed with homeschooling parents in mind. Programs that were developed strictly for the classroom often have activities and teaching methods that may not translate well to a homeschooling setting. They may make assumptions you had training implementing certain methodologies or incorporate resources that are readily available in a school setting but are less accessible to homeschoolers.
- Monitoring progress is important for you and your children. Look for programs that provide tools for tracking progress, such as assessments, benchmarks, or regular evaluations. This helps identify areas of improvement and adjust instruction accordingly.
- The curriculum should be based on the latest research on how children learn to read. This means that it should include explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The caveat to this being if you have a child who does not learn well with systematic phonics.
- A well-rounded program should cover a range of literacy skills, including phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. Balance is key to comprehensive reading development.
- Seek programs that are backed by research and have a track record of effectiveness. Look for studies or reviews that demonstrate the success of the program. Once you have narrowed your choices down, the SEA Homeschoolers Facebook Group is a great place to get testimonials. Just ask for the pros and cons of each possibility.
- Look for a program that gives information if you encounter challenges. Bonus points if there is some discussion about using the program if your children are not neurotypical.
My best advice is that once you find a program to give it some time and do not spend too much time second guessing your choice if your children find learning to read challenging. And of course: Read a lot to and with your children!
I hope these suggestions help! As Always, Much Love Blair
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