Thursday 9 April 2015

Reading Schemes for Struggling Readers

Some children seem to learn to read effortlessly but for others, reading is one of the most difficult things they have to do. I have posted before about some pluses and minuses of reading schemes for home educators. This post is about reading schemes for children who find reading challenging or who are likely to find reading difficult. I mean children who have
  • siblings/parents with dyslexia/reading/spelling difficulties
  • speech challenges

I'm no expert just a home educating parent in the trenches!

This isn't about getting advice as to why a child is having difficulty although for peace of mind and help to know the extent and nature of a child's difficulties, it may well be wise to have a formal assessment.

Anyway, onto schemes. I have only had experience of the first two but have added the other two as these may be useful for comparison. These are reading schemes not spelling schemes.

Toe by Toe
Toe by Toe is a UK produced book for parents, teachers and anyone else working with children with dyslexia and other reading problems. It is designed to be used by the non-specialist and starts right from the beginning, with the letter sounds. It is not designed to be used as an initial reading scheme for a 4-5 year old and is recommended for children 7+ and has been used with adults who need a remedial scheme.

Toe by Toe is pedantic and insists on being used as instructed in the book. Everything has to be read correctly three times with each reading being 24 hours apart. There is loads of practice including nonsense words. The book is logical and structured. Yes, and it seems to work. The book claims to work for dyslexic people who improve "toe by toe" and the book does what it says on the label. The time to complete the book varies but one year is said to be about average.

The book is designed to be used for 15-20 minutes a day. I don't use a timer but we work for that sort of length of time.

  • The book works and doesn't assume that a child has understood or can read better than they actually can.
  • Slow and systematic. No introducing of three concepts in a day. 
  • There is space for extra practice where a word is causing trouble.
  • Toe by Toe isn't exciting. It works but it is daily drill. We use it after I have read a book aloud and before we do some collaborative reading. Keeping up interest seems to be almost as important as working on the mechanics.
  • The book is consumable. I would beware of a second hand book unless it is absolutely unmarked.
  • The font isn't large. It might be wise to make sure that eyesight has been checked first.
At £25 Toe by Toe seems expensive but for children who may otherwise need tutors, this is a small price to pay. One lesson with a tutor might outweigh the cost of the book.

Dancing Bears is part of a series of books from Sound Foundations Books.

This publisher produces a variety of books for teaching reading. Dancing Bears is where I would start if I were teaching another child to read and is designed for young children. This part of the series can be used for children with and without a specific learning difficulty.

 Dancing Bears works systematically through synthetic phonics and CVC words but does assume knowledge of letter sounds.

Other parts of the series include Bearing Away which is a manual to use with children with learning difficulties who haven't learned basic letter sounds and Bear Necessities which is the "industrial strength" version of Dancing Bears. 

The authors of these books (I imagine specifically Bear Necessities) claim that they will work for children for whom Toe by Toe works less well. According to them, these are low-ability pupils, younger children, and pupils with more severe learning difficulties. 
Dancing Bears only uses real words although some are fairly obscure! I find that my children prefer real words to random nonsense words.
I've only used Dancing Bears but this includes daily phonics practice, gradual introduction of new sounds, plenty of word practice, some rather zany stories and use of a cursor so that a child has to read letters in the correct sequence.
Dancing Bears A costs £18. Books B and C cost £15. The set can be purchased for £47.

This is US based programme devised by the home educating mother of a child who has dyslexia. It is also used by many people whose children do not have reading difficulties as it can be taken at any pace. This book is suitable for young children learning to read.
I haven't used this programme although we do have its companion All about Spelling. All about Reading was a main contender when we chose Toe by Toe.
All about Reading is multi-sensory and also builds in plenty of review. There are accompanying readers. 
It is rather more expensive than Toe by Toe but would be a better choice for a child learning to read from scratch. Several components are necessary to use the scheme: Interactive kit, Teacher's and Student manual and readers.
It can be purchased, in the UK, from Conquest Books. 

I haven't seen this book but this is designed for use in adult literacy. The book is said to be suitable for learners from 8 to 80 and uses a phonics based programme. Again, this is designed for the non-specialist. Children have used this book to teach their parents or other children.
Yes, we can read costs £35.

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  1. Thank you for that. I would also draw your attention to "Alphaphonics" by Samuel Blumenfeld, which is just great. One concept at the time, divide your lessons as you like, go back over things if needed. It seems to work effortlessly.

    1. Thank you. The name sounds familiar but I don't think I have seen "Alphaphonics" or the website-I will have a look.

  2. We don't have any special reading needs, as far as I know, except's possible one of our kids would have got labelled with something if they were at school I suspect, they all seem to be relatively "late" readers. We use Alphablocks DVDs and then McGuffey primers and readers at our own pace. There are spelling lists with each lesson, we pick and choose from them, and practice imprinting (look at the word, then cover it up and see if you can remember how it's spelled).

    1. Alphablocks were popular here. From memory, they were great for learning individual letters but didn't seem to help us much with blending which was where the difficulties started. I've heard great things about the McGuffey readers. Great that we can set the pace according to the child's needs.

  3. Sarah, we have had a journey with our youngest. We were introduced to "Vision Therapy", even though Olivia tested 20/20 with her eyesight. Pardon the pun, but truly, our eyes were open up to a whole new world. It is my belief, all children should have access to a full, in-depth examination, so that eye tracking issues can be caught. Standard eye exams do not catch these issues. I'm afraid, no scheme will have the desired success, if there are tracking issues. We learned a great deal through this journey.

    1. Sorry to hear about your reading journey. I agree about assessment both of visual function and of the nature and extent of the reading difficulty.