Friday, 4 January 2013

Project X Code: Bugtastic and home education

Bugtastic is the first  cluster in Project X's new series CODE. These books are designed to be used with a phonetic approach to reading - and the emphasis is on phonetically decodable words. Each book in this series is divided into two sections. The first half is meant to be 100% phonetically decodable, to allow emergent readers to read with confidence. The second part of the book is 80% decodable, which allows the story to be more exciting. In the beginning a parent and child can share the reading of this book with the child reading the first half and the adult the second. As the child becomes more familiar with the text, they can then attempt the more complex section of the book.

Of course the big issue with "phonetically decodable" is that what is phonetically decodable for one child is not phonetically decodable for the next. Wikipedia defines decodable text as: "a type of text often used in beginning reading instruction. With this type of text, new readers can decipher words using the phonics skills they have been taught. For instance, children could decode a phrase such as "Pat the fat rat" if they had been taught the letter-sound associations for each letter--that 'p' stands for the sound /p/, 'a' for the sound /a/, etc." So - if they have not been taught these sounds - this text will not be decodable. I think the definition on is the easiest to understand: "In reading instruction, the term 'decodable' refers to words containing only the phonetic code the child or student has already learned." Since many phonics programmes begin only with soft letter most books in this series will not be decodable to children until they have moved on to long vowel sounds as well. This particular book, as well as the book number tow are an exception to this, using only soft vowel sounds with the exception of one single word "Bite" which is essential to this story, and the name of one character, Tiger. However, the series as whole does begin with reading level 3, and assume the child has had some previous instruction in phonics, including a knowledge of long vowel sounds for book 3.

Although designed for phonetic instruction, there is really no reason why you could not teach a child to read this book through whole language as well. The only difficulty is that there will be more unfamiliar words for a new reader because this series focuses on phonetically decodable rather than high frequency words. That said, with the exception of"Bite", I would expect every word in this particular book to be on high frequency word lists as well. The first half of this book uses a total of only 27 different words + the names of the five characters. All of the words are single syllable and very easy to read. I think "jump" and "visit" would be the most challenging.

With so few words, and such simple ones at that, I would expect the story to be a bit dull, as most phonetic readers are. The main drawback to phonics instruction is that by limiting the vocabulary used, stories become dull and children are often not motivated to read. This series was specifically designed to overcome that for children with reading difficulties and / or sen. The second part of the story does provide a richer vocabulary, but this entire series is also very highly visual. It is illustrated with beautiful computer generated imagery of the same quality level one would expect from a top of the line film animation studio like Dreamworks. Taken by itself, the text would be very dull, but the pictures suggest a far more exciting adventure story.

 The Bugtastic cluster, as one might guess has a lot of bugs. The children in this story have shrunk to micro-size so a preying mantis or even a grasshopper can look like a monster, and a slugs trail can become a very slippery hazard. Future sets will include all sorts of boy friendly topics such as space, vehicles, jungles, sharks, dragons, dinosaurs, and more.

In addition to the story, there are also a few pages introducing certain phonetic sounds which will be emphasized in this text, a few words broken down into phonetic components, a few tricky words and some questions or exercises relating to the story. This really is intended as a school book and the educational emphasis is obvious.

I've always been impressed with Oxford's range for beginning readers in general and Project X in particular. As soon as I saw this series, I knew it would be good. Looking through the first books I was very impressed from an educational standpoint, and I knew my sons would enjoy these. I did expect these to be read for pleasure as well as being used for school assignments ( I home educate). After all, my youngest at 4 is not reading yet, and my oldest at age 7 reads at a young adult level). They have been used for educational purposes as a refresher course in phonics for spelling improvement, and also just as base to build focus additional studies around. For instance with this unit we also read several non fiction titles on insects, and I think as school starts back next week we will do some bug art projects as well.

While I knew my sons would enjoy these books, even I was was surprised by just how much they enjoyed them. They were given money for Christmas by a generous Uncle, and rather than buy new video games as I expected, they both chose more books in this series. They have also been doing extra chores and saving up all of their pocket money to buy books. It is rare for my children to buy their own books - as they know Mom will eventually buy the books for them, but these books are expensive (£3.60 - £5.00 each, with the price going up when the page count increases from 24 to 32 pages) There are a total of 56 books plus the starter book which was over £7 so I can't very well buy the whole set all at once, and as I am buying as many as I can ( with help from dooyoo) they are also spending all of their money to add the set. Personally, I feel when a child is willing to choose school books over a new video game that is very high praise indeed.

My youngest says he likes these books because they have "the shrinky kids", whom he knows and loves from the previous Project X series. He says he really likes the baby dragon too. He says the books are funny, but most of all , I believe he enjoys imagining his own micro adventures. We often pause between books for him to describe what it would be like to do all the things in the book. To be miniature sized and see giant bugs, to go into space, or find a dragon.

My oldest says he loves the illustrations, and that the books are like a video game because you beat the boss of each world (the Bite) before moving on to the next level. He thinks the Wonders of the World will be the most exciting, but we haven't got to those yet, and can't wait to see what the big boss is for the whole set - very much like a video game. I think he must be using his imagination with these too though as he has often found a quite corner with a stack of these books and sat quietly staring at illustrations for far longer than it would take him to read the text.

I think these books are so wonderful. My children love them and they really are so much fun. They encourage the children to want to learn more about other subjects like we did with the bug unit. My youngest is learning some phonetic sounds from the phonics section at the beginning of the book and these will be wonderful when he starts reading n his own. My oldest is really far too old for these, as at age 7 he can read ata young adult level ( Thanks to the original Project X and Charlie Higgins) but he is still enjoying these, often reads to his brother, and I think they are helping his spelling as well.

This cluster is made up of ( in order):

1. The Web: This begins with a caterpillar style roller coaster and features a fright from a grasshopper - which looks a lot more frightening to micro- sized Cat. Featured phonemes: j,v,w,zz.

2. Cat's Quest: Poor Tiger has a tumble in a dripping puddle of slug slime before being carried off by an ant. Cat races to the rescue. Featured phonemes: x,y, qu.

3. Missing: This book features a short non fiction section on bugs as well a short story a Max, Mini and Ant search for Tiger and Cat. this story has more slick slug slime, much to the delight of my son as well as the first Bite of the series - a Preying Mantis. Featured phonemes: ch, th, sh, ng.

4. Bite Fright: The final book of this cluster sees team X battle the boss of this level, the Mantis Bite in order to progress pass through the exit door and progress to the next level. Featured phonemes: ai ee, igh.

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