Sunday, November 11, 2012

TOS Review: IEW Primary Arts of Language (PAL)

One of the most common questions I get from new homeschooling moms is, "What curriculum do you use to teach reading?"  Teaching your child to read can seem like a daunting task.  It is one of the very most important things to learn in life, and if you don't teach your child to read, you won't get far in the other subjects.  This is why I enjoy any opportunity I receive to review programs designed to teach your children to read.  That, and because I also have a child learning to read!

The last month and a half we have been using a program from The Institute for Excellence in Writing designed for students grades K-2 called Primary Arts of Language or PAL for short.  PAL is a comprehensive language program based on Anna Ingram's Sight-Sound System.  PAL teaches learning to read, hand-writing, literature, creative writing and spelling all wrapped up into one!  If you have a Kindergarten student you could use just PAL along with another math program and Bible curriculum and you would have all the curriculum you needed for your core.

PAL was written and created by Jill Pike who is a veteran homeschooling mother.  This is important because she takes into account the various needs of a homeschooling family and children.  She draws on her own experiences of teaching her children to read.  In fact, PAL was created as she used it with her own children.

Jill herself does an amazing job of explaining PAL in a webinar she provided.  The link is a recorded webinar that happened previously.  At the very beginning it says no data being shared, but hang in there it works after a minute or so.  If you have any interest in purchasing PAL for your family, it is a must watch.  The webinar explains, in depth, who the PAL program is for, how it works, and how to use it.  I will tell you about how we used the program here in my review, but there is no substitute for the information that Mrs. Pike shares.

The PAL program can be broken down into three different packages of reading, writing, and spelling.  These three programs are designed to be used together, but can be used separately depending on the needs of your child.  We received all the components of the PAL program for review.

The PAL reading program includes:
  1. Teacher's manual
  2. PAL Phonetic Games
  3. PAL Phonetic Farm
  4. PAL Reading DVD-Rom which includes an instructional video by Jill Pike, MP3s from Andrew Pudewa and Anna Ingham, and the PAL Reading Student e-book
It retails for $69.00 as a package, or $98.00 if you were to purchase each item individually.  I want to point out that the student book is an e-Book and can be printed as many times as needed.  If you have multiple children that you want to use the program with, you do not need to repurchase the consumables!!  This is just one of the ways Jill Pike's homeschool experience comes out in the PAL program.  She understands most moms are on a budget and tries very hard to make the PAL program affordable!

The PAL Writing program includes: 
  1. PAL Writing Teacher's Manual
  2. PAL Writing DVD-Rom which includes an instructional video from Jill Pike, MP3s from Adam Andrews and Andrew Pudewa, and the PAL Writing student e-Books. (Again, the student book can be printed over and over!)
  3. All About Spelling Level 1 teacher's manual
  4. All About Spelling student packet 
  5. All About Spelling Basic Interactive Kit

This package retails for $89.00 or $113.00 if each item is purchased separately.  

As you can see, this is an extensive package of materials and my review space will not be enough to cover every aspect of it.  So, I'm going to walk you through our experience with PAL to give you the best overview I can.

Day one:  Primary Arts of Language arrives at our house.

I was excited, of course, to get my package!  As with any new curriculum, there is always a feeling of a kid on Christmas morning.  Opening the beautiful books and manipulatives is always fun. There are a lot of materials in the box.  This makes me giddy, but then a slight overwhelmed feeling sets in.  

I notice the card that says 'where to start.'  I figure, I got this one and set it to the side.  Open the teacher's manual to see what we need to do for lesson one.  Wow, okay, overwhelmed feeling back again.  I find the 'where to start' card.

Thankfully, author Jill Pike knew I'd feel overwhelmed.  She took the time to offer an Instructional Video that will walk you through EVERYTHING you need to know about the PAL program.  The video is included on the DVD-Rom.  The video is a wonderful, hand-holding explanation that gave me the confidence to know I could use PAL and use it effectively with my children.

