Published by Advanced Software, Noosaville, Qld, 2004. The teacher’s manual is written by Judith Hall
Price ranges from $45.41 for the home version cd plus operating manual and $100 for a single school version cd plus teacher’s manual, to $590 for an unlimited network licence.
Contact for purchase, www.phonicsalive.com.au
Reviewed by Fay Tran
The Sound Blender is both a teaching and practice program for children developing and consolidating phonics knowledge and skills. The program consists of 12 sequenced modules, practising the blending of sounds ranging from single letters in Module 1, to ‘ch’, ‘sh’ and ‘th’ in Module 6, to ‘or/ore’, aw/au’ , ‘ph’, ‘kn’, and ‘wr’ in Module 12. The child is guided through each exercise by an encouraging Australian voice, sounding like a friendly teacher, and is rewarded for correct decisions by amusing graphics. Each module contains exercises practising the recognition of the target letter/sound combination, reading words and writing words. All also have a rhyming exercise, except Module 1, which is an introductory unit working on CVC words. The last two exercises, ‘Building speed in Blending’ and ‘Keyboard skills’ are time limited.
The program normally starts a child at the point that he stopped the previous session, even if this is not at the end of a module. However the teacher has the option of moving the child to another module or even an exercise within a module. There is an option of printing out a certificate of achievement at the end of each module showing the percentage of correct decisions made by the child when working on that module. The teacher can also access a diagnostic report indicating which items were incorrect.
The home version comes with a CD, an operating manual and lower case letter stickers for the computer keyboard. The school version also has a Teacher’s Guide in a ring back folder that includes several pages of phonics based exercises for each module. These can be photocopied and used as a sequential spelling or word reading program with or without the computer program.
For each exercise the student is asked to make decisions which require phonics knowledge and blending skills and they quickly discover that guessing does not work. For example, when the child is asked to select the word for a picture of a clock, the choices are ‘lock’, ‘cluck’, ‘clock’, and ‘clash’. If a child persists with a trial and error approach, as they all do in gaming these days, I point out that every mistake loses points from the final score, and that usually changes the strategy to careful blending. I like the instant feed-back after each word and the friendly request to have another try when a word is incorrect.
Children enjoy the amusing graphics and most enjoy trying to beat the clock in the timed exercises. The quick reading exercise has ample time for the child to choose the correct word, but I find that my students often struggle with the time limit in the final exercise, which requires the child to type the word quickly. I like the fact that the target word is displayed and then disappears, before the child is permitted to start typing, but my students spend the waiting time frantically trying to position their fingers over the correct keys, so that they can type the word quickly once the program voice says ‘Go’! I would prefer the option of extending or removing the time limit for this exercise.
I have used The Sound Blender for several years, working with children with learning difficulties both in a school setting and also as a private tutor. While I use other programs as well, I like to make sure that every child works through the 12 modules of the Sound Blender when they are ready to do so. For me, The Sound Blender is a practice and revision program, brushing up on blending skills, but it is also the ideal program for children to use at home or in the classroom. Because it both teaches and practices blending skills, it can benefit the child user, even if the supervising parent or teacher does not have the skill or knowledge themselves.