The characters are racially diverse.
No one has a pony in the backyard (is wealthy).
The stories are INTERESTING!
And the 15 booklets teach ALL the Dolch words!
In the first booklet, a hurt puppy is found and returned to it's rightful owner. In the second, Mom is sick and gets taken care of, kinda. In "Antoine's Clean and Messy Room, Antoine's dad commiserates with Antoine as he tries to keep his room clean. In the fourth booklet Antoine's little sister comes along and "helps" him by washing his toys--bat, ball, bunny, everything. Then there's a story about sharing ((pizza) and another about a traumatic decision--whether to cut Kristina's long hair (and who gets to decide?). There is another story about playing under a big poster bed, another in which Paul helps Dad fix the bike, one where Xavier has a birthday party, and more!
1. Although it's number 3, I like to start with the Antoine book when teaching children to read at the beginning of first grade, since it is more challenging. However, if I'm teaching them to read this series toward the end of kindergarten, I start with, "The Hurt Puppy", and "My Mother Has a Cold" because they are easier. The characters in, "Antoine's Clean and Messy Room" are African American, which is fun for the African American kids. I present the book by reading it to the students. I then pass out books and do, "Echo Reading"-I read a page, then the students and I read the same page together. I then allow each child to read the page if they think they can (they always think they can), or have the girls read the page, then the boys.
The way this works is that I point to each word and read slowly, "My sister found a hurt puppy. He was black and brown and very small." I then say, "Now you read with me. Be sure and point to each word!"
We read together, "My sister found a hurt puppy. He was black and brown and very small."
I then say, "Who thinks they can read this page? You don't have to read if you don't want to! (invariably they all want to read--telling them they don't have to seems to reassure those who hesitate so that they then have the courage)." I then call on the child who has the least patience. He/she begins, "My...."
I say, "sister".."found"--"go ahead, you can do it. Be sure and point to each word!" I move the child's finger to the correct word if neccessary, sometimes advancing the finger along each word, if the child can't do so.
Child may say, "a hurt puppy." If he or she struggles with any word, I supply it almost before the child tries to read it.
Most children can remember most of the words, and since each child wants to read, and they are asked to follow with their finger, many will memorize much of the first page or two the first day.
If I feel the children are becoming stressed, I stop and immediately go to something that is not at all demanding. The first day I will usually try to have each child read the first page, and with some groups, the second also. Of course there are groups that will learn to read/memorize the whole book very rapidly.
Since these booklets are designed to teach the high-frequency words, many of the words are irregular. It is very important to tell children these words before they get embarrassed, along with words they haven't yet learned to decode.
The children memorize each story, or the gist of it, very quickly. The ones who don't are not singled out. In a small group it is very easy to avoid embarrassing a child who is lagging.
Once children memorize a book, they feel they are reading, and become very motivated. Since the books are paper and very cheap, they can take each booklet home and read it at home, and can have a copy to keep.
The day a booklet is introduced the children hear it at least three times--when I read the whole thing to them, when we echo read, and again when each child reads a page. This is essentially the process I use with every new book.
Generally we read several of the books the children can already read first, then introduce a new one. The schedule is dictated entirely by the progress of the group and the judgement of the teacher.
With books we have read before, when I read I often speed up the pace and exaggerate the expression. The kids then mimic the faster pace and exaggerated expression, which can do wonders for fluency. This whole process is very easy and fun.
It is true that the children do not actually learn all the words immediately, and that they memorize the text, but they do learn to read the words after several readings. Learning the words in these booklets helps with learning to decode, as almost all of the Dolch words are decodable or partly decodable, so that learning is in both directions. Since human learning is not linear, this speeds up the process and also does not leave children with the mistaken notion that all English words are decodable.
The Antoine series is only one set of several readings we do in first grade. We also read the "Biscuit" series; the Disney I Can Read "Winnie the Pooh" series; and the, "Henry and Mudge" series. The, "Henry and Mudge" series, by Cynthia Rylant, gives lots of practice with Silent E, Vowel Teams, and Diphthongs, and new words are introduced at a controlled rate that is comfortable for new readers. There are wonderful homey stories about Henry and his dad (who is a fun guy, willing to play in a puddle with Henry instead of scolding him); about what Mudge's company means to Henry on their walk to school; about how scared Henry gets when his mother tells ghost stories on Halloween (and how he hides his fear because he knows she enjoys telling ghost stories); and so on. There are 20+ of these books. Other series that are sampled are the Horrible Harry series, the Little House series, and the Boxcar Children series.
Along with the reading program just described, the students receive about 30 minutes per week of explicit phonics instruction. This includes a list from the Systematic Spelling program on Mondays. Students are asked to write the ten words 4 times each. A pretest is given on Thursdays and a test on Fridays. Games for all if all do homework and/or if the spelling scores are good.
DRA testing is done at about 9 week intervals. Otherwise, assessment consists of close observation and usually immediate remediation, in the form of a look at a chart or practice with cards (such as vowel teams).