The Leading Magazine for Primary Educators
It’s frustrating isn’t it? Lots of books for beginner readers just aren’t suitable because they rely on the look and say method. Guessing at words isn’t the way forward for many children.
Reading materials that build up confidence and teach reading skills are few and far between, but a fine example of this approach is provided by Dandelion Readers – a series of decodable books for Reception and Year 1 based on the Sounds-Write model of progression.
Approved by the Department for Education, the books offer engaging texts that can be used alongside any phonics programme. The guiding principles are two-fold. First, reading needs to be taught in a systematic way because learning to read English is difficult. Second, as children learn at different rates, some need more practice than others.
Dandelion Readers teach the complex spellings of English; I reviewed the 14 books in the Level 2 set, each of which introduces two or three alternative spellings for the vowel sounds taught in Phase 5 of Letter and Sounds. The texts are not based on repetitive sentences, which ensures children practise blending the sounds through the words.
The books begin with a ‘how to’ page that briefly explains blending, precise pronunciation, and the synthetic phonics approach to teaching high-frequency words. The introduction that follows lists high-frequency words, provides a couple of pieces of vocabulary and offers a short introduction to the story.
Next children are given the chance to practise words listed under grapheme alternatives, before reading the main text.
I like the style of the books because they have clearly been created with dyslexic readers in mind. The story text is set against a cream background that reduces visual stress and so facilitates reading – white can be too dazzling. The font style and font size are clear and accessible. Each page has an imaginative photo montage and I think these add real value because they are colourful, fun and bring further life and soul to the entertaining text. At the back of the books you will find questions for discussion, although I think more could have been included.
There are also pelmanism and lotto games to play, which would be ideal for guided reading and homework.
I think Dandelion Readers have a lot of potential for readers beyond KS1 as well: especially reluctant readers in KS2 and those children learning English as an additional language.
There are teaching notes included with the books in pamphlet form, but these are really just an overview of what’s on offer – rather than a set of plans – so I’d like to see more advice, tips and actual meat on the bones, too.
The books can be used on their own, but I would recommend using them in combination with the rather splendid spiral-bound pack of multi-sensory activities - 82-pages of well-thought out support that will bolster key skills. Here you will find help with blending, comprehension, punctuation, writing, dictation, reading games, and spelling assessments. The activities get to the heart of what you need to target and will make an impact. My only hang-up is that these resources are not available on a CD.
Value for money
Dandelion Readers are used in 40 countries around the world and it is easy to see why they are popular. They are suitable for all pupils learning to read. They have been expertly put together and are brilliant value for money. All the books and workbooks are eligible for Pupil Premium funding.
Teaching reading is rocket science. It is the job of experts and it is therefore reassuring to see that the brains behind this collection of books are on the case. Use the resources from Phonic Books to inoculate your children against illiteracy and make sure they are not lost for words.