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Review CornerSoftware
Phonics Mastery Levels A, B, and C
Rating: four stars
The Bottom Line
A systematic, learn to read program that is very education-focused, each of the three levels (levels A, B, and C) are designed to teach young or struggling readers to "master" phonemes as an important step in strengthening reading skills. Children are tested on their understanding of each of 100+ phonemes, then work on the phonemes that require practice.
Ages: 5-9   Subject: Reading/Pre-reading/Spelling  Brand: Gamco
Review Sections: Product Overview  Entertainment Value  Technically Speaking  Design  Skills Covered  Replayability  Educational Value  Dollar Value
Phonics Mastery Levels A, B, and C Product Overview
Phonics Mastery is a powerful series of software programs designed to teach young children to read, and to help older, struggling readers master basic phonemes. This program takes a four-step approach to helping a child master phonics: pretests, instruction, practice/evaluation, and mastery games.

Pretests help place a child at the appropriate level for the activities in step 2. Actual questions from the activities are asked of a child, and when a child misses questions on 2 phonemes, the test ends and practice/instruction begins on the phonemes in question.

Instruction and Practice contain 3 activities:

  • In Sound to Letter, children are presented with a phoneme, and are told its sound. After a bit of "errorless" practice, a timer is added as well as a choice of phonemes.
  • In Sound to Picture, users are shown pictures that are associated with the phonemes, and instruction and practice proceeds as with Sound to Letter.
  • In Sound to Word, instruction begins by displaying a set of words associated with the phonemes being studied, and then children practice as above.
Mastery Games are motivational games that children play after mastering each activity.
    In Leaping Lobster (for levels A, B, and C), kids move a lobster across the screen so that he can pop a bubble that contains the phoneme of the sound they hear. We found the letters in the bubbles to be rather small — kids were squinting to identify them, and one tester was intimidated by the lobster being "shocked" when he got a wrong answer.
  • Mystery Match (for levels A and C) is a game of memory in which children match sounds with either letters, pictures, or words. Kids (or teachers) can select between 3 difficulty levels.
  • The Phonics Game Show (for levels B and C) is a competition with two other computer "contestants" to answer questions and score points. Players must "buzz in" to answer questions that involve identifying the similar sound in all pictures displayed, determining which is the odd man out, identifying which sound is in all the spoken words, as well as which word matches a given picture.
There are 3 levels that correspond with the skills expected at different grade levels, each of which is a separate program and on an individual CD-ROM:
  • Level A (grades K-1) - distinguishing consonants and vowels
  • Level B (grades 1-2) - learning about consonant/vowel families and blends
  • Level C (grades 2-3) - learning about consonant/vowel digraphs and diphthongs
At the bottom of each screen, children can click on the question mark icon to get spoken help. The voice for the program is exceptionally clear and intelligible, qualities that are extremely important for a reading program such as this one. We also noted that the pictures representing the words were also very understandable and distinct — something that is not always found in other titles. As such, children will spend less time deciphering what a picture means, and more time focusing on the phonemes being studied.

The Phonics Mastery Manager allows the program to be customized. Here, teachers can enter their different classes and student lists, print out their class records, add/remove students, view/print student records, and select the programs for each class. Additionally, Program Parameters can be selected in the Phonics Mastery Manager. This is where teachers/parents can control various features of the program — pretests can be turned off if desired, games can be turned off, the length in seconds of the question timers can be adjusted, the number of questions per phoneme can be changed to allow for extra practice, and more. The Phoneme List can be totally customized, allowing for a parent or teacher to control not only the phonemes to be studied in the program, but also the order in which they appear.

A fun and interesting option involves customizing the Phonics Game Show with your own pictures for the contestants! Children enjoy seeing their own photo on-screen as they play the game.

Parents looking for a systematic learn-to-read program that contains few distractions from educational lessons will find Phonics Mastery quite sufficient for their needs. Those who are looking for more glamorous and entertaining titles should look elsewhere.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are a 486 processor, 8 Mb RAM, and CD ROM drive. Mac users require a 68040 or better, 7.0 or higher, with 8 Mb RAM, and a CD ROM drive.

Skills Covered
sound to letter, sound to picture, sound to word, consonants and difficult consonants, short and long vowels, consonant digraphs, phoneme word families, consonant blends, vowel digraphs and diphthongs, r-controlled

Educational Value
This program is very education-focused. Emphasis is on testing and instructing, and the lessons are designed to be repetitive.

Entertainment Value
After the lessons have been mastered, kids can play a mastery game, designed to motivate children. These games are educational, and rather like the main activities found in many popular reading titles on the market. In general, however, this program doesn't have the bells and whistles of most programs available, and will require some dedication on the part of both the child users and their parents.

With clear instructions and simple screens and icons, this program is very easy for a child to use without supervision. Parents and teachers are given some nice options with the program's universal management system that allows customization of content and student progress tracking.

Each CD-ROM in the series has solid content. Many children will need some form of a "push" to complete the program.

Dollar Value
Each level is $69.95 US, and the Phonics Mastery Bundle (levels A, B, and C) is $188.95 US.

Released: 1999