Saxon Phonics Intervention, Home Study KitSaxon Phonics Intervention, Home Study Kit
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If you have older, struggling students who are reading and spelling below their grade level, perhaps it's time for Phonics Intervention. This systematic program will put them on the road to reading success! Lorna Simmons, a former classroom and special education teacher, created the program when her oldest son was still having difficulty reading upon finishing second grade.

In keeping with the Saxon philosophy, this curriculum builds on prior learning, and presents information in small, carefully sequenced increments. Covering consonants, vowels, and reading comprehension, the program offers explicit, systematic strategies for decoding and spelling words. Consumable work sheets, speed drills, and vocabulary tests reinforce learning and provide daily reading opportunities. Students also learn dictionary skills through progressively difficult alphabetizing activities.

The teacher's manual includes all lessons, assessments, speed drills, word lists, and reduced versions of student materials. Kit includes a teacher's manual, student workbook, and classroom materials. Grades 4 and up.

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Lorna Simmons
A successful reading and special education teacher, Lorna Simmons created the Phonics Intervention program and the K–2 phonics series after developing materials to remedy her own son’s reading difficulties. Her tremendous results in the classroom prompted other teachers to request Lorna’s materials. Saxon Publishers contacted her to see whether she would be interested in sharing her curriculum. Both philosophically and structurally, it was a perfect fit! Here’s CBD’s exclusive interview with Lorna Simmons.

CBD: For many years, you were a special education teacher in public schools. What led you to develop the Saxon Phonics curriculums?

LS: When my oldest child, Zac, began kindergarten, I realized he was not doing as well as the other children. I tried working with him every night, but while my 3-year-old picked up on what I was teaching, Zac did not. Soon, he was in first grade where he had a wonderful teacher but a terrible year. He did not learn to read. The school wanted to hold him back, but I was fearful of that because he was already the tallest child in the class. I didn’t want him to have to endure another year as the Jolly Green Giant! So we sent him on to second grade where he again had a wonderful teacher. She did everything she could to help him, but he was still the lowest child in the class.

I then became desperate to find a solution. I took him to Tulsa University to be tested and was happy to find that although he definitely had learning disabilities, he also had a very high IQ. The people at Tulsa made some suggestions, but they really weren’t appropriate for use in a classroom where the teacher had to work with 24 other children. So every night I had Zac redo all the class work he had been assigned that day. He was still not learning to read, though. His life was not very pleasant, and neither was mine.

A break finally came when I heard about a course in Lubbock, Texas. I signed up and over the next two years learned more than I had ever learned about phonics. One month into the course, I decided to apply what I was learning; during summer break I started working with Zac and 21 other children who needed help. When school started again, I knew Zac was reading better. I was ecstatic when I found he was three years ahead of where he had been at the start of summer.

It was then that I made the decision to see whether the method I had used to teach Zac could be used with other children so that they would not have to go through what Zac had gone through. I wrote a program for my school; other schools heard about and wanted to buy it. A friend typed up all the worksheets, and we put them into a book. Within five years—and thanks to teachers and parents talking to one another and asking questions—my program was used in 23 states.

CBD: At what age should children begin to learn to read?

LS: Whenever they start showing the desire. Some will ask about letters, sounds, and words as early as age three, while others will not seem interested until they are older. The desire to read is the biggest indicator that the child is ready to learn. Parents can get their children ready by doing phonemic awareness activities. Then, when they show the desire to read, they will have more success learning.

CBD: What kind of knowledge or skills do children need to be ready for reading?

LS: They must have an appropriate level of phonemic awareness before they will be successful. Most children develop this on their own, but more than 25 percent of schoolchildren need to be directly taught this skill. There are many good books and Internet sites where parents can get information to help their child. Some simple activities include asking the child for the first sound in a word, giving two to three sounds, and then asking the child to blend those sounds to see what word they form; or giving a compound word and asking the child to repeat only one of the words in the compound. These types of activities can be done almost anytime and will make a huge difference when the child starts to learn to read.

CBD: One of the basic tenets of whole language is that children naturally learn to read and write. How does a phonics approach differ from this view?

LS: A premise of whole language is that children learn to read much like they learn to talk. I believe this leaves a lot up to chance. It has been proven that not all children can learn in this way. When teaching phonics, I teach every letter and the sounds they make in different situations. I review each letter until the child has mastered the letter and its sound. Everything is directly taught, and I never assume prior knowledge or that children will get something on their own, since I never know for sure if they have been exposed to what I want them to know.

CBD: What is the relationship between acquiring phonics skills and the development of reading comprehension?

LS: The most obvious is the fact that a child cannot comprehend something if he or she cannot read. The ability to decode has to be present before comprehension can take place. Reading is not simply decoding, and it is not simply comprehension. Decoding and comprehension skills are both needed to read.

CBD: What teaching strategies can home educators use to enhance the connection between phonics and reading comprehension?

LS: Again, home educators should not assume prior knowledge. Once, I asked a group of students to read some paragraphs in my Phonics Intervention program, and I was stunned by some of the things they did not know. One word the students highlighted over and over was country. When asked, they admitted that they really did not understand its meaning. I have found that one of the best ways to help comprehension is to ask students to read a paragraph and then explain its meaning in their own words. Using this technique, I can quickly find areas of confusion or things students do not have the background to understand.

CBD: The “Look-Say” method of teaching reading has become increasingly popular with some parents and educators. Why do you believe that your approach in Saxon Phonics is more effective than other methods?

LS: In each lesson I teach a letter, its sound, and its written form. I add another letter in the next lesson; then I put those two together to make a word that the children can read or spell. From there I add one letter per lesson, and make new words with the sounds and rules that the children have been taught. Each day we also review everything that the children have been taught. This gives them the opportunity to master all of the material over time. I value the review and the incremental approach because they are safeguards against the formation of gaps in the body of knowledge children must possess if they are to be great readers. The “Look-Say” method of teaching reading is not based on phonics—it is based on visual memory of whole words, and not all children can hold thousands of words in their memory. I teach decoding skills so children can read any word they come across, even if they have never seen it before.

CBD: Some programs downplay the role of the teacher in learning phonics, emphasizing instead independent learning through media such as computer software and videotapes. In your view, how important is student/teacher interaction in developing solid phonics and reading comprehension skills?

LS: Nothing will ever replace the person who is aware of what the child is actually doing. I have sat through many computer classes where some of the children actively work but the majority daydream and push buttons when they have to. The computer comes up with a score that supposedly lets you know how the child is doing, but realistically the child was not even trying; perhaps he was not interested or was hungry. I think videotapes and computer software are a nice addition for some children, but the children who need the most help are the ones who don’t pay attention to educational videotapes and computer games. They are, however, the children you cannot pull away from the arcade games and cartoons that are for enjoyment only. Every child is different, so parents should assess what their child will actively participate in before making a decision.

CBD: What advice or encouragement can you offer to parents who feel that they are not equipped to teach phonics to their children?

LS: In each of my programs, I have tried to ensure that anyone who wants to teach phonics will be successful, regardless of prior knowledge or experience. If you have the desire and you are willing to put in the effort, you will succeed.

CBD: Can you suggest any favorite games or activities that make phonics fun for your students?

LS: All games make practice more fun for children who are at a beginning level of reading, so my suggestion is to use any and all that you can think of. My favorite game from the Saxon Phonics series uses words containing letters and sounds that the children have learned; these words are written on cards and placed in front of the children with a token on each card. The children try to read the words, and they receive a token for each word they read correctly. I am always amazed by the excitement that is generated as they try to get all of the tokens.