Mary Pecci has put together a phonetic reading program that she claims overcomes the problems of both intensive phonics and sight reading programs. Sight programs fail to teach the “code” of reading so children try to guess rather than decode. On the other hand, many phonics programs have too many rules and are sometimes complicated, making decoding a frustrating and laborious process for many children.
So Mary has created a program with fewer rules that uses a decoding strategy that helps deal with exceptions. At Last! A Reading Method for EVERY Child! begins with the introduction of the alphabet. Children first learn to identify letters by name. Then it teaches the sounds of the letters and letter combinations.
Mary reduces the phonetic code to its simplest possible terms by dividing instruction into seven categories, four for consonants and three for vowels. Individual consonants are first divided into “Good Guys” and “Tough Guys.” Good Guys are the consonants whose sounds are voiced within the pronunciation of the letter such as the pronunciation of the letter “b” as bee. The Tough Guys, “c, g, h, q, w," and "y” are not voiced, so Pecci uses pictures of key words to assist children. Before children begin to learn the sounds of vowels, they continue with two more groups of consonants: blends (e.g., bl, br, and dr) and the four digraphs: ch, sh, th, and wh.
The three groups of vowels are taught next: 1.) short vowel phonograms such as "at, ent, ig, ock,” and “ust”; 2.) long vowel phonograms with “e” on the end such as “ake, ete, ide, ome,” and “ute" plus long vowel phonograms with two vowels together such as “ail, eat, een, ied, oap,” and “ued”; and 3.) sight phonograms—25 phonograms that need to be memorized rather than sounded out such as “alk, ight, ange, ought,” and “tion.”
By grouping phonograms this way, children learn a consistent approach to decoding, working syllable by syllable, so that they are able to decode just about every word.
Pecci frequently suggests seat work and other activities to practice and reinforce each group of sounds. Games and activities often require you to create items. Many of these will either require a larger group or will be too much work to create for just one or two children. You will have to decide which ones are useful enough to spend time creating.
The program requires use of the set of Pecci’s five beginning readers. While the vocabulary in the first reader is quite limited, it still introduces the words “come, that,” and “scratch,” words generally not introduced at the beginning of many intensive phonics readers. When children first begin to read in Pecci's first three readers, every word is introduced beforehand to ensure mastery. Children are taught to sound out and underline every left-to-right phonics clue in each word. For example: chin is taught as ch - i - n. The program avoids presenting sight words as such. Children learn to ignore irrelevant letters. For example, the word friend is presented with only the underlined phonograms: fr i e n d. Pecci also uses rebuses in her stories. For example, Pre-Primer I uses a drawing of balloons rather than the word itself within a story. By introducing "sight" words this way, primarily using phonics, combined with the use of rebuses, children quickly learn to read interesting stories. Words are repeated often so that children develop fluency. All of the words introduced for each story are listed in the back of each reader along with a script for the parent to use to introduce each new word with Pecci's approach.
In the fourth and fifth readers, children learn to decode the words by word families such as “cow, now, how.” For example, to teach the word now, the parent asks, "What's the family?" (ow), "What's the word?" (now). As you can see, Pecci teaches using a consonant-phonogram approach.
Pecci’s original book began with 24 pages contrasting phonics and sight methods and the difficulties of both. In this “New Simplified Edition,” she drops the first part and gets right into an explanation of the program. The key to her system is the uniform approach in word decoding. Children learn phonics rules, but not with the fine-tuning you find in a Writing Road to Reading type program. For example, children are not explicitly taught different rules for figuring out the different sounds for “ea” as in “real, head, great, heart,” and “learn.” Mary claims that this only causes confusion, and children are capable of decoding words with the different sounds of “ea” on their own when they have a simplified rule as a focal point. For example, when only one sound for “ea” is taught with the “Two Vowels Together” rule, children automatically decode the word “head” as “heed.” When a word pronunciation such as this comes close but is still not correct, children are told to identify these words as “twisters” that we twist to fit into the context of the story to pronounce them correctly. For example, in the sentence, “Put your hat on your head,” children first sound out the last word as “heed,” but the context obviously requires twisting it to /hěd/.
In the rare cases when children cannot “twist” a word to get it right, they are taught to look up the phonetic pronunciation in the dictionary. These strategies simplify the number of rules children memorize.
Children work with word lists in the book as well as with flash cards and other visual aids that you will need to construct or purchase. (Pre-made flash cards are available from Pecci Educational Publishers.) In a classroom setting, you would need to copy some of the pages from the teaching guide for children to practice reading skills. However, homeschoolers can have children read directly from the teaching guide. These pages are printed in a very large font that is easy for children to see.
Using Pecci’s decoding strategy, children decode and learn to read from this set of beginning readers as well as beginning reading storybooks like those by Dr. Seuss. Pecci’s approach helps children quickly learn to read natural-sounding sentences in meaningful contexts while simultaneously applying phonic skills. They also learn to self-correct their errors. This should help them quickly become independent readers.
If you have an older child with a reading problem, there is a special feature on pages 239-240, "Accelerated Procedure for Independent Decoding." These pages help you streamline the program for older students while laying the essential foundation for properly decoding words using Pecci's strategy.
Throughout At Last! A Reading Method for EVERY Child, Pecci occasionally shows some seatwork pages from her seven Super Seatwork books. The reproducible Super Seatwork books have large, simple activities and exercises, including some cut-and-paste, some writing, and some drawing. Titles include: Color Words, Content Areas, Letter Recognition, Linguistic Exercises, Number Words, Phonic Grab Bag, and Word Skills. Letter Recognition includes alphabet cards and strips, Bingo, follow-the-dots, letter-match games, puzzles, and more. Linguistic Exercises includes activities for short vowel families, long vowel families, and sight families, plus 40 phonic review sheets. Phonic Grab Bag covers all basic phonic skills: consonants, blends, digraphs, long and short vowels, phonograms, and more. Word Skills covers skills related to reading such as contractions, possessives, prefixes and suffixes, alphabetizing, and dictionary skills. While Pecci recommends particular pages from the various books from time to time in the reading program, you will need to correlate most seatwork pages on your own. While you can create your own seatwork or use other seatwork books, Super Seatwork books will definitely correlate most easily with this program.
Pecci also provides instructions for teaching printing on pages 29 through 35 of At Last! A Reading Method for EVERY Child. Some parents will find this sufficient for handwriting instruction without purchasing another resource.
The program has been around from many years, and once in a while this is evident in Pecci’s use of words like “mimeo” rather than “photocopy.” All books are printed in black and white and have simple, cartoon illustrations.
A set of two DVDs are now available ($30 for homeschoolers) that walk you through At Last! A Reading Method for EVERY Child with a presentation running at least two hours. The DVDs are very low quality (single camera filming with low resolution and minimal editing), but the presentation is fast-paced. As she explains the program, Pecci also shows some of the homemade resources that you might create, especially for a class group. She also demonstrates how flashcards and other resources are used. The DVDs aren’t essential, but they are useful.
Pecci’s years of teaching experience are evident in this program. While it was written for the classroom, Pecci has used it as a reading specialist one-on-one with many students. So the program will work or adapt for homeschooling. The “New Simplified Edition” published in 2014 really does simplify this program even more than the original to make it even easier and more efficient to teach.