What is the rationale behind the leveling and organization of Scholastic F.I.R.S.T.?
The game starts with an essential pre-reading skill: alphabet recognition and sequencing. The introduction of the letters is done in groups of three-to-five letters, beginning with lower case, as these are the letters most frequently seen, and then moving on to upper case.
As the alphabet is being mastered, the sounds associated with letters are being introduced. The program starts with sounds that are easiest to hear and blend, /m/, /s/, /oo/ and /ee/. Each of these sounds can be lengthened or held- e.g. mmm…, so that a child can get a good grasp of the sound before blending it with another sound. Because of this careful ordering of the presentation of sounds, decoding a word such as “soon”, made up of three of the sounds introduced early in the game, is not a challenge for most young learners.
Consonant sounds, such as /d/ and /g/, are introduced later, as they cannot be held, and when said, have a partial vowel sound included, e.g. the “d” sound actually sounds like /du/. The more difficult vowels are also the ones that cannot be held, and are said very quickly, e.g., /_i_/ as in “dig”. All three of the sounds in the word “dig” are very brief and harder to hear and manipulate in a word. More skill is needed to separate the sounds and then blend them back together to decode a word. Because of the order in which the sounds are presented in the Ooka Island program, children are well prepared to work with these sounds by the time they reach them.
To ensure that a particular skill is truly mastered, the child is taken through the activities at each level three times, before moving on to the next level. If necessary, the child is directed to additional activities that will bring that particular skill to mastery. Without mastery, the foundation necessary for later skills will not be firmly established.
The immediate recall of the sounds of the letters, and the manipulation of the sounds, which includes segmenting words into sounds, and blending sounds into words, is preparing a child to effortlessly decode when reading. These skills must be automatic (almost without thought) for reading to be fluent, smooth, and accurate. All of the activities in the program, in a very specific order of presentation, are leading the child to this point.