Burton Reading offers three types of reading programs written specifically for homeschoolers with online course delivery: Burton Reading: Beginnings™, Burton Reading: Beyond™, and Burton Reading: Solutions™.
The Burton Reading: Beginnings™ program is for beginning readers in kindergarten or first grade. It starts with letters and sounds and continues through about a mid-first-grade reading level.
Carol Burton trains parents how to teach with a series of seven training sessions to be viewed before you start to teach your children. You will need to print out the twenty-page training manual (PDF format) to use alongside the training videos. The first training video runs more than a half hour but the others are much shorter—less than 15 minutes each. In the fifth training session, Burton shows how to create the readers, the letter/picture cards, and a complete alphabet chart that will be used in the lessons. While Burton Reading uses a modern, web-based delivery system, the videos and teaching are unpolished and casually presented rather than carefully scripted. You will hear off-screen noises, directions for shifting the camera, and the occasional pause while Burton gathers her thoughts or figures out how to conclude a session. However, I think the “roughness” of the presentation gives you the feeling that you are getting to know the “real Carol Burton” rather than a polished presenter—as if you are learning directly from an experienced mentor.
In between training session you should work on collecting, ordering, and preparing your teaching materials. You will need items such as magnetic letters (a particular type), a dry erase board, "fine" washable markers, colored sets of 3” x 5” cards, and a set of “Itchy Alphabet Desk Strips.” (Burton uses the “Itchy Alphabet Strips” to create the letter/picture cards and the alphabet chart in a unique fashion, so you cannot just substitute other alphabet charts and cards.) The training manual provides specific ordering information for the Alphabet Strips and magnetic letters.
Once you’ve got your pages printed out, resources gathered, letter cards created, and at least a few readers assembled, you are ready to begin.
The course has 24 week-long units. Of course, you should take longer than a week if children need more time to master some concepts. You can access the website and print out all of the lesson plans in advance, or print them as you approach each week. Lesson plans are 10 and 20 pages in length for each unit. You will need to print out lesson plans since you will write on many of the pages as you teach the lessons. The publisher tells me that some families have used iPad and Android tablets with an Adobe app to be able to view and mark up the lesson plans digitally rather than print them out.
There are five relatively short teacher videos for each unit. The five sessions--categorized as Letters, Words, Reading Books, Writing, and Extensions—provide specific instruction and modeling of things taught in that unit.
Lesson plans each begin with a list of required items; brief outlines of what you will teach under the categories of Letters, Words, Reading Books, and Writing; and an evaluation page for summarizing student progress for the week. Burton continually points out the value of praising the positive for students. So much so, that she includes a “teacher evaluation” question on the evaluation page regarding how often you have praised the student.
One oddity you’ll find is that Burton continually refers to “Ethan.” Ethan is an actual student of hers whom we meet in the training video. Burton apparently first wrote the lessons for teaching Ethan. She then decided that it was easier to leave in “Ethan” rather than substituting “he or she” and “him or her.” You just need to mentally substitute your child’s name in place of Ethan as you work through the lessons. (Burton explains this on the videos.)
The lesson plans have detailed, scripted instructions for each day. What you are to say aloud to the child is in a bold typeface. Notes and teaching tips as well as evaluation recording sections are right below the scripted lines so there’s no searching around while you’re teaching a lesson.
The program teaches both phonics and sight words in what Burton calls a “balanced reading” approach. As they begin, children learn both names and sounds of letters. They learn their own name as well the sight words “the, a,” and “A” to help them grasp the concept that letters in certain arrangements always form the same words. (We’re not dealing with homonyms at this point.) The first books teach only sight words rather than phonics because the children are grasping the idea that there is one printed word for every word they hear. They are also learning that reading moves from left to right, that we start reading with the first letter of each word, and that reading should sound like we are talking. Children also learn that pictures can sometimes help them determine what the words are that they see on the page. (This approach differs from that of most intensive phonics programs, yet Burton Reading does teach phonics quite thoroughly.) Burton Reading is not a rules-oriented program. Instead it stresses familiarity and fluency in both reading and writing through plentiful experience and practice.
For almost every lesson there is a printable eight-page storybook. A reader is read during a lesson then the student rereads it in the next lesson before going on to the next reader. You will need to print and assemble these as shown on the fifth training video. You might want to create all of them before beginning your lessons, but if that seems overwhelming you might create them for a week at a time. Burton shows how to keep a “running record” as children read so you become aware of exactly how well they are reading and what errors they are making.
Reading and writing activities are intermixed with work with the magnetic letters, drill cards, and other learning activities. Children begin handwriting (traditional manuscript printing) the first week as they learn proper letter formation. All of this is done without workbook pages. Lessons are teacher intensive, requiring constant interaction. The multi-sensory nature of the program with frequent shifts in types of activities should work well even for wiggly learners.
By the end of the Beginnings program, children should be able to read sentences such as this one that appears in the last reader: “When we went inside the tent, lots and lots of people were there.” Students should also be able to write a few sentences at a time.
One of the unique features of this course is that it really stresses starting out in such a way that students learn things correctly from the beginning so that they do not learn bad habits that later need to be unlearned. For instance, children who don’t grasp consistent left to right movement or word correspondence often develop long term reading problems.
As children progress, you are constantly monitoring what they do well as well as the types of errors they make. You praise them frequently for the positive and gently correct errors by re-teaching or explaining. You might correct only one error out of many to keep the child feeling positive about his progress. Burton’s teaching on how to use praise strategies with children are excellent and worth implementing in other areas of child training.
In summary, Burton Reading: Beginnings program covers your kindergarten language arts and part of first grade level. You have all that you need to teach reading, handwriting, beginning composition, and spelling. It offers a practical blend of phonics and sight words with an eye on developing reading and writing fluency.
Burton Reading: Beyond ™ is a second year course. It builds upon the Beginnings course and is only available to those who have completed Burton Reading: Beginnings.
Burton Reading: Solutions ™ program is to be used with children who have already had some reading instruction, but who struggle and find reading difficult. It uses essentially the same methodology and resources as the Beginnings program, but the presentation is designed to be more suitable for older students. The goal is to reteach with positive strategies that help fill the gaps from earlier instruction and correct bad habits. There are ten training videos and Steps 1 through 12 that serve as units with a number of lessons in each unit. Burton’s years of training and experience teaching children in Reading Recovery programs are apparent as you watch and learn from her.
You access the programs by subscribing for 12 months. This gives you access to all the videos and downloadable files for whichever course you choose. Burton Reading: Beginnings turns out to be a bargain if you have one or more younger children who will need to be taught to read. The website says, “All lesson plans & books are PDF files that you download and print at home. These are yours to keep and reprint as needed or for future use with children in your household.” So while you no longer have access to the videos after your subscription expires, if you've downloaded the PDF files, you need not purchase anything more to reuse the program. I suspect that once you’ve gone through the training videos and taught the course, you’ll be fine without the videos.