Ok... that is what today feels like. I just got a GIANT box in the mail crammed full of school supplies for next year. YIPPEE. Ben and I sat on the bed and dissected the contents.
I also met with Ben's teacher today. She kindly took an hour of her time to sit with me and talk about teaching strategies, techniques, and materials. She shared the kinds of exercises the kids do and how the teacher go about teaching material. She photocopied the covers of her favorite books. It was great. I loved hearing what they do for both phonics and math. (I also have to mention that I was rather pleased with myself -- my homegrown program was VERY similar to their program.) I got some great tips from a pro teacher. I felt better about what I had taught Ben -- it was a real confidence booster/reality check.
What really struck me about their program is how basic it is -- in a GOOD way. Straight up Orton-Gillingham -- no frills, no bells, no whistles. Just good, solid, basic learning. And, given their track record, it is hard to argue with that.
I had also been struggling with a mastery model vs a spiral learning model... and what I learned was that they covered the same material every year in grades 1-2-3-4, just in greater depth. This makes perfect sense to me... that way you are introduced to concepts quicker so you can start reading more books sooner -- but you return to the same concepts repeatedly so they are cemented. In many of the programs that I investigated a child could spend a year doing the program and not hit some difficult but basic concepts like syllabification rules and r-controlled vowels. It is VERY hard to read anything without understanding those two...
This also made my decision about which Orton-Gillingham program to select much easier. Really... it doesn't matter that much. Sure, there are subtle differences, but more important is what the teacher brings to it -- the exercises, the games, the enthusiasm. So... I got home and ordered the basics: A Guide to Teaching Phonics (by Ms. Orton herself) and The Gillingham Manual. I also ordered Recipe for Reading + workbooks and the SPIRE phonics readers. Phew. Now I am ready to go with phonics, too.
And just in time... we found out on Friday that we may be going to Dubai or Abu Dhabi in September for 9 months. Don't get all worked up yet, loyal readers. We'll know in the next couple of weeks if we are going or not... so I would say that it is 50/50 at this point.
Oh... and don't mention this to Goody yet -- you know who you are!