Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thoughts on Explode the Code (and How I Taught my Boys to Read)

I am using the Explode the Code series with my third child. Thatcher completed the entire series in the middle of second grade. Haddon is currently working in Book 2 1/2, and Beckett just started Get Set for the Code. I have some thoughts on this series after now working with these books for the past five years.

First, If you are not familiar with this series here is a quick overview. It begins with three primers: Get Ready for the Code, Get Set for the Code and Go for the Code. These books introduce the sounds letters make, letter formation and initial consonants in words. The main series has 14 books - eight main books and six "1/2" books. Each "1/2" books provides additional practice for the book before (meaning 2 1/2 reviews the concepts learned in Book 2). These books systematically teach phonetic skills and provide plenty of review as well.

Here is how I have used these books. I began the primers with my boys as soon as each turned four. All of them already knew their letters and sounds when we started (thank you Leap Frog videos!), so we used them to build confidence and learn how to write each letter. Plus my boys found all the activities fun! Once my kids complete the primers they start in Book 1 and I have them do 4-5 pages daily with the goal being to complete two lessons each week (no phonics on Friday). As soon as they finish ETC Book 1, I have them begin reading a book or two a day from either the Primary Phonics Storybook Sets (not the workbooks), Bob Books and Nora Gaydos sets. I don't worry about matching the book they are reading to me exactly with the lesson they are learning in ETC. I typically just jump back and forth between all three sets (especially in the beginning when they needs lots and lots of practice getting used to sounding out words).

When there are so many other ways to teach reading, why do I like ETC? I can count it as phonics, reading, handwriting and spelling (a real multi-tasker!) It is easy to implement and inexpensive. Most importantly, it works!

Now here are some of my thoughts on this series (not necessarily in order of importance):

1. ETC is not independent work. Honestly, I don't think much is at very young ages when they are learning new material (independent, self-checking games/activities that reinforce already learned material are another story). The stakes are too high. If they learn something wrong in these first few years it is so difficult to relearn it correctly. And Littles can get frustrated so easily. I know that it is easy to send them off to do their phonics (usually so we can work with older siblings) but I really don't recommend it. What is one of the main things you learn how to do in your life? READ!!! The ability to read well affects every other subject in school. Take the time to sit with them. Talk about it. Identify areas where they need extra practice and encourage, encourage, encourage!!!

2. If your dc has weak motor skills and initially can't do all the writing (or even if they just need a bit more practice) offer it in a fun way. I have a jelly roll pan in the schoolroom filled with salt so Beckett can get additional practice by "writing" each letter with his fingers in the salt. We also put shaving cream on the wall in the bathtub to practice our writing, and outside I give him a paintbrush and a cup of water to practice writing/painting letters on the fence (and NO mess ;).

3. Have your dc read Refer back to #1 and down to #6 as well. You need to be there with your child as they work through these books so you can correct them the second they make an error. And reading the same words over and over in different activities is one of the strengths of ETC. This is huge! On the left is a photo of one page of ETC in Book 2 1/2. The directions say, "X the same word". It would be simple to have them glance at the words and find the one that matches the first without reading a word on the page. Or you can have them stop and read each word - 28 total. Which will reap greater benefit?

4. Use nickels, jelly beans, screen time or any other means to keep them excited! I keep a bag of organic dye-free jelly beans in the schoolroom for Beckett and dark chocolate chips for Haddon. They get one candy for each page completed. My kids don't get much candy so five jelly beans or chocolate chips are a big deal for them, and it is a great trade off in my mind to keep them motivated. If candy is not a motivator for your kids, just find a reward that will be: each page earns five minutes of educational computer time, or a lego from a set they want, or a nickel...

5. They will pick up on cues from you. If you communicate boredom with the books, even if only non-verbally, they will pick up on it. Make it fun. When it gets challenging, don't say, "Oh this is so hard!" Say, "Wow, they really made it fun for you today. You get to use your brain a lot! Neat!!!" Or if you see them getting frustrated or tiring out say, "Let's get two jelly beans for finishing this page!"

6. You don't have to do all the "1/2" books but I think the repetition is one the strongest aspects of this program. I have my boys do all eight main books and all six of the "1/2" books. I just do. ;) I don't overkill many subjects but strong phonics/decoding skills (typically) lead to strong reading skills and strong spelling skills as well. Taking more time here really will gain you great benefits in future years I have found.

7. You don't need to start a formal spelling program until your dc finish the entire series. If you just must have a spelling program create your own list using the rule(s) they are learning in ETC that week. Have them do a fun activity each day with the words on the list you generated.

There are so many ways to teach children to read: Phonics Pathways, The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, The Phonics Road and on and on and on. They are all good. They all have their merits. For us ETC has been a solid part of our school and has started my boys with an excellent foundation for reading and spelling.



