Project X CODE describes itself as a ‘breakthrough for special needs’ and claims to be the first reading programme to embed a systematic synthetic phonics progression, specifically targeted at struggling readers from Y2-4 (aligned to Letters and Sounds Phases 3-5) within a highly motivational 3D episodic adventure series.
If you pride yourself as being someone with their finger on the pulse, this is the resource for you. It’s ideal for a trained teaching assistant to deliver, or if you are new to phonics teaching – or trained years ago and need a refresher – then the teacher handbook will help you to get your head around what phonics progression looks like and how you can teach and assess phonics in a balanced, well-paced and creative way.
The programme is based on 56 carefully levelled books. It includes detailed, daily session notes that follow a clear progression designed to revisit and accelerate acquisition of phonic knowledge, application and comprehension skills through an action-packed story.
The books are divided between different zones, and each zone is set in a different area of Micro World: a miniature theme park that requires visitors to walk through a shrinking machine to gain entry. However, Micro World is run by a malfunctioning computer called CODE who has a plan to shoot shrinking rays around the planet so as to reduce ‘over population’. Enter Team X, whom pupils have to assist by collecting CODE keys to shut down the malevolent computer.
There are two texts in every book, one being 100% decodable and the second being 80% decodable. Text 1 contains target phonemes and tricky words designed to be practised before reading and Text 2 includes the same, but is longer with more varied vocabulary. The text is presented in a dyslexic-friendly font, so thumbs up all round.
Each book contains ‘before’ and ‘after’ reading pages, which are linked to session notes. ‘Before’ reading includes a sound checker section, which introduces the grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs) covered in each text. Then there is a sound spotter section for blending to encourage decoding.
Project X CODE is fully in line with the Phonics Screening Check in England and adopts a no nonsense approach to nonsense pseudo-words in a meaningful context to help develop and test decoding skills. To progress from one zone to the next, children have to read CODE words, such as ‘keed’, ‘quon’, ‘kaip’, ‘dazz’, ‘chish’, ‘quigh’, ‘jov’ and ‘yix’. Good luck with that. Teaching non-words has been heavily attacked by many as being counter-productive and confusing, with the new screening test accused of being flawed and dangerous. Some have called it a load of old norgoat. But it’s happening and full marks to Project X CODE for helping teachers to address whether children can recognise and blend GPCs.
There are tricky words to practise and opportunities for predicting the story to come. The ‘after’ reading activities focus on clarifying children’s understanding and often contain a comment from a character in the story. The inside covers also include useful notes for teaching. All this makes for a comprehensive, highly focused and structured package.
The practice and assessment CD-ROM is designed for independent use after a child has read all four books in a zone. It includes phonic and comprehension activities, as well as sentence structure, spelling and memory tasks. When the activities have been completed, a report is automatically generated that provides a snapshot of strengths and weaknesses.
A preview CD ROM is available, which contains four Project X CODE pupil ebooks so you can get a feel for the story and the features of the electronic books themselves. The books are all page flip marvels and boast a range of tools including pencils, highlighting, eraser, sticky notes, hide and reveal, spotlight, bookmarks, and the ability to save, open and hide annotations. There are 56 matching eBooks with audio narration in the series. The stunning artwork and 3D designs are all highly engaging. The CD also contains sample practice and assessment activities, session notes, editable PCMS, professional development videos and clip art. There is plenty to get excited about.
However, I do wonder whether this adventure series will appeal more to boys than girls. But you might disagree and say the adventure and fantasy elements of Project X CODE feed and nurture a sense of courage and quest that will appeal equally to both.
I’m not so sure that some of the books are suitable for bedtime reading, either. The bugs might give some young readers nightmares! It is always a gamble to adopt a themed approach because it has to have wide appeal.
As literacy intervention approaches go, this is a high quality programme with considerable expertise behind it. It is engaging, practical, and focused – although to complete all the zones will require some careful managing and plenty of stamina. Children will love the idea of saving the world from danger and they will surely rise to the challenge. They will also enjoy using the poster of Micro World to track their own progress and move characters from zone to zone.
It’s time to sit down and consider how you are going to deploy your capital and what funding streams you can tap into. Project X CODE is well worth a look.