After reading some feedback from a recent survey I performed on the Reading Bear website, it strikes me that some people don’t understand how to use the site, despite the availability of help with this, including a help video.
I think I understand the trouble people are having. The trouble is that there are many different options and many ways through the same material. So what I think I need to do is to add a section to the help page explaining about use cases–in other words, advice to people in particular situations. Here’s a draft for your more immediate consumption, addressed to teachers, homeschoolers, and parents of very small children.
What path should I take through Reading Bear?
How you should use Reading Bear depends on your situation. Let’s address some cases.
As a classroom supplement for a phonics program. Suppose you’ve already got a rigorous phonics curriculum in your pre-K, Kindergarten, or First Grade class, and you don’t want to give up the curriculum, but Reading Bear looks great to you. In that case, you’d take a few minutes out to match, as best as you can, the scope and sequence of your program to the Reading Bear scope and sequence. Not all phonics programs follow the same methods or introduce the same rules, but there are often similarities or useful overlap. For maximum use in individual workstations, have your kids begin with “Sound It Out Slowly” and, if they find they don’t need that preliminary practice, tell them to switch to “Sound It Out Quickly.” If they don’t need words sounded out for them, then have them switch to “Let Me Sound It Out.” If they can already decode the words in a set, and you want to use Reading Bear for reinforcement, then they could use “Silent Flashcards,” the review presentations, and the quizzes for that. Note that the reviews and the quizzes are different (randomized) each time you open them. The sentences and videos in “Audio Sentences” can be used as a little reinforcing treat, if students like them. Finally, if the students are advanced and just want some fun practice, they can use “Silent Sentences.” While the sentences are not leveled, they are at a low (1st-3rd grade) reading level. If students get stuck on a word, they can simply click on it and the pronunciation dictionary both sounds out and blends the word.
As a classroom supplement for a whole language program. If your class has only limited exposure to phonics, and your focus is more on student reading of leveled texts and teacher read-alouds, then you might want to use Reading Bear–which is 100% free–as a quick, efficient introduction to systematic phonics. When we have finished creating our presentations (we’re hard at work, but it takes time!), the site will teach a complete set of phonics rules following a painless, yet effective and proven method (it is basically a digital version of Flesch’s method from Why Johnny Can’t Read). We recommend that you use the procedure outlined here (see “Steps to Follow”). In individual work stations, let students understand that they should stay on a presentation only as long as they have to. If they have mastered a set of words, and are getting 14 or 15 out of 15 on the quiz for a presentation, then move on. We are confident that with just 10 minutes a day, your little readers could be recognizing words with renewed confidence.
As a resource for remedial work. A number of remedial reading educators have praised Reading Bear. It is well-known that what many poor readers need is to have the phonics rules of written English made extremely clear. They also often have trouble blending words. While Reading Bear is a brand new program and so no studies have yet been done, these problems are things that it seems we can help with. Reading Bear is, first and foremost, a systematic phonics site. Rule are simple, and typically illustrated with a few dozen examples. Our emphasis is on making phonics rules second nature. We also do something that no other free phonics program does–sound out every word that is introduced, at two speeds, and blend it slowly, before reading it at full speed. This teaches both the individual parts of words and how they come together as a whole. So we believe Reading Bear’s unique strength, along with its combination of phonics and vocabulary work, is in its power to teach blending. We are sure that remedial reading instructors are capable of determining how best to use the resources of Reading Bear, but we recommend that students be allowed to go through the program at their own pace, not moving forward until they have achieved mastery. “Mastery” here means reading words rapidly and accurately, without sounding them out, or sounding them out only “in the head.”
One last thing to teachers. A couple teachers have complained that Reading Bear moves too fast. In their classwork, some teachers can spend a long time on a single word, and they can’t get past the fact that Reading Bear, even in the “Sound It Out Slowly” setting, covers a single word in a half-minute at most. If there is a disagreement here, it is methodological. But first, we do assume that students have completely mastered the consonant sounds and do not have any trouble reproducing a sound immediately on seeing a letter. Once students are at that comfort level with the letters, the Reading Bear method can teach students a rule rather than teaching words. For purposes of teaching a rule, going through many examples quickly and explicitly, with the aim of making use of the rule automatic, is more effective than a slower, analytical pace. If a student has indeed mastered the consonant sounds and then learns the short /a/ sound from the Reading Bear presentation, she should have no trouble decoding the words. She will not have to memorize individual words.
As a homeschooling program for complete beginners. Reading Bear is perfect for one-on-one work. You work at your own pace. But we do not start at the very beginning. The first step to learning to read, using phonics, is to gain absolute mastery of the letter sounds–not just familiarity, but mastery. So if your students cannot reproduce the sounds of the consonants instantly (the vowels don’t matter so much, because they are highly variable and are taught in phonics), you could have them practice the consonants with books or with these videos. When they can instantly and reliably say the most common sounds (hard c, hard g) of any consonant upon being presented with it, they’re ready for Reading Bear. Once they’re ready, if they’re between 4 and 6, we recommend easing students into the program with “Sound It Out Slowly,” gradually switch to “Sound It Out Quickly” and “Let Me Sound It out,” and aim for mastery. They’ll pick up the rules automatically after they see many examples. Don’t go onto the next presentation until your student really understands the previous one and can read the words without pausing to sound them out. The rules are cumulative after the first five, so there are definite advantages to doing them in order. If you’re using Reading Bear as a supplement to your main phonics program, however, you might want to do them “out of order”–see above under “As a classroom supplement for a phonics program.”
As an early-education program for preschoolers, toddlers, and even babies. Reading Bear is highly visual and introduces its information explicitly and at a pace that can hold the interest of the very young–your mileage may vary, but we know of many small children who sit still for Reading Bear. Very young children are at a golden age in which they can absorb complex information effortlessly. This is how they learn to speak without any lessons–and even in multiple languages, or sign language. Writing is, after all, just another and rather clearer form of this very complex phenomenon we call language. If you think about it, there is no reason to suppose small children are incapable of decoding written language if they can pick up French, Spanish, or Mandarin, or sign language, along with spoken English. Moreover, this is the experience of a rapidly growing community of people who use methods like Glenn Doman’s and products like Your Baby Can Read.
While there is no hard-nosed research on methods of teaching babies to read (see this discussion), there is a lot of individual experience shared in books like Doman’s (and one by Timothy Kailing) and in the BrillKids.com Forums. Reading Bear can be used with some of these methods. Simply playing one part (i.e., the A, B, C, etc. parts under the title) of the “short a” presentation using the “Sound It Out Slowly” setting to a two-year-old, once per day, can be enough to let the child infer phonics rules and, eventually, learn to read. But by itself, Reading Bear is unlikely to have this effect. The child should be exposed to his ABCs and letter sounds and be read to daily, and in other ways benefit from a rich language environment. It also helps greatly to point to the words as you read them to your child, even a very small child who can’t read at all. Finally, don’t expect immediate, dramatic results, and don’t test your child–doing so tends to put small children off, and increase stress levels, we have found. Simply think of your early language development tasks–including use of Reading Bear–as just fun enrichment activities, and enjoy the journey.