Color Phonics, a product distributed by Alpha Omega, can be used as your basic phonics program, but I think it will work better as a supplement. It uses a color-coding system to identify sounds, coupled with slanted letters for alternate sounds and thin letters for silent letters. A set of coordinated colored pencils comes with Color Phonics for students to mark up other books they might be using with the Color Phonics coding. Five CDs are each used in succession. No installation is required. Up to fifty students can be tracked on each CD. The program scores and records their progress.
Consonants are taught before vowels, and words are taught in sound families (e.g., all vowel combinations that make the "long a" sound) rather than similar spelling families. Children practice with both letter and sound recognition on every one of the CDs, although they can skip this if they wish. While this practice is essential at first, it shouldn't be after students have completed the first few CDs. A "reference" section on each program offers instruction on each concept. The largest part of each program uses brief instruction followed by recognition activities. The first two CDs work on consonants, vowels, combinations, and blends within single words. The others continue with more challenging phonograms, but shift into actual story-like reading material where students practice word recognition. As students correctly identify words, the picture accompanying each story bit-by-bit changes from distorted to clear.
The "teacher center" on each CD allows the parent/teacher to select phonetic concepts to be learned, and it provides student progress/mastery information. Students can work with or without time limits, and settings for this are found in the teacher center. 80% correct is the default requirement for students to proceed, but teachers can change this if they wish. Apparently, teachers cannot short cut students through the lessons themselves. For example, students must complete all preliminary practice before getting to actual reading material on the third CD.
Sound is used throughout the program, and all sounds are carefully enunciated. Illustrations of the throat with descriptions of how sounds "feel" help students learn proper pronunciation as well as how to differentiate between sounds. The printed Teacher Handbook that comes with Color Phonics summarizes this information concisely.
The Teacher Handbook outlines the content of the CDs and lists the sounds/words taught in each section. The entire text of each of the reading selections are also printed here.
My primary criticism of Color Phonics is the same criticism leveled at most educational software. It takes far longer to get through the material because of the time spent watching cute characters fly, jump, drive, etc across the screen; listening to affirming feedback; and waiting for the CD to find and present the next piece of information (which becomes less of a problem the faster your CD-ROM player). I found myself calculating that a child could probably complete an entire workbook page in the time it took for two questions to be answered in the program.
The program rates high for graphic and auditory quality; it really is very well put together. For reluctant learners, the visual appeal might well be worth the time it takes to use the program. However, I can't help but think that most children will soon reach the same point of frustration I did, feeling like "Why can't they just skip the guys buzzing across the screen each time and get on with it?" Ultimately, it's up to parents to decide what works best with their own children.
Teaching tips, extra activity ideas, suggestions for teaching ESL and remedial students, developmental information, and vocabulary lists are all found in the Teacher Handbook. Christian content seems to be isolated to two of the reading sections.