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

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Review of Primary Arts of Language (PAL) from IEW

The new Primary Arts of Language (PAL) curriculum set from the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) provides a dynamic package for K-1 students to learn phonics, reading, and writing. With multi-sensory activities and visual aids to facilitate and reinforce learning, PAL appeals to students of a variety of learning modalities and preferences.

Written by Jill Pike, the multifaceted PAL curriculum is divided into two packages—reading and writing, respectively—that are designed to be used simultaneously but can be used separately. The PAL program is based on Anna Ingham's Blended Sound-Sight Program of Learning (BSSP) and incorporates both phonics and whole-word approaches to teaching reading.

Apparently, the relationship between IEW and Anna Ingham's family goes way back. Ingham's nephew, Dr. James B. Webster, founded the Structure and Style method of teaching writing. Webster, Ingham, and Ingham's daughter, Shirley George, worked together to develop and field-test the teaching approaches used in the BSSP, including the spelling rules and jingles that are presented so helpfully in IEW's Phonetic Zoo. (See the pdf "Teacher's Notes" for a sample/intro. The Spelling program is so effective, IEW offers a full money-back guarantee.)

Some highlights from the "Brief History . . ." included in the Phonetic Zoo Teacher's Notes (pdf link above) give insight into Anna Ingham, how she developed the BSSP, and why it has been successful, especially in public schools in Canada and elsewhere:
Anna Ingham began her career as a school teacher in 1935 [. . .] 
After many years in the rural [one-room schoolhouse] schools, Mrs. Ingham moved into a single-grade city classroom where she had the opportunity to focus on first grade students. The most monumental hurdle for Mrs. Ingham in this school was reintroducing phonics into an educational system enamored with the "Look and Say" method. Teachers were encouraged to use words to teach letter sounds and focus on the whole over the parts. Mrs. Ingham discovered that this method did not work. [. . .] Creating all her own materials, she began to develop her Sound City where both individual letters and letter combinations lived and talked. She did not go back to the archaic method of letter and blend drills completely divorced from words. Instead, she used poetry, pantomimes, and play to integrate phonics and words. [. . .] Mrs. Ingham blended the critical phonetic sounds with the whole word sight method, the Blended Sound-Sight Method [. . .]
The key to the success of the Blended Sound-Sight system, however, was not Mrs. Ingham's teaching tools, but her choice to begin with the Golden Rule. [. . .] Anna's dedication to giving each student what he needed by providing him with clear, incremental goals coupled with consistency and firm love produced phenomenal results. [. . .]
Ingham is undoubtedly a dynamic and effective teacher who has creatively met the needs of countless students through her innovation and enthusiasm. According to her website, the BSSP approach was developed largely through "trial and error," and later supported by field research, ostensibly her own and that of the family and teachers she's worked with and trained. While no research citations are given online, the BSSP site claims that the method is "proven by research." I imagine her hefty BSSP book mostly likely contains references to other educational research that might support different aspects of her method. (The trends in education have swung from phonics to whole words and back again to phonics, and some of the current research in support of phonemic development and phonics instruction is summarized in Evidence-based reading instruction: Putting the National Reading Panel Report into practice, which advocates "that systematic phonics instruction is more effective than alternative programs." The article authors provide ideas on creatively implementing phonemic and phonics learning programs in engaging ways suggesting that pure phonics instruction need not be "archaic" or "completely divorced from words". If you email me, I can email you the pdf.)

The sound-sight blend is evident in the PAL curriculum from the first lesson; single letters, multi-letter phonemes, and site words are all introduced on the first day.

There are so many facets of the PAL program that I cannot adequately discuss them all here. Here, however, is a brief run-down of the first lesson flow as suggested in the Teacher's Manual:

The lesson begins with the teacher reading and discussing a poem with the student(s). The same poem will be used repeatedly over several days and used in various ways to make connections with the various letters, phonemes, and site words.

