Simon Sounds It Out

Simon Sounds it Out (Simon SIO), by Don Johnston, is a reading program emphasizing phonics instruction. Although the instruction is at a pre-K through second grade level, the creators assert that the program could be of interest to struggling students as old as eighth grade, and is especially useful with older children who need systematic phonics instruction at their own pace.

The program consists of 33 levels, with level one introducing basic beginning and ending sounds (b, at), and the higher levels dealing with spelling and fluency in reading complete sentences. Requiring no actual typing, the questions are presented in more of a multiple choice format in which the student chooses the correct sound using a mouse (or keyboard key when using the scanning option). The teacher is able to choose the level at which each student begins the program, but after that, all lessons are self- paced, and the computer moves on to the next lesson only after the students demonstrates mastery of current concepts. A variety of activities, such as identifying beginning and ending sounds, spelling, “pick the word,” speed challenge, reading challenge, and reading the word into a microphone, are included in each lesson, and presented in the order which the computer chooses. Students or adults cannot choose between activities or go back to specific previous ones. This feature can be limiting to a teacher who wants to adapt the program to fit a student’s individual needs, but it makes it easy for a student to work through the lessons independently, and parents can easily use this program at home without spending much time creating or adapting materials.

For students with fine motor difficulty who cannot operate the mouse, a scanning option is available in which the student uses the [1] key to toggle through options. The teacher can choose whether the sound is turned on (each item the students scans over is read aloud) or off. Simon S.I.O. can complement any other reading program, providing an opportunity for a student to learn or review in a different setting rather than sitting in front of a worksheet and a teacher. Because information is presented both visually and auditorally and accompanied by pictures and graphics, students with different learning styles can benefit from the multi-media approach.

A second grade student with autism in my classroom has been introduced to Simon S.I.O. He is familiar with letters and understands the concepts of letter-sound correspondence and knows the sounds of some, but not all, of the letters in the alphabet. Because of his visual learning style and great memory, he has learned a number of sight words, but is just beginning to sound out words phonetically. Simon S.I.O has been a welcome accompaniment to Reading Mastery, which can tend to get dry and is very auditory-based. This student needs a teacher beside him while he works because he does not listen to the directions presented by the computer, but once he recognizes the rules and the pattern of the program, he is able to successfully navigate through. The systematic way in which activities are repeatedly presented makes it easier for him to gain independence in his work, because he does not have to rely on a teacher to explain each activity to him. He benefits from the predictability of the lessons, but for some students this may become boring.

Although the graphics are simple and unsophisticated, the pictures, color, and sound together create a stimulating learning environment and allow students with limited vocabularies or low language levels to understand the words by looking at pictures, and then connect those pictures to verbal and written words. Words appear to the student again and again throughout each lesson, providing extensive review and repetition. Unlike some applications that are difficult to navigate or require training to learn the system, S.I.O. can be learned by most students in less than five minutes, and after that they can have free reign over their learning.

Although not as cheap as a Cat in the Hat book, Simon S.I.O. is a cost-effective purchase for a school system or a family with a child struggling to read. Teachers or parents can print out progress reports, award certificates, and lists of specific sounds or words taught in each level. Overall, the program is very user-friendly, uses solid principles and teaching techniques to teach phonics, and although it allows for very little differentiating or management on the part of the teacher, could be a useful tool to supplement a reading program in a special education or ESOL setting.

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