The Reading Detective® series is available in book or software versions with some distinct differences between the two.
The Reading Detective® series print editions differ from most other reading comprehension workbooks that allow students to work totally independently. While students can complete much of their work independently in this series, one or more questions in most lessons ask students to explain their answers. This will require either extensive writing or discussion.
The variety of material in the reading passages surpasses that of most other reading comprehension books. For example, in book A1 there are excerpts from The Jungle Book and Where the Red Fern Grows, a fictional letter from a gold-rush miner, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood from the wolf’s perspective, a skateboarding story, a mystery about a missing diamond, a biography of Cesar Chavez, instructions on how to make dough ornaments, an explanation of air pressure and the creation of wind, an article on ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and much more.
Students read and respond to fiction and non-fiction passages throughout these workbooks. They answer simple comprehension questions as well as more challenging questions that require them to analyze or make an inference. However, even on the simple questions, students are asked to provide evidence by indicating the number (or numbers) of the sentence(s) in the reading passage that best support the student’s answer. This forces students to read closely, which might be especially helpful with children who tend to skim a reading passage and guess at the multiple-choice answers. While many questions are multiple-choice, some require students to come up with their own responses.
There are four books in the series.
Beginning (Grades 3-4) is divided into lessons addressing eight areas: inference, vocabulary (from context), story parts, main idea, theme, cause and effect, prediction, and mixed skills. Instructions and examples are at the beginning of each section so that students understand how to tackle each type of lesson. Most reading passages are written by the authors of this workbook, but some are excerpted from well-known literature.
A1 (Grades 5-6) has only three sections although students work on a variety of reading skills within each section. The ten lessons in the first section use excerpts from well-known literature. At the front of the book are ten optional literature essay questions that relate to each of these lessons. The second section uses brief fictional pieces while the third section works with non-fiction. All reading passages in the second and third sections are written by the authors of this workbook.
B1 (Grades 7-8) is arranged in the same fashion as book A1 with three sections: fiction passages from well-known literature, other fictional short stories, and non-fiction articles. A few of the lessons include work with data analysis.
Rx is written for remedial students in grades 6 through 12. This workbook is written at a fourth to sixth grade reading level, but the content is for older students. Like the Beginning book, it has 11 units with instructions at the beginning of each unit. Unit topics are: main idea and supporting details, conclusions and inferences, story elements, literary devices, theme, vocabulary (from context), figurative language, cause and effect, prediction, fact and opinion, and mixed skills.
Permission is given to photocopy the lessons for use in one family or one classroom. Pre-tests and post-tests are included in each book as well as complete answer keys with suggested explanations for pertinent questions. Aside from instruction, pre-tests, and post-tests, there are about 50 lessons per book, and each lesson should be completed in one day. If you use the optional essay assignments that appear only in book A1, those will take additional time.
The software version of each book varies in some very significant ways. The CD-ROM for each program needs to be installed on a computer (either Windows or Mac systems). Each level has all of the same reading content and questions as the books, including instruction, pre-tests, and post-tests. However, with the program it is not always as obvious to the student what type of assignment he or she is doing; for example, a pre-test looks just like a regular lesson and accumulates points toward games just as a lesson does. The arcade games and points is another major difference from print editions. As students complete activities correctly they accumulate points to play simple arcade games included in the program.
In addition, the discussion or writing component is eliminated. Students are asked to identify the sentence, sentences, paragraph, or paragraphs that provide the best evidence for their answers instead of explaining in their own words. While this does still require close reading, it also allows guessing instead of requiring the student to compose his or her own response.
The software versions also automatically track and grade student work, allowing for totally independent work. Although you may install the program on only one computer, you may register more than one student and track their progress.
While students are able to jump around in the program, they really should work in sequence to ensure that they get the proper instruction before tackling the next category of lessons.
Content of The Reading Detective is secular and reflects mainstream ideas, so you might want to preview lessons. I spotted one mention of millions of years and one story on global warming that attributes the cause solely to human activity, but I did not spot anything else problematic enough that I would not be comfortable allowing one of my children to work through these lessons independently.
The variety of content and thought-provoking activities make this series appealing, and the choice of print or software options allows you to select the approach that is most likely to work with different types of learners.