The teacher then introduces lower-case letter symbols c, o, and a, along with the primary sound for each (short vowel sounds for o and a only) using a "letter story." Personified letters are portrayed in a drawing while the teacher tells the letter's "story" to create a mnemonic hook for the student to learn the letter shape and associated sound. For those doing the writing/penmanship component, the story also includes instructions for writing the letter. For example, the letter story script for c reads "C is the happy letter. Start at the top, circle around, but don't close it up! This is the happy cookie because somebody took a big bite! |c|, |c|, cookie." For the letter "a" the script reads as follows: "a is the angry letter. Start with a c, close it up, and continue the line straight down. Curve it a little at the bottom to make a little ponytail. a is the angry letter because the boys often pull her hair and make her say |ă|." The creative mnemonic hooks like the "letter stories" for learning phonemes and later spelling rules may be seen as either a help or a distraction, depending on your perspective. Later in the program, after all letters have been learned, this portion is replaced by other activities such as "discovery" (decoding) and "library."

Printing, Journaling, and Story Time
If students are doing the PAL Writing component along with the Reading, they would learn how to print the three lower-case letters and would journal (with mom writing for them until later lessons when they have gained the ability to write by themselves) and have story time.

Phonics Game(s)
The teacher then introduces a game to reinforce the association of each of the three newly-learned letter symbols with the respective primary sound.

Multi-Letter Phonemes with Site Words
The multi-letter phonemes "ee" and "ow" are then introduced along with the corresponding site words "green" and "yellow." (The phoneme "ow" is introduced at this time with only one of it's sounds: long "o" rather than "ow" as in "cow.") "Stories are again used to correlate the letter symbols with the sounds. For example, teachers can tell students that when two "e"s get together, they like to squeal, |ē|!" Phoneme index cards are created and stored and another reinforcement game is played. The teacher then introduces the "Phonetic Farm," a full-color, laminated poster that comes with phoneme stickers to attach in designated areas about the farm as the phonemes are learned, in order to organize and associate like-sounding phonemes with one another and increase mastery. The Phonetic Farm is an engaging and visually appealing learning tool (and can be purchased separately).

Independent Work
Next, the student works independently to complete a lesson from the student workbook and "another item or two of your choosing: color a picture, listen to a book on tape, complete a chore, watch an educational program, or anything that your child can do independently" (Teacher's Manual p. 12).

Spelling Test
Finally, if students are completing the Writing component, they are given an informal "spelling test" on the whiteboard and prompted with letter sounds to write the letters of the day: c, o, and a.

The lessons require quite a bit of both instructional time (1 hour and 45 minutes minimum for the lesson described above, which the author suggests breaking up with other subjects, activities, or rests) and also teacher involvement, especially during the first several weeks when students are first learning all their letters. There is also a fair bit of prep work in getting acquainted with the program, gathering and setting up materials, and constructing the game pieces. If you are doing the complete PAL program, you will need two teacher's manuals and DVDs, a Phonetics Games book, student workbooks, as well as the Phonetic Farm pack. The All About Spelling Teacher's Manual, Student Packet, and DVD, cards, letter tiles and magnets pack is also recommended. The combo of complete PAL Reading and Writing packages (includes All About Spelling) is sold for $158 ($69 + $89) on the IEW website. Teachers also need to purchase supplies including index cards, markers, glue, tape, scissors, and at least 35 manila file folders for constructing the games. If you are looking for a ready-made, ready-to-go curriculum, this is not the one for you. A fair bit of cutting, gluing, and assembling is required to set up the games.

While some may prefer a more systematic presentation of phonemes or prefer a more traditional or pure phonics approach, the PAL curriculum pack is a dynamic option for those seeking a creative and comprehensive language arts program for K-1. The greatest strengths of the program seem to be the central place given to poetry and literature, the early introduction of the habit of journaling, the colorful Phonetic Farm poster board for organizing and comparing the various multi-letter phonemes, and the use of games to keep it fun. 

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