Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wordy Wednesday: Final Analysis on Stepping Stones Together program

I've been meaning to post my final thoughts on the Stepping Stones Together beginning reading program since we've made it all the way through.  Here are my thoughts (and since it is Wordy Wednesday, I may go on a bit...)

Stepping Stones Together:  Getting Started

Setting up the program was easy for me.  I had won a free subscription via a blog contest, so it was totally free for me.  However, I want to point out that the program is actually a good value.  A 90 day membership is $19.99 and a one-year membership is $39.99.  In my case, I did the program with my son beginning in September and finishing in early December (approximately 3 months).  However, I also want to point out that life happens.  If you are the diligent kind of parent who will do this program every day, then you can probably make it through in the 3 month time period... if your child is ready to read.  I do think it is worth it to go for the full year so that you can plan for life to happen.  We lost some days due to illness, Thanksgiving and just life in general when things would come up.  Also, planning to finish in 3 months can put too much pressure on you both to meet a short deadline.  Give yourself the gift of time by opting for the longer subscription period.  If you feel you need to spend a bit more time re-reading a particular series, then you have the time.  When we first started the Series A books, we did go back and re-read several titles before I felt comfortable moving on.

With my son, I knew he would be learning to read by the end of the school year (the teacher's goal) and I hoped to do what I could to help with that goal.  I hadn't felt like I had much luck just reading him library books all summer!  It really wasn't until he a) went to school and b) we started this program that I started to feel that he was truly learning how to read and not just recognizing words here and there.  I wish I'd have found Stepping Stones Together at the beginning of the summer, but I found that it worked well to complement what he was learning in school.

When my subscription went active, I was able to choose 4 themes from a list of interests.  For us, that was Superheroes (versus princesses), Transportation, Sports and Animals.  My son and I decided what sounded interesting to him and made our selections accordingly.  After the selections were made, we were shown Series A titles that matched his preferences.  Each group had five titles, so there were 20 books per Series.  You are meant to do one book every two days. 

By the way, they do have a free two-week trial if you want to give Stepping Stones Together a try. Please see hyperlink to see terms of service.

Books are suited for beginners, for the most part

Most of the books are suited for beginning readers.  Some of them did have some "big" words that were kind of a stumbling block, but life is not without its challenges!  The C Series books had, by far, the most "big" words that gave him trouble.

The titles that we chose had many books that had lots of rhyming words.  Rhyming is apparently very important to learning how to read.  "The fat cat sat on a mat."  Kids can intuit what words are by making educated guesses.  If they know "cat" and see "fat" and know f makes the "f" sound, then they can figure out what the word is because they look the same (both have "at"), so they should sound the same too.  I liked seeing titles like this and I would finger through the books that I knew would go well with his sight words.

The books are really rather short, which is great for kids that age who may not have the longest attention span.  We were able to read the book online and download it to print out.  There were also  flash card sheets that could be downloaded and cut out to use with the books.

Things about the books I think could be improved:
  • Order of pages:  I glued these books, which required me to fold the paper to make a book.  I would have preferred them to be printed such that I could just take the stack, fold it in half, and the then staple it.  This would mean that pages 1 and 8 would need to be printed side-by-side, with pages 2 and 7 together, 3 and 6 together and 4 and 5 together.  Instead, pages 1 and 2, 3 and 4, etc. were all side-by-side, making easy bookmaking an impossibility.
  • Some small grammatical errors such as punctuation errors like ending a question with a period or having the ending punctuation missing completely.  This was more bothersome to me than to my son, who didn't even notice. I almost hesitated to mention this I certainly can't claim that I am always letter perfect when it comes to grammar.
  • Writing your name on the book:  This was available on some titles when you went to print the book, but not on others.  This is something that my son noticed since he wanted all of the books to say they belonged to him.
  • I had trouble downloading just one book.  The problem was that the url was different, likely due to a slight change in the title of the book.  However, my husband was able to work around this by shortening the url to reach a page that listed the books and I was able to click that link and download the book from there.
Tools that I liked:

Kids love charts... especially sticker charts.  You can download a chart to mark your progress as you go through the program.  This was helpful with motivation.  Another nice aspect was that you can print achievement certificates at the end of each series.  This was a source of pride for my son to reach these milestones.  He hung them on the fridge!

To be honest, I didn't use the flash card tool much, mainly because he didn't seem to need them.  We used the daily writing sheet only once.  Why?  Because he couldn't write. We were most of the way through the program before he started writing.  We would read the story, but he just didn't have the skills to write about it.  He hadn't quite made that connection yet between reading a story about a cat that sat on a mat and being able to actually sit down and write about it.  Now, I think that he could begin to compose a sentence, but at the onset of the program, he just couldn't do it.

That said, that doesn't mean you should give up on the daily sheet like I did.  If your child can't write a sentence, then you can write it for him and have them copy it.  Each day at school my son copies a sentence from the board and then illustrates it.  Sometimes you don't realize what your kid can do until they do it!

Did Stepping Stones Together work for me?

I think it did.  I just remember feeling utterly clueless as to how to teach my son to read.  I was getting frustrated with what I was doing to teach him to read. Stepping Stones Together helped give me the tools I needed to, at the very least, support the efforts of my son's teacher as he learned how to read.  Granted, we dangled a very desirable carrot in front of him (the DS) and when his teacher told us at that parent conference in November that he could read and showed us the books that he was using in class, ones that looked a lot like the ones I was using at home as part of this program, I knew that I'd done very well with using Stepping Stones Together as a learning support aid.  He is one of about four or five children who are the most advanced readers in the whole class.  He's is reading books with a more complex plot and harder words and doing just fine with them.  We were pleased to learn that his teacher is not holding the group back in an attempt to keep the class together, but rather encouraging and challenging them with books that are up to their abilities.

His teacher knew from the get-go that we were working with him at home with an at-home beginning reader program.  To go from being able to pick out a few words in a book to reading sentences to us in the space of three months was phenomenal to me.  Rewarding him with a desired prize helped him stay motivated and his teacher knew about that too!  She promised to help him learn to read so that he could get that DS that he wanted so badly.  When he wouldn't want to read with me, I could usually coax him by reminding him that it was how we got closer to the DS he wanted so much.

The Stepping Stones Together program helped me help my son to learn how to read by providing me with books designed to teach kids to learn how to read.  I was buying or borrowing books like DK Readers that were marked as "Pre-Reader" and they didn't work for us.  Stepping Stones Together's books are easily digested by beginning readers, are short, have the repetition of words that they need and have characters that my child connected with and liked seeing throughout the whole series.

Do you have any questions?  Please leave a comment below and I'll do what I can to answer them!
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