Now a word about this overwhelmed feeling.  Let me tell you, sometimes (like this one) overwhelmed is a good thing. A lot of times we talk about a child being a hands on learner, or a book learner, or an auditory learner, or a visual learner.  And, while each child has one style that helps them more then the next, a program that uses all of our senses for learning is the best.  PAL does this.  It is a very well-rounded program that covers each aspect of learning.  But, that does mean it takes a little bit more effort then some other programs to prepare.  

Day Two:  After I watched the videos

Now that I felt more comfortable with the PAL program, I was eager to get started.  I began reading through the first lesson again with renewed excitement.  I didn't yet know who the PAL program would benefit.  

Mustang is my 1st grader and is supposed to be in the learning to read stage.  But, she loves to read and has recently hit a spurt where she moved up to a 4th grade level overnight.  She still can't spell very well, her handwriting could use some practice, and doesn't know her phonograms.  Charger, on the other hand, is just beginning to learn to read.  He can read CVC words and some sight words.  I figured I would start both of them in the program and see what happened.

Because I had 2 in the program at once, it was so nice to pop in the DVD-rom and print TWO copies of all the work papers needed for the lessons.  Knowing that I have 2 more children coming up in the program it is even more exciting to know I can print two more copies when they are old enough!  You can even use this program with a CO-OP with no extra permissions needed.  One copy for each teacher is all you need.  Heavenly!

Day Three:  Putting together the Phonetic Games

One of the fun aspects of PAL are the Phonetic Games.  These are hands-on language games to help reinforce the lessons being taught.  They have a very Montessori feel.  Each of the games can be cut directly out of the book, or you have permission to COPY the book and make a game.  This is very important because, if you lose a piece, you can make another game.  Ask me how I know this???  
The games are made using file folders, which I found to be lovely now that we are without a schoolroom.  If I still had a schoolroom and had the space to keep them out, I might use the same games and design them into a more Montessori style, but the are really wonderful as they are.  
Jill Pike recommends putting together the games you will be using all at once, but I didn't have the time to do it all at once.  If I had a summer break to prepare for our upcoming school year I could have had them ready.  It would be really nice to not have to spend each night preparing them.  

My only complaint on these is that they are not in color.  I spent a LOT of time coloring the games.  

Day Four:  Phonetic Farm and Letter Stories

The Phonetic Farm is brilliant.  Seriously, if you just want to purchase this one item it is awesome with or without the PAL program.  Each sticker addresses a different phonogram to help students to remember that, for instance ee says long e as in bee, green, and tree.  The ee sound is on a beehive.  On another beehive is the phonogram ea as in meat and treat, another has ie and ei, the forth has ey and i.  Students can look and see that all the phonograms on beehives make the long e sound.

As students progress through the PAL program, they are introduced to individual sounds and phonograms from the beginning.  With each lesson there is at least one new sound for the Phonetic Farm.  Then can then refer to the farm at anytime.  This is the one piece of the program that is not reproducible.  

Turning to the writing program, each letter has a story.  These stories help with remembering how to write the letter and sometimes how to say it as well.  The 'b' letter, for example, has a story that says:  'Start at the top, draw a line straight down, and then bounce up and over in the direction we read b-b-boom!'  These little stories are so cute and really help make the process of learning to write fun.
Day Five: Ready to start, at least I hope so!

I did lessons with Mustang and Charger individually to make sure they were learning and not competing with each other.  Charger was up first.  Here is what a typical lesson looks like in the book and how I adapted it with my children.

Poetry:  Reading a poem is the first part of each lesson.  The same poem is read for 5-10 lessons.  During each lesson, we take the time to look for something different in the poem.  One day, we looked for all the words with ee, another we looked for words ending in er, still another we talked about figurative language and how the sun could 'peek' through the trees.  This takes about 5-10 minutes.

Class Journal:  Writing a journal together is an important part of the lessons.  These writing excersizes are a great way for your child to see you writing in complete sentences, using proper punctuation, and proper grammar.  He also gets an opportunity to verbalize his thoughts when you ask him what to write.  This also takes about 5-10 minutes.

