Do Kids Really Need to READ??


Niklas reads

Niklas reads (Photo credit: whgrad)

I was chatting to a colleague in the publishing industry recently.  We were talking about the Headsprout Reading programs….Early Reading and Reading Comprehension.  My colleague shall go nameless (to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent!), but he told me that publishers find Headsprout  “very controversial.”

Hmmm.  That made me wonder.  I’ve known the principals at Headsprout for many years and when I worked for Mimio Interactive Teaching Technologies I initiated and spearheaded Mimio’s acquisition of Headsprout.  I had been tasked with finding a content partner who had high quality instruction, and Headsprout, with its money-back guarantee of effectiveness, was a no-brainer for me.

Now, this post isn’t intended to be a sales pitch, so stick with me for a minute, because the good part is still coming.  I chatted further with my publishing colleague.  He was aware of Headsprout’s effectiveness data…he agreed that Headsprout “works” in teaching kids to read.  So why the controversy?

It turns out that Headsprout’s program does not follow the “agreed upon” sequence that “reading experts” espouse.  Publishers follow this “standard” sequence in their textbooks and extension products.  According to my colleague, this means that Headsprout is off-limits for partnerships because it doesn’t support the sequence of the existing products.  In spite of the fact that these same publishers recognize that Headsprout works.

Which leads me to my ponderings here.  We want kids to read.  I think we can all agree on that.  But here is a program that works….it just isn’t the traditional ordering of the material…so we’re not going to advocate its use?  That blows my mind.

Let’s all reexamine our values for a minute.  Do we care about the structure of instruction, or do we care about the function of instruction?  Because if it’s the former, let’s just keep doing what we’re doing…not just with textbooks, but with everything.  But if we care about the latter then let’s try to break out of this box, just like we’re trying to do with delivery systems for instruction, location of instruction, and how kids interact with instructional material.

If we get caught up in things like everyone following a specific sequence we are just never going to get there.

What do you think?  Too heretical?

About karen mahon

i am a behavior and learning scientist. i hold an ed.d. in educational psychology and am trained as an instructional designer. i have spent more than 15 years working in education and instructional software design.
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18 Responses to Do Kids Really Need to READ??

  1. Alyssa says:

    There are no words to adequately express my… disgust? Annoyance? I am spinning in thoughts! Let’s see… broken system, there is a tool that works and we agree it works, but we can’t use it because it is not a traditional sequence?! WHAT?! Appalling. There used to be a sequence where doctors went from sick bodies/the morgue to other people without washing their hands and clearly that sequence was TRADITIONAL but clearly another sequence worked better! Ugh. So annoyed. I wish I could unread what you wrote.

  2. Alyssa says:

    Rather, I wish I could unread what he admitted to. Now I am my sad phase 😉

  3. fran says:

    Publishers – I’ve always said book companies run the school systems in this country – so this is no surprise to me.

    • karen mahon says:

      I guess it’s not really a surprise…publishers are corporations and corporations generally seem to run our country. So this is intended more to be a call to arms! 🙂

  4. Mair says:

    …And this is the biggest question that needs to be asked, and examined, honestly! I do not understand, ever, why decisions regarding educating children are sometimes based on convenience or what people like, rather than what is in the best interests of the child…

  5. R says:

    Call me crazy but I kinda like it that we’re considered controversial. Could we be considered ‘game changing’ if our ER strategy were like everyone else’s?

  6. Lynn says:

    Let’s not forget the role that politics plays in educating children in this country. Blaming the “Big Bad Publishing Corporations” should be secondary as they respond to what the “Big Bad States” like CA, TX, FL and other large adoption States demand. Headsprout should play the game. It will require a lot of money to play the political game and in the meantime try to make a difference. Unfortunately, then and only then will it be considered ‘game changing.’

    • karen mahon says:

      Lynn, I certainly agree that what the big states demand drives much of what the publishers do. But when you say Headsprout should “play the game,” what do you mean by that? Are you saying Headsprout should change what their instruction is doing….and do the same sequence as everyone else? Or are you saying something else? Please help us understand.

  7. Eva says:

    If it is not broken, don’t fix it! My oldest son had reading set backs util he did the Headsprout program.

    • karen mahon says:

      Eva, thanks for chiming in! It’s great to hear directly from a parent of a child who benefited from Headsprout! So glad your son’s reading is going well!

  8. helen lai says:

    My child, Logan, is five years old and just finished lesson/episode 80 today. He can read anything I put in front of him. I’m so proud of him. My sister recommended the program to me. Her child is almost a year old than mine. But she didn’t stick with Headsprout and her child cannot read yet. It took us a year and a half to finish. Sometimes we did the same lesson over and over again until he ‘got it,’ but it was totally worth it. Logan will enter Kindergarden this year. His Pre-school teacher is amazed at his knowledge. THANK YOU HEADSPROUT! – Helen from Texas.

  9. Louise says:

    I started my son on Headsprout and he became frustrated with it, so I thought the program didn’t work, we got past lesson 12 and he was struggling so I called the company he just couldn’t get the word Fran over and over. Turns out I was the problem, it clearly states that they need to do 3-5 episodes a week, and since he had just turned 5 I wasn’t really pushing him so he was losing the sounds in between the episodes. So, I ordered the flash cards, and also ordered the program for my daughter who was 6 at the time and now they compete to see who has more stickers on their charts, she of course is going more quickly since she was already reading some phonetic readers like BOB books. Oh, the company recommended restarting him back to lesson 1 which they did at no extra cost, and they are both doing great now. They love to impress Daddy every time they get to a new book. Sometimes they need a little encouragement to do their lessons, but mostly because its finally spring and they’d rather play outside, but they love reading time every night and starting a new book. Their favorites are the companion readers where there is part I read and part they read. Thank you so much for writing this, I was doing a search to see reviews since I haven’t really heard much about it and there are just so many options. I have friends whose children are struggling, but I recommend Mimio and they don’t want to try it. They think their kids will just catch up when they are ready.

  10. karen mahon says:

    That’s great, Louise, I’m so glad the program is working well for your kids! I’m guessing you’re using the Early Reading program, right? You’ll love the Reading Comprehension program just as much when your kids get to that point!

    You’re right, there are TONS of options, so I always recommend to parents that whenever they are buying software programs for their kids that they ask the company if they have efficacy data. And as you know by now, Headsprout has an abundance of data!

    It can be frustrating when you’ve had such success and your friends believe that their kids just aren’t “ready.” I have the same frustration! But the success your kids are having is the best example you can provide. And if your friends’ kids continue to struggle then they’ll come around sooner of later. Let’s hope for the sake of the kids it’s sooner!

  11. Jan says:

    I don’t think that you’ve heard yet – I was informed by a principal (when advocating for one of my students) that his job was not to make his school a good place for student learning, it was to provide a good place for teachers to work, as the teachers will be there long after a student has moved on. I left that school at the end of year but sadly many others are the same. Schools do what they think is best for them. If every child learns to read with Headsprout – an entire industry has to change. I love Headsprout. I purchased a classroom subscription with my own funds and am sharing it with other teachers who want to give it a try with their struggling students. It makes me so happy to see successful students! PS – I am going to start my 3 year old grandson on it soon. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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