Reflections on the various dimensions of feminine vocation from liturgical homemaking and child rearing to education and the spiritual life.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Comparing Phonics Programs

In my previous post, I highlighted three popular phonics programs that are based on the best research currently available. A friend asked me to write more about the pros and cons of the programs I mentioned and to say why I prefer the one over the other two, especially since Spell to Write and Read, my favorite, is known to be difficult to get off the ground.

Happy to oblige!

It's true. Spell to Write and Read (SWR) does require a good deal of teacher time and investment. At first, SWR is difficult to get off the ground and implement because you, as the teacher, have to learn the program (and wrap your mind around all the spelling concepts you weren’t taught yourself in school!) and then map out an individualized plan for your student(s). While this makes it a lot to learn at first on the teacher's end, the upside is that it is extremely flexible for personalizing for individual students and situations. Personally, I've found it totally worth it. And after the first year or so of figuring it out, it's pretty smooth sailing.

All About Spelling/All About Reading and Logic of English are both based on much of the same research as SWR. Those are good options, too, especially if you want everything laid out for you grade-by-grade (and for more money). I received a review copy of All About Spelling (AAS) along with the PAL materials from IEW. I tried using it a bit with my youngest, and it’s a good program. I haven’t seen Logic of English (LoE) in person, but you can get a pretty good feel for the curriculum from their website.

Pros & Cons:

AAS is easier to use than SWR in that every lesson is laid out for you in order and scripted; it’s an “open and go” curriculum—after the initial set-up of the materials. However, AAS doesn’t necessarily take any less teacher time than SWR because each lesson requires intensive teacher-student interaction. AAS is distinctive in using "letter tiles" for hands-on phonogram learning. This might be especially helpful for children who are too young for writing letters with pen or pencil.

Like AAS, LoE lays everything out for you. Unlike AAS, LoE has student workbooks with full-color activity and practice sheets that students can mostly do on their own. Additionally, the teacher's guide provides scripted lessons as well as other suggested multi-sensory activities to further student learning. Some of these workbook pages and suggested activities seem unnecessary to me—either busy work or too cutesy-clever. For example, in the Foundations A Teacher’s Manual sample page online, they suggest eating grapes, gingerbread, and granola when learning the letter ‘g’ as well as wearing green and gold and maybe learning about geckos, etc.  
All three programs—SWR, AAS, and LoE—are multi-year programs that teach the 70+ basic English phonograms and 28 foundational spelling rules. All three use flash cards, recommend games, and encourage other multi-sensory learning processes and activities.

As I see it, SWR offers three main advantages over the other programs that are based on the same research:
  1. SWR is a total steal since the initial package covers you for spelling, phonics, plus other language arts foundations for grades K through 12 and beyond. So comprehensive! And all for about a $100 initial investment plus $6 to $12 per student in consumable learning logs each school year. Compare this with around $50/year for AAS and with $176 to $213 per year of LoE! 
  2. SWR is designed to be adaptable for any student at any level and at any age. While this makes it a bit unwieldy at first for the teacher, it’s a powerful benefit. You’re not stuck going through a bunch of pre-designed lessons ordered for generic classes/students; you have the flexibility to use the provided diagnostic tools and lesson components as best suits the individual person and situation. The corollary of this is that there are no cutesy gimmicks to wade through, but there are tons of practical hands-on tips for multi-sensory learning organized by skill or concept in the SWR teacher’s guide. SWR does not distract teachers or students with unnecessary activities or program elements. Which leads us to  . . .
  3. SWR offers the most effective, efficient, and sound phonics program. If you read SWR author Wanda Sanseri’s speech to the Oregon senate, you might note some principles that make SWR unique. Instead of the “phony," “pokey", or "fickle" phonics of other programs, SWR offers all of the 70 basic phonograms and 28 spelling rules early and fast through a direct, uncluttered method that is systematic and intensive. After one year of SWR, a student will have all of the basic phonics knowledge they need to start reading almost any English book. From what I can tell of AAS and LoE, this is not the case. A student would have to complete multiple years of either of those programs in order to cover the same breadth and depth of phonics knowledge delivered in the suggested plan for the initial year of SWR. (And AAS is meant to be combined with All About Reading as a separate track!) This is why SWR is not merely a spelling program per se, but rather a comprehensive language arts foundation in phonics, spelling, reading, and beyond. (It even covers manuscript penmanship and an impressive amount of grammar.)
So if colorful student workbooks and/or prescribed, ready-made lesson tracks are important to you, SWR is probably not a good pick for your homeschool. But if you’re looking for a resource that will equip you to be the best possible language arts teacher for your students and give you the best bang for your buck, SWR is where it’s at. 
N.B., I am not affiliated with SWR in any way, and I receive no material benefit for endorsing the curriculum.  I'm just a fan girl whose been happily using the program for about six years now with both my own children and also other students.


  1. Thank you so much! This seals the deal. I'm going to get SWR and Cursive First!

  2. One word of wisdom: take what she says about the letter Y with a grain of salt, and then go ahead and teach your children that Y has four sounds including the long /ee/ sound we hear and say in words like "baby."

  3. I have been searching for a meaningful comparison between SWR and LOE, and this has been the best review so far! One of the things that held me back from SWR was the perceived difficulty. As well, I disagreed with the letter Y having the /i/ sound. I will take your advice and add /ee/, which makes more sense. Your insight has been very helpful in helping me decide which curriculum to use. Thank you!