In June, Hooked On Phonics released their entire Learn to Read Classroom Edition free of charge for tablet users. Purchasing all of the program components can cost upwards of $100.00, which is no small price tag. I was able to download the free edition and give it a multiple month test run – hopefully this review will help you decide whether it is a product worthy of your limited classroom budget!
I use many different literacy strategies and activities in my classroom with great success, consisting mostly of play-based activities, learning centres, and inquiry projects. I wanted a program that I could use on my tablet for whole, small or individual group literacy learning to incorporate more technology and media into my classroom. I decided to download the Hooked On Phonics Classroom Edition – why not, it was free! – and test it out with individual students that I was scheduled to tutor for 8-week programs.
So how does this app work? There are 12 units in total, and each unit is organized into three lessons. The lessons are structured around a word family, so for example lesson one aims to teach “-at” words, lesson two “-an” words, lesson three “-ap” words, and so on. Within each lesson, the students work on multiple skills including studying individual letters, working with all of the sounds of the alphabet, blending sounds, becoming comfortable with the various word families, and reading simple books using the skills that they have acquired through the lessons. Each lesson builds on the last, introducing new skills slowly while ensuring that the students are frequently practicing skills from previous lessons. The students are also introduced to common sight words throughout the units.
The program has many “bells and whistles” that made it very appealing to the children I worked with. There are songs and music videos in every lesson, which will inevitably get stuck in your head for days, verbal positive reinforcement for correct answers, the activities varied frequently to keep the children engaged, it was interactive so the students had to touch, turn and shake my tablet to work through the lessons, the graphics and voices were appealing, and the books had fantastic visual cues to help with the reading aspect of the lessons. The app itself was also quite user friendly, as all of my kindergarten students learned to maneuver the app and it’s various components within a few lessons. A recent update addressed one of the only complaints I had about the app, which was the inability to create a “sign in” for different students or groups of students. For example, each time I opened the app I had to refer to my notes to remember where each student had left off. Now, you can sign in/out and save the progress of multiple users. Perfect.
I personally liked being able to move at varying paces with different students depending on their ability level. One student whizzed through two lessons each week, completing nearly 6 units, 16 word families, and 32 books in total, while another student was able to comfortably work through four lessons and eight books by the end of the summer, which was an incredible milestone for this student. I also found the nature of the program made it easy for me to assess if the students could transfer the lessons to other literacy situations. For example, I had the students use letter tiles to recreate words they had learned during their Learn To Read lessons, and read levelled texts containing similar words. All of my students were able to successfully transfer the skills they had learned from the app to these new settings, which was a terrific indicator for me of the success of the program.
I will continue to use this program in the classroom, particularly with small groups of students. The easy usability makes it a fantastic learning centre choice, as the students can work through the lessons at their own pace under the supervision of a teacher, aide or volunteer, and you could very easily run through a lesson in a whole-class setting in about five minutes to review or introduce phonics skills in an engaging way. Now, back to my original question. Is this program worth the hefty price tag for those who weren’t lucky enough to score the free edition? In my opinion, yes. I believe it could be a valuable investment for schools that have tablets as a part of their media centres, it is current enough that it will not be outdated for quite a few years, and I think that people who tutor or read with their children at home would have use for it individually. But word on the street is that the program is offered for free every few months, so keep your eyes open and maybe you can score a free edition too!