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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rocket Phonics Update

Back in February, I reviewed Rocket Phonics, a program that claims phenomenal results in teaching young children how to read. You can find the original review here.

As I said we would, we did continue the program for as long as it seemed to benefit Mary, but we very quickly found that it really wasn't going to work for her. My gut instinct that using an ITA (initial teaching alphabet) would cause problems down the road proved to be dead on. Part of this may have been due to the fact that Mary already knew some letters can make more than one sound and often would use those sounds instead of the Rocket Phonics sounds. And part of it was just, hey, kids are smart and not too easily misled.

While the ITA is used more or less as a scaffold to get children started reading faster, I don't really agree with the philosophy or soundness behind that idea. There's really no reason for children to learn to read faster, as each child develops and matures at her own pace with ALL skills, not just reading. Of course there are exceptions. Maybe early reading is an important goal for your child or you have an older child who struggles. Perhaps the ITA approach would work better in these situations.

I also feel that this approach will be detrimental to spelling in the long run. I have always cringed at the notion of letting children continue to just spell words "phonetically" far into the middle elementary grades without teaching them proper spelling for simple words (something that seems to go on in some schools)---it does nothing but reinforce the incorrect spelling and it becomes that much harder for them to learn to spell correctly. Although Rocket Phonics does not advocate this attitude towards spelling and does present the words spelled correctly, the letters that don't fit the ITA are shown in light gray with the ITA shown below them in a bright color---ultimately, the incorrect spelling is what is going to stick.

Mary simply became frustrated with it. She got confused by some of the letter pairs used for the ITA. The sound cards were inconsistent and confusing. The reading pages would show pictures that had nothing to do with the phrases she was reading (supposed to be an exercise in comprehension---which phrases have to do with the picture and which don't), but she just found that confusing. After all, when reading even excellent adult readers use cues like pictures, headings and so on in order to get a preview of what they will be reading.

We've taken a break on any phonics the past few weeks---the frustration level was simply too high. Now Mary is interested again, but we will be taking a different approach. I'll post here on my blog as we progress.

I do think Rocket Phonics could benefit some, particularly those who have already tried other approaches without success. There are plenty of positive aspects (see original review), it's just not the right program for us.


  1. Hello from a fellow crew mate! Sorry to hear Rocket Phonics isn't working for you guys. I was unhappy with the philosophy/method behind the program as well and decided not to use it at all with my son. I could see only future frustration if I'd introduced him to that ITA. We're using the All About Spelling phonogram cards and having great success with those. He's reading simple sentences now. :)

  2. Thanks for sharing this (and linking to it). I am mulling this possibility over, and it is good to hear a diversity of experiences and opinions.


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