Winning Reading Boost was designed by Sue Dickson, creator of the popular Sing, Spell, Read, and Write program. Winning Reading Boost is a multisensory program intended for teaching phonics and reading to remedial students in second grade and above. It can easily be used with students even up through high school, although teens might find some elements of the program too childish. The Winning Reading Boost Homekit is a slightly modified version of the program that is suitable for individual families. Even though the program was not written with first graders in mind, it can also be used with them in homeschool settings.
The program was originally designed for class groups, and the instructions, even in the Homekit, reflect group interaction. The classroom version of the program uses posters and classroom visuals that are not included in the Homekit, and these are referred to in the instructions. But the visuals aren't necessary, and the posters are recreated within the student books, albeit in black and white, and these will serve just as well if you are teaching only one or two students.
The Homekit includes four instructor’s manuals and four student workbooks, a DVD with songs (with MP4 files), two card decks for games, a set of bingo-style game cards, and chips for the bingo game. Student workbooks are softcover, and the laminated back cover of each book serves as a wipe-off page with lines for students to practice some of their writing.
A competition theme throughout the program encourages students to do their best, although students are not competing against one another. (In a class group, cooperative efforts and success are rewarded.) On the inside cover of each student book, a raceway is used to track student progress, with 36 "mile markers" to achieve. Titles and covers of the student books reinforce the competition theme with Frontrunner: Student Book 1 showing runners competing, Breakaway: Student Book 2 showing bicycle racing, Pacesetter: Student Book 3 showing car racing, and Airborne: Student Book 4 showing airplanes flying.
Original phonics songs on the DVD are used throughout the program to reinforce lessons. Songs use a variety of musical styles, many of which will appeal to older learners while still being appropriate for younger students. The first card deck and bingo-style game are introduced in the first book, serving to reinforce familiarity with the sounds of the letters. The second card deck is introduced with Book 3 to reinforce recognition of letter clusters.
The methodology for teaching phonics is essentially the same as the successful approach Dickson uses in Sing, Spell, Read, and Write. The first book teaches the alphabet and key sounds for each letter—only short-vowel sounds in the first book. Beginning with the first lesson, students identify initial sounds in words. Book 2 teaches short-vowel sounds and introduces blending as students simulate hiking up and down a mountain while chanting blends. For example, the sound of the letter b joins with each short vowel as students chant ba, be, bi, bo, and bu as they move up the mountain, then bu, bo, bi, be, and ba as they descend the other side. Students practice switching initial consonants to blend with these vowels. (This is similar to the Ferris wheel used in Sing, Spell, Read, and Write.)
By the end of the second book, students will have learned to read, write, and spell almost 600 short-vowel words. Book 3 teaches long vowels, and letter clusters such as sh, ch, and er. The fourth book teaches words with silent letters such as ghost and night as well as other unusual words such as nuisance and loaves.
Handwriting is taught from the very first lesson. Students simultaneously learn to write both upper- and lower-case letters and in both print and cursive forms. Those with young students might skip teaching the cursive forms, perhaps coming back to them later. On the other hand, some homeschoolers teach cursive from the beginning rather than printing and might appreciate a phonics program that supports that approach. Lines for handwriting practice in the first book are large enough even for first graders. The lines are slightly smaller in the second book, but they should still provide sufficient space for young students. Lines in the last two books are even smaller. If the line space does not work for your student, you might need to have them do their writing on separate paper.
Students begin to read words in Book 2. The second book also introduces stories in graphic-novel format and begins to work on reading comprehensions skills. The third and fourth books have lengthier stories with illustrations but not in a graphic novel format.
The consumable student workbooks include reading material, activity pages, and frequent review exercises. Workbook pages are perforated for easy removal. This might be advantageous because removed pages will lie flat and make it easier for students to practice their penmanship without having to hold the book in place.
The program is intended to appeal to a very broad range of students, so some of the reading material is geared toward an older audience, particularly the stories in the last two books. However, stories in the first two books should be easily understandable even for first graders. While some stories are about children, many are about teens, families, couples, and adults. With both the exercises and stories, you might need to provide occasional assistance with vocabulary if you are teaching young students since some words might not be familiar to them.
Older students can progress through the program more quickly than younger students, especially the first book. You might be able to complete the entire program in a year with a student in the upper elementary grades or beyond. If you are starting with first or second graders, you should plan to take two or more years to complete the entire program.
The instructor’s manuals provide detailed lesson plans with scripts for what the teacher should say. While homeschoolers will have to make small adjustments to instructions that were written for class groups, the program should still be very easy to use. Whatever the educational setting, the program requires continual interaction between teacher and students.
Since the methodology of Dickson’s Sing, Spell, Read, and Write is so effective, I was pleased to see that methodology in this fresh new format. While Winning Reading Boost should work best as a remedial program, I think it can also serve as a beginning reading program for first graders.