Anonymous said...

First, I love your blog. I've followed it for years. Your baked potato soup recipe is now one of our favorites! Really! Next, I've been using ETC with my dd since last year when she was 4. I love it too! I agree with everything you've posted. I had not ordered the ETC 1/2 books b/c I thought they were going to be overkill. I'm now reconsidering that. Finally, how do you handle Halloween since your boys don't get much candy? We're trying to put a different spin on Halloween this year b/c the kids always end up with way too much candy. I'd love you to do a post on this topic. So glad you'll be blogging more.
Stacy :-)

Jennefer said...

Thanks for the kind words, Stacy. I don't know that my thoughts on Halloween can fill a whole post but I'll share how I handle it here. (And I'll preface by saying I know that Halloween is a very hot topic for some. My intent is not to stir the pot. Please do not leave any negative comments.)

Basically we let our kids trick or treat up and down our street (about 20 houses or so). We bring home the candy and let them enjoy a few pieces that night. It all gets dumped in a large bowl at that point and then for the next 4 or 5 days we allow them to pick one piece after lunch and one after dinner. The rest gets donated, usually to one of my public school teacher friends who can use it in her treasure chest at school.

This is one time a year I try not to worry so much because really I have no control over what they get. For Christmas and Easter we request that Santa and the Easter Bunny leave only dye free and/or organic treats and limited ones at that. ;)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to respond to me. Great ideas!
Stacy :-)

Sheryll said...

I'm about to order ETC so this post was timely for me. I hadn't planned on ordering the 1/2 books but after reading this I might try them out. Do you feel the teacher guides are necessary?

Sheryll said...

I meant to also ask...What about the Beyond the Code books? Do you use those as well?

Jennefer said...

Sheryll, I bought the Teacher Guide for the primers and the first set of ETC books and promptly realized I didn't really need them. I didn't ever refer to them at all.

If you *are* starting with the primers then you will need to know what to do with one particular page. If so, email me and I'll fill you in. You won't need the guide for anything else in those. As for the regular books I never needed the Guides at all. Especially after reading this post and applying it. ;)

As for Beyond the Code, I did buy one of the books but we never got to it. Honestly we probably should have. It is still sitting on my shelf and I'll try to make time when Haddon gets to that point.

Hope you enjoy ETC as much as we have!

Sylvia said...

Hi Jennefer!
I linked to this blog post from the WRM forums. I am stopping OPG with my son (age 6.5) because it is causing so much frustration and what to do just ETC and readers like you have.

He just finished Book 3.5. Did you continue to go in order? I am considering doing book 5 then 6 or 6 then 5 before doing book 4.

I was wondering what you did?

jengod said...

Thank you very much for this post! I just finished Flesch's book and I was reading up on phonics programs on the WTM boards. Someone linked to this post and it seals the deal: This will be our phonics program--and we WILL have a phonics program--when my kiddo is old enough, and I will implement it just the way you describe. Thanks so much for the tips and the guidance on practice and working closely with them. Very very useful! Thank you!

Jache said...

Hello there!

I'm from Singapore and have only recently discovered "Explode the Code". My son is turning 4 in a few months and I wanted to check with you if he is at an appropriate age to start with say the "Primer" for ETC? He can recognize his letters and knows some letter sounds.

Also, do you use ETC alone or as a supplement to another reading/phonics programme?

My son currently attends a church kindergarten where they use a system called "Jolly Phonics". I'm now debating between using ETC as a supplement or using Jolly Phonics activity books.

Thanks in advance :)

Mr Jon said...

To help make learning to read fun and engaging, our reading program includes lesson stories that are matched to the progress of your child's reading abilities.

These lessons stories are part of the learning program, and comes with colorful illustrations to make learning reading fun and engaging for you and your child.

These are the exact same stories and step-by-step lessons that we used to teach our own children to read!

Find out here: Teach Your Child To Read?

Best rgs

Julie Fisher said...

I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts on ETC. I am starting "formal" homeschooling this year with Classical Conversations and have chosen ETC for phonics for my 5 1/2 yo. She is eager to learn to read and we got a head start on Get Ready for the Code Book A. 25 pages in, it appears that she might be ready for Book 1 as she says she is tired of the repetition and already knows the letter. I'm wondering if Books A,B, and C are more appropriate for my 4yo who tries to keep up with his sister and your post seems to confirm that.

I also appreciate your suggestions for reading once ETC Book 1 is completed. Someone else on another site says she uses Hooked on Phonics in combination with ETC. Can I confirm that you have found ETC combined with lots of reading and early readers is sufficient?

Thanks, Julie


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