Printing and Copywork:  This is where you turn over to the PAL writing program.  These lessons include review of previously introduced letters, and then introduction of new letters.  The letters are introduced with their letter story (see above) to help with remembering how to write each one.  After lots of practice on a whiteboard or chalkboard, students receive a paper of blocks in which to practice their writing.  This is a very Montessori way of practicing writing!  Loved the 'copywork' pages!  This takes about 15 minutes.

***The writing portion of PAL is broken down into 3 parts.  The first 31 lessons look like what I just told you about.  Beginning in lesson 32, All About Spelling is introduced and learning to write letters is replaced with sentence copywork.  Part II lasts for 40 lessons.  Part III continues with All About Spelling and moves on to learning to compose stories instead of copywork.***

And for us.  That was the end of day one.  We were not finished with lesson one, but Charger can't keep attention that long and Mustang had other subjects to complete in her day.  Some may try to do all of a lesson in one day, but even Jill Pike explains that if you need a couple days to do a lesson that's okay!

Day Six:  2nd day of lesson one

Read a Story:  Heading back over to the PAL Reading Curriculum, we begin to explore Story Summaries. Breaking down the Who? What? When? and Where? of a story as well as the problems or surprises and how the problems are solved or the surprise is revealed.  Breaking down a story helps lay the foundation for strong creative writing.  Stories are provided for the first 8 lessons, after which you would choose your own stories.  This would be an excellent time to incorporate other subjects into your core.  I really enjoyed hearing when Charger, especially, was able to break down the parts of the story.  This part should take around 20 minutes.

Now, if you decided to do an entire lesson in one day, it is suggested in the lesson that you would take a break at this time.  

Foundations and Reader Words: AKA the part where you teach the basics of reading: letters, phonics, and sight words. 

Letters are introduced in this section using the letter stories if you are not using the PAL writing or reinforced if you are using the writing section.  Phonograms are also introduced through a card game.  Each lesson introduces a new word or two.  Lesson one introduces the words green and yellow.  Using green and yellow, the phonogram ee is introduced, and with yellow, ow.  The card game is created using index cards and you underline the phonograms.  The wonderful part about introducing the phonograms with the individual letter sounds is that you don't have to stick with just CVC words from the start.  Charger can now read green, yellow, black, brown, and a number of other words because we are learning more then just basic letter sounds!

Then, your child gets to use the fun file folder games that you have already made.  Each lesson there is a new game introduced and or or new pieces added to games already in play.  Charger is really enjoying the file folder games and even Mini Cooper asks if she can play along, which I sometimes allow.
As the lessons progress this time turns into Activity time and finally Discovery time as they learn to read more and more.  At the very end, a student can choose to play the games, practice reading cards, or read from their own chosen library books.  This time lasts about 30 minutes.

The PAL suggested agenda puts the work period after this, but we moved over to the Phonetic Farm tour.

Phonetic Farm Tour:

I mentioned the phonetic farm above, but this is when your child gets to put a new sticker on the farm.  The phonograms introduced that day are the ones added to the farm.  This takes about 5-10 minutes, or longer if your child insists on looking at it for awhile.  My children all love the farm and enjoy every minute they get to explore it!

And for us, this was the end of day two!

If you were following the agenda suggested, you would break and do other subjects at this point.

Day Seven: Finishing up the lesson

Remember, I switched things up a bit, but for us we started the day with a quick reminder of our new letters, phonograms, and words for the card game.

Agenda or Work Period:  Author Jill Pike has an amazing-and very Montessori like agenda that is to go at this point in the lesson.  This agenda is much like a Montessori work plan that lines out what the child is to do  with their time and has pictures to guide them with the order.  I have not yet been brave enough to add this part in, but I am looking forward to trying it in the future.  Instead, I went with the Work Period.

