Thursday, April 20, 2017

Becoming an Expert Reader with Readers in Residence {A TOS Review}

One of the main reasons I wanted to homeschool our four youngest children was because of the lack of reading comprehension skills in my older children, the grown children who went through the public school system.  I admit, at one point, I thought the main concern was making sure the children were learning to read using a better strategy than my older children had. I soon discovered that reading is more than just the "learning to read" process. I needed to find something that would help the children really know how to "read to learn" as well. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was when we were chosen to review Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) from Apologia Educational Ministries

Readers in Residence by Debra Bell is more than a reading comprehension program. It is also a literature and vocabulary program. We received a set of two books, the All-In-One Student Worktext (which is consumable) and the Answer Key. We did have to provide the children's novels that we were to be reading with the program. This was not a concern, as I knew I would be able to find them at our library. 

This program helps a child learn to dig into books and become an expert reader. We are learning to look at clues and make inferences to help us appreciate books even more. Along the way we will learn to do the following:
  • understand the author's craft, choices, and intentions
  • recognize the literary elements authors use to create fiction and nonfiction
  • make inferences from the details in the text plus prior knowledge
  • decode the meaning of unfamiliar words from context clues
  • build a rich and varied vocabulary
  • identify and understand figures of speech
  • Notice how expert writers employ the conventions of the English language to achieve clarity.
This curriculum is meant to take a full school year of 32 weeks, if you follow the suggested daily schedule. Throughout the program your child will read a total of six books. There are six units. The first two units focus on the genre of historical fiction. For the first unit we are reading and studying Sarah, Plain and Tall. The second unit has us choose our own historical fiction book to study. For the next two units we will focus on animal fantasy with Charlotte's Web plus a book of our own choosing. Units five and six focus on contemporary realistic fiction. The assigned book is Because of Winn-Dixie. And again, we will choose are own book to go with the genre for the last unit. 

Each unit has its own focus. 
  • Unit 1: character development, inferences, context clues, analysis, theme
  • Unit 2: character development, comparison and contrast
  • Unit 3: plot development, denotation, connotation, figures of speech
  • Unit 4: plot, comparison and contrast
  • Unit 5: setting, figures of speech, turning point, theme
  • Unit 6: setting, comparison and contrast
There is also a project to go with units 1, 3, and 5 (the units that focus on a specific book). 
  • Unit 1: Character map
  • Unit 3: Storyboard
  • Unit 5: Set Design
In addition to these projects, the student will be examining books, filling in charts, answering reading comprehension questions, looking at vocabulary words, drawing, and participating in "Sowing Seeds" discussions, with thoughts that focus on Scripture, 

All in all we will be working through 14 modules, Unit 1 has 4, Unit 2 has 1, Unit 3 has 4, Unit 4 has 1, Unit 5 has 3, and Unit 6 has 1. The modules have a varying number of lessons. We are currently in the middle of Module 3, working our way through Sarah, Plain and Tall

The 562-page All-in-One Worktext begins with a Table of Contents, a Quick Guide, a Preface, and a Student Welcome. There is then a 5-page Suggested Daily Schedule chart that guides you through which lessons in the module you should be working on each day. 

Each unit begins with an introduction and then moves straight into the first module for that unit. There are Reader's Questions to answer. We try to answer them at the beginning of the module to see what we already know, and then at the end of the module we go back to the questions to see if we can now answer them with the knowledge we have gained in the lessons.

During our lessons, I read the text to Tabitha. We look at the vocabulary in the sidebar and take note of the different images/graphics.

Then there are activities that need to be completed. The first module was all about learning what an expert reader is and how to use clues before starting to read the book. We learned about different genres, looking around our house and the library to find books that match each of them. Here is Tabitha filling out her chart.

At the end of this module, Tabitha got to create a cover for a book she is writing. She needed to make sure to leave lots of clues to help readers discover what her book was about. She decided to make a cover for a book she actually started writing last November. 

In module 2 we focused on different aspects of the characters in books, such as how we learn about the characters and what kind of character they are (main, major, or minor). We also learned about making inferences. Then, to Tabitha's delight, we finally got to dive into Sarah, Plain and Tall. We read a chapter at a time and delve into the different lessons we have been learning. For module 2, that was looking at the character introduction and how we learn different details about each character. In module 3, that was looking at physical traits, character traits, and character development.

As we read we are to "ruminate" on a couple of questions, and then there are "Aha!" questions to answer.

There are also vocabulary development lessons called "Word Sleuth," where the student needs to look at the context and use prior knowledge to guess the meaning of words in the story. Then we use the dictionary to find the real meaning. There is a small dictionary at the back of the Student Worktext with all the words that are in the lessons.

At the end of the modules there is a section called "Sowing Seeds" where we look at a passage from one of the chapters we read during that module, and discuss it from a spiritual perspective, looking at related Bible verses. 

Once all the assignments have been completed the parent is to complete the Checklist. 

There are also Rubrics to help evaluate the three end-of-unit projects. 

Let's take a quick look at the Answer Key:

The Answer Key book begins with a 22-page "How to Use" section. There are instructions for using the Answer Key itself, and instructions for using the Student Worktext. The remainder of the book contains sample answers for some of the activities. These are the types of activities that will have answers in the Answer Key:
  • Activities where there is only one correct answer
  • Activities where the answers vary, but there is a set range of acceptable answers
  • Activities where the student is to give examples
  • Activities where the student it to make an inference
Here are a couple of examples:

Readers in Residence is a great language arts program. Not only are we really digging into the story, but we are learning about different things, such as capitalization, sentences, and paragraphs. As we work through the program, we will be learning about chapters, italics, and punctuation, We will also be learning about figures of speech, such as onomatopoeia, metaphors, similes, hyperbole, and personification. I also appreciate that we are working on improving vocabulary and learning to use context clues. 

I did have a couple of concerns. Both Tabitha and I wish there was more space to fill in answers. The majority of the time, there are only 2 or 3 lines to answer the questions on, yet sometimes the written answers will need more space. 

In question 2 above, Tabitha ended up filling her answer in above, below, and to the side of the 2 lines provided. If you look at the answer key page below, even the sample answer needed four lines and their answer is typed. 

I only bring this up because it was very frustrating to Tabitha. She would try to shorten her answers at times to try to make it fit the lines. I had to explain to her that it was okay to use the extra space, though I admit, it does make it look messy. I almost had her just start using a notebook to answer her questions in, that way she would have as many lines as she needed. 

This is quite the comprehensive program, a program that in comprised of six units, focusing on three different genres of fiction, as already mentioned at the beginning of this review. This, of course, makes for quite a huge book to fit all the information. 

As you can see, the Student Worktext is quite thick, making it bulky and difficult to carry. There are times, when Tabitha is carrying it or holding it on her lap (as we do a lot of our lesson time on the couch) that it goes to fall, and I really fear for those spiral-bound pages. Tabitha and I were discussing this, and we really wish each genre had it's own worktext. That would put two units into one book making for much smaller books. Or even if the text part of the lessons were in a separate book and the questions, activities, and charts were in a separate book. This would even make it easier and cheaper to purchase additional student workbooks for other children, instead of having to buy an $80 book for each child to go through the program. 

Those concerns aside, I can still honestly say I recommend this program. It is appropriate for children in grades 4-6, or even older children who need help with reading comprehension. I have found that Tabitha, who is at the low end of the grade range, needs a bit longer to complete the assignments and does need quite a bit of direction. 

Don't forget to click the banner below to see what my fellow Crew Mates had to say about Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth):

Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) {Apologia Educational Ministries Review}

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