Hooked on Phonics: Retooled Experience
I have been using Hooked on Phonics for several years as the primary method for teaching my kids to read. It becomes obvious how effective the program is, in general, when watching some of my videos. My boys read above their grade level with nothing more than the Hooked on Phonics program, and my instruction, to guide them. We progressed from kindergarten through the Master Reader levels in just about two years. That means my 7 year old is reading at a 5th grade level and my 5 year old is at a 3rd grade level.
The people at Hooked on Phonics have come out with an updated version of their Kindergarten through 2nd grade reading set. All my previous reviews have been completely of my own accord with no coordination between myself and HOP. This endorsement is equally heartfelt because I truly believe in the product. HOP sent me the new K-2 levels this time around so that I could update my older reviews with newer information.
The first thing I notice about the new levels is that they are better organized. Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades each come with two workbooks rather than one. The phonics rules haven’t changed, but the separate books and workbook reading lessons are all brand new. The biggest changes are revealed in the layouts of the new workbooks. Each lesson is now clearly defined as consisting of 3 to 4 parts for each lesson. The systematic approach is Learn, Practice, Read and Review. The first lesson of first grade is the “ch” sound. Logically, the first step is to learn it, and there is one page devoted to that with the “ch” sound underlined in each word. The practice page is next, and it is much the same as the learn page except the underlining is gone, thus removing a crutch and giving your child a bigger challenge.
Read: The fun part of every lesson is the reading portion. Reading comes in the form of either a separate book or a paneled cartoon in the workbook. My kids, when they went through HOP, most looked forward to reading the books and stories. The stories are imaginative and fun. There is nothing stilted or boring like Dick and Jane.
The Books: Kids get to read their first book within just a few days of their first kindergarten lesson. The approach HOP uses to teach reading is similar to what Rosetta Stone uses to teach languages (I have Japanese and Spanish). It is completely intuitive and doesn’t dork around with tedious rote memorization. The books are plentiful, and they cover closely the material your child just learned. Therefore there is no potential worry of your kid becoming hopelessly stuck and discouraged. Also, the new kindergarten books have color – a huge improvement for kids!
Review and Progress Charts: This is a notable change in the HOP system. Reviews happen after every book as before, with a series of words that were learned in the previous unit. When your child reads all the words without assistance, there is a place for a sticker. This is a departure from before; the progress charts used to be separate wall posters. Now they are incorporated into the workbooks. I’m not sure if I like it better this way. My preference is to have the wall chart.
Helper Words: Helper words are words that fall outside normal phonics rules. They can’t be taught using phonics and therefore need to be memorized. There are only a few of them for each unit, and the total for the kindergarten level is probably not more than 30 (I didn’t count them). In the old version the helper words were separate flash cards. This new edition has them in the workbooks. You can still use them somewhat randomly because they are color coded. The teacher says a color and the student then says the word that is on that color. Again, I prefer the flash card system. We used to review the helper words apart from the lessons. I would carry them around with me during the day and we’d study them waiting in line at the post office or whenever was convenient. Of course, the way around that is to just make your own cards.
Word Game: HOP has done away with the word builder game that was in the old edition. I’m not disappointed about the exclusion as it was a weak imitation of their learn to spell system which we also own (but that I haven’t done a review on yet). The old game was not robust enough to make much of a difference anyway. I always wondered why they had it in the previous edition. Now I know that HOP must have been thinking the same thing. Not including the game is an improvement.
DVD: The workbooks come with DVDs. To me this is another significant improvement over the old system. The old system came with a CD ROM and multiple audio CDs which were annoying and which I never used. They weren’t necessary because they were always too much of a pain in the butt to start and the kids were bored out of their minds with them anyway. The new DVDs, like all DVDs, are simple as heck. Pop them in and start watching. I watched the first grade one for the purpose of this review, and I can tell you that, while not Cartoon exciting, they are not so bad. The idea is clearly to have your kid watch a short 5 minute clip at the beginning of the lessons for the purpose of introducing him to the sounds in a verbal/visual way. My guess is that it works – unlike those silly CDs.
Not everything about the new system is an improvement. I preferred the flash cards in the old sets as well as the separated wall progress charts. As silly as it seems to adults, my kids liked to see their progress posted up on the wall. The flash cards, from my perspective, are a more effective way of teaching and reinforcing as they lend themselves better to spontaneity. Those two shortfalls are not enough though to overshadow the clear improvements that HOP has made to the system as a whole.
The workbooks have more color in them and are more entertaining for the kids. The layout of the workbooks is also much improved. The progress charts being inside the workbooks add a dimension that was not there before. Being a self taught educator I appreciate that HOP has made my job easier this time around. No more stupid CD ROMs to mess with, no more loose parts to go missing. The improvements are centered on making everything easier for parents while taking nothing away from the kids (except the progress chart). More color, better organization, more compact. It’s a better system. The old one works well too, but this one is a step forward.