Word Period:  Each lesson has work pages to help reinforce the words and letters learned.  The work pages include cutting, pasting, coloring, and reading.  They are included in the DVD-Rom.  Charger enjoyed the work pages and I felt they were creative and did a wonderful job of helping him remember what he learned.  This time takes about 30 minutes.

Read words/sentences:  This portion starts in lesson 3, as the child learns more words to read.  Each lesson or so, there are reading pages that can be placed in a folder.  When you reach the reading portion of the learning time, pull these pages out and allow your child to review the words they know.  This is a good time to review the words on the card game, too.  This takes about 5 minutes.

Informal Spelling Test:  At the beginning, the spelling test is just a test of letter sounds.  Which letter makes the c sound?  Then have your child write it.  As you progress through the lessons, this test will include words.  This portion will also take about 5 minutes.  
And PAL continues:  

As you can see, just introducing the product and lining out the FIRST lesson took me quite a bit.  As your students move along with the program, it changes often.  The basic outline doesn't, but the material covered and the depth and complexity most certainly does.  The PAL program is written for grades K-2 and I am sure that you could take the entire time to cover all the material here.  At the very least, there are 80 reading lessons and 88 writing lessons.  If a lesson per day is completed in a 5 day school week, PAL would take 18 weeks to compete.  

But, if you move at our snail pace of one lesson per week, well it will be a couple of years before it is completed.  This makes the larger investment worth it to me, knowing I wouldn't have to buy another package in just a few months.

So what did we think: 

I tried to weave some of my feelings into the descriptions above, but the short of it is that we like the Primary Arts of Language program.  There was more then once I felt a little intimidated by the complexity of the program, but I was pleased to find so much help provided by Jill Pike.  We have reached lesson 7, and I have looked further along in the PAL program, I realized that Primary Arts of Language includes all of the componants I have tried to piece together in the past using multiple programs.  I appreciate the fact that, though PAL takes a little bit of getting used to, I will only have to learn one program rather then 2 or 3 or 4.  

You may notice that, though I mentioned using the program with both Mustang and Charger, it quickly became a primarily Charger program.  Mustang is past the entire reading program and the first part of the writing program except for the phonograms.  As I have taught Charger, I have brought Mustang over to discuss the phonograms and the phonetic farm.  I have also made a class journal for each of them, I just ask Mustang to do the writing in her journal.

I want to start Mustang on Part II or maybe Part III of the writing program, but I have been so busy trying to make sure I understand the part I am to teach Charger that I haven't started trying to adapt the program to work for Mustang.  

But, the biggest reason I like or don't like something is if it works or not.  Let me tell you, PAL works!!  I have been extreamly pleased with Charger's understanding of the lessons and his interest in listening to them. He eagerly anticipates his writing lessons-something that was more of a chore before-because he loves hearing the letter stories.  He has already been successful in adding the new sight words to his list of words he can read.  

I appreciate the Montessori aspects in the PAL program.  The Montessori method does not always translate well into a homeschool setting, so it is good to find curricula that will still encourage a child to learn at their own rate and provide many opportunities for self lead learning.  The file folder games allow for hands on self lead learning. And, I as I mentioned above I appreciate that the writing pages that start with a blank square instead of lines much like a Montessori chalkboard.  One last similarity is that a letter is introduced by it's sound and not it's name.  

If you view PAL as a reading program, it is hard.  If you view PAL as a writing program, it is hard.  If you view PAL as a literature program, it is hard.  But, if you view PAL for what it is-a comprehensive language program that covers every aspect of language from Kindergarten to Second grade, then it is wonderful.  I believe you will not find a better written, more complete language program for your family.  

PAL provides a 39 page free download to preview the writing, reading, and composition portions of the program.  You can also view a 12 minute introduction video from Andrew Pudewa.

We are also not the only ones that tried out IEW Primary Arts of Language.  Be sure to read through the many reviews by my fellow crew members to see if PAL will be a good fit for your family.

Thank you so much for stopping by!  God Bless and Happy Learning!

Disclaimer:  As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received a complete package of the PAL program in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I am very intrigued with PAL, thank you so much for this thorough review.