Topic | Explode the Code

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  • pangit

    I am trying to decide what to do for my DD next year.  She is 10 and has dyslexia.  We have spent this year going in to the local school for their special ed reading class.  I have seen a lot of improvement this year, but am not sure that I want to go back next year.  If she would continue to progress at home, I’d rather do that.  If she really needs to be there, than we will go.  She is now reading all the sight words and single vowel words.  She starts to have a hard time with vowel teams.

    I was looking at Explode the Code.  I know several people on here use the program.  Do think this might be a good fit for her?  Does anyone use the online version?  Is it worth the price?  I like the idea of it evaluating if she needs more practice or is ready to move on.  I like that she could be somewhat independent with it.  But, maybe she would be that way with the workbooks, too.  What do you like or not like about the program?  We read the pathway readers and I have started her over with them.  We just finished First Steps and are starting Days Go By.  So far she is reading them very smoothly and confidently.

    Any other recommendations would be appreciated, too.  I’m just really at a loss of what to do next year.


    Sorry to hear this has been a challenge for you, pangit!  Others may have different views, but I will give you my two cents on ETC.  We used the workbooks for about 8 months when my children 6 and 7.5.  Then we tried the online version.  I went into ETC feeling so very hopeful that it would solidify phonics and decoding for my boys, and that it would accomplish the goal through independent work.  I know it has worked for many other families.  I am sorry to say that this was NOT the case for us, at least not past the early reading stage. 

    For us, ETC worked decently in the early reading stage –  short vowels and easy blends.  My kids liked it and found it easy to do for the few months.  But once we got to syllabication in book 3 and vowel teams in the books beyond, my kids seemed to retain very little.  It probably didn’t help that I encouraged them to do ETC independently; looking back, I realize that they were not carefully reading or in any way “locking in” the phonics “rule” presented at the top of each worksheet.  (I’m putting “rule” in quotations because compared to other programs ETC’s presentation of phonics rules is extremely basic). 

    In the end, my kids knew how the variety of exercises worked (it’s the same format througout the series) and by book 4 they were just going through the exercises based on guesswork.   Unless you, as the teacher, aim to have your child memorize the rule for each unit – and then drill her on it and actually try out the rule in other formats that you invent – I can’t see this as a program that really locks in reading strategies.

    Bottom line, I think ETC is a great program for the early reading stage of figuring out how to blend basic vowels and consonants into words.  But as a program for taking reading beyond this level, we had zero success.

    What worked/what did we do instead?   I ended up shifting gears and trying more intense spelling programs that encourage phonics awareness (phonetic zoo was one though we later switched to Sequential Spelling).  Alongside of this we simply did a TON of oral reading/buddy reading.  Always daily, sometimes twice a day, and usually on the weekends, too.   We used graded readers (similar to Pathway) that use a combination of sight and phonics words.   Our sessions worked like this:

    DS and I would sit together for 10 minutes a day, reading a chapter or two (whenever he got tired I would read a bit so that we could keep advancing, but I held my finger under my reading path).  Whenever HE came to an unknown word, he usually had no CLUE how to sound out or decode.  I simply told him the word, made him say it, and then he would go back to the beginning of the sentence and say the word correctly within the sentence.  I kept a “word book” at my side during these sessions, and I wrote down every word he struggled with and learned that day.  At the start of the next day’s session, I would show him the words from yesterday’s entries in the word book; he would read them if remembered; if he’d forgotten I just told him.  Seems like such a long way around the fence, but after a few months the progress became quite amazing.  More importantly he began to LOVE reading (maybe because he associated it with a lovely, quiet time with Mom?  Or just due to new found confidence?   Hard to know for sure). 

    Long story short, I used this “method” for over two years after we’d pulled my eldest boys from PS (grade 1 and grade2) and I was faced with the task of filling in the reading gaps.  I now have two book-loving kids, both of whom are a full grade above level.  The eldest was fairly on track to begin with, but my second son was most certainly later to begin