Pinwheels is a comprehensive language arts program for emergent readers and writers, those just beginning to read and write at the kindergarten level. It can also be used with older students who have struggled with reading and writing.
The course is presented as Year 1 and Year 2 with two levels within each year's program—Levels 1 through 4. (Level 4 is being presold as of July 2022, and will be delivered by November 21, 2011. Year 2 can be an entry point for students beyond the Year 1 skill levels. A Curriculum Placement Guide is available to assess the best starting point for students. (The publisher states that the program meets and exceeds what is covered in typical programs for kindergarten and first grade.)
Pinwheels covers phonics, basic reading skills, reading comprehension, spelling, grammar, word study (the study of word elements and spelling patterns), handwriting, composition, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. It includes research-supported practices of phonological processing and a speech-to-text approach to learning, which means that it teaches explicit phonics in a way that involves listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Students also learn with letter tiles, games, projects, and songs. Skills are consolidated through the practice of copywork, dictation, editing, and original writing. It’s very comprehensive!
Pinwheels also trains parents with instructional material and videos. Much training is included for free, and there are optional courses that you can purchase.
Pinwheels is sold as a set of PDF files for each level that includes an Educator Guide, a Student Workbook, a Reading Kit, and appendix files. Another PDF, titled Plan & Prep, helps you get started with the program for Levels 1 and 2. Level 3 has its own Plan & Prep file. You will also need to use the videos on a password-protected section on the publisher’s website.
The files for each course have a lot of pages—from two to three inches worth for each level, and that doesn’t include the appendices. You can work from a PDF of the Educator Guide, but you will need to print out the scheduling charts for each unit. I actually prefer the PDF since it has hyperlinks to the videos placed exactly when they are to be used in the lessons.
There are three appendices that are grouped together to cover Year 1 (both Level 1 and Level 2), and there are another three for Year 2. Each group of printed appendices is about an inch thick.
Most of the course pages are formatted with full-color printing. While the color isn’t crucial on every page, it is on many. The publisher of Pinwheels has partnered with Making Family Count to offer printed products, although you are given a “permission to print” letter that you can take to a printer of your choice. The cost is significant since you pay for printed resources on top of the cost for the PDF files. Even so, you might find this to be a good investment.
Once you have the printed material in hand, you will need two 1.5-inch binders for the Educator Guide (unless you choose to work from a PDF) and the student’s notebook, a 2-inch binder for the Reading Kit and appendices, section dividers for these binders, and a small, three-ring binder for flip cards (created from an appendix). In addition, you will need sticky notes in various colors and sizes, colored construction paper, index cards (at least three different colors), envelopes, highlighters in various colors, dry-erase markers, a whiteboard, and other basic school supplies along with other items, such as craft sticks, dice, tokens or coins, a fly swatter, and party supplies. There are some optional supplies, such as a Nerf® gun, a Koosh® ball, and a spinning-top toy. An Amazon shopping list also shows two different plastic storage cases, adhesive-magnet tape, round magnets, a tabletop pocket chart, and many other resources, many of which are optional but helpful.
Even if you purchase printed materials, preparation work is required before beginning to teach. The pages in the appendices provide many of the manipulatives that will be used, and you will want to print them on cardstock, cut out many items, punch holes in flip cards, and do other prep work.
The Reading Kit for each level has pages for reading practice, written copywork, and dictation. The Reading Kit also has colorful, decodable readers that feature high-frequency words and “Tell-a-Story” and “Retell-a-Story” cards. The readers are assembled simply by cutting out and stapling pages together. The storytelling cards (which also need to be cut out) will be used by students for reading comprehension activities.
It takes a bit of time to sort out the components and learn how to use the program. You will want to read through the information in Plan & Prep. You also need to watch video 1.2 to learn how to set up the student’s binder.
How It Works
Pinwheels uses a three-process learning model summed up as “I do it. We do it. You do it.” The child watches and listens to the new skill. Parent and child work together on the skill. The child then attempts to apply what he has learned. Within that learning model, many teaching and reinforcement methods are used. Parents can choose how long to spend on each lesson and how much extra practice with multisensory learning (e.g., with games and letter tiles) their child needs.
Each level of Pinwheels is presented in either 15 or 16 units. The units in each level have scheduling charts showing a suggested number of days to complete each unit. The publisher says that Year 1 (both Levels 1 and 2 together) should take about 36 weeks to complete, and Year 2 (both Levels 3 and 4) should also take about the same amount of time. The actual rate at which you complete the units will vary depending upon each child. It’s not meant to be a rigid schedule.
In Level 1, children learn the short-vowel sounds and the consonants b, g, m, p, s, t, and z. Level 2 adds the letters c, d, f, h, j, k, n, r, v, w, x, and y plus th, sh, ch, and qu. In the first two levels, children also learn to blend sounds into words, write both uppercase and lowercase letters, read some sight words, spell the sounds and words, recognize basic punctuation, and read and write words and sentences. Students practice reading, reading comprehension, and writing (via both copywork and dictation) using pages from the Reading Kits. Students begin to print letters and words from the very beginning of the course, and they are taught to say the sounds of letters or words as they write them. Songs taught on the videos provide additional reinforcement as children practice singing them.
Level 2 also introduces the idea of invented spelling. Students learn spelling rules throughout the program, and they do copywork and exercises that teach them correct spelling. But allowing them to use invented spelling for unfamiliar words encourages them to be able to write their thoughts without first having to know how to spell every word correctly.
Level 3 continues to work with short-vowel words, but it teaches words with consonant blends such as brag and slap, words with suffixes, words with r-controlled vowels (e.g., bird and yard), and multi-syllable words such as frantic and kidnap. Students learn to read stories that have up to a paragraph on each page. This level also teaches other language arts skills, such as spelling, past- and present-tense verbs, action and linking verbs, nouns, and pronouns. Word-study lessons are also introduced to aid students in understanding word structure, meaning, and usage. A variety of story and literary elements are also covered. Students will do quite a bit more writing, even writing a poem and a thank-you note. The level of writing and grammar moves ahead of the phonics coverage in comparison to many other programs. Most other programs teach long-vowel words and most phonics concepts before introducing the grammar and composition skills taught in this level. However, the integration of the various areas of language arts is an intentional strategy of Pinwheels.
Level 4 completes coverage of phonics with instruction on the various ways to make long-vowel sounds, consonant combinations such as wh, nk, and ph, and decoding multi-syllable words. Affix usage increases as word study advances. Students learn how to apply their word structure knowledge to reading and spelling multi-syllable words. Students do more work on vocabulary, spelling, composition, editing, and grammar. The grammar lessons introduce adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and prepositional phrases. The composition work continues to be advanced, with students doing some original writing.
The Educator Guides are laid out in an easy-to-follow fashion. The instructions say that before beginning to teach each new unit, the instructor should read through that entire unit and watch all videos that will be used.
Each unit in the Educator Guides begins with the scheduling chart which has boxes showing which skills are taught each day. The chart is followed by a list of items you need. Often this includes items from an appendix. Following the list of items is a section titled “Why You Teach” which explains the objectives for the unit and provides teaching suggestions. "What You Teach" then provides the actual lesson material. It tells when to use each of the course components and includes scripted instructions for parents to present in light-orange-colored boxes. Lessons always involve multisensory learning with continual interaction between instructor and student.
Suggestions for extra practice are included near the end of most units. These are a mixture of hands-on activities, interactions, and games that help children review previously learned skills and concepts and apply them in meaningful contexts.
Pinwheels explicitly teaches reading and writing together, and it does a nice job of covering the different areas of language arts for children and “teaching the teacher” at the same time. While the program is teacher intensive, the multisensory learning activities should meet the needs of various types of learners and keep things interesting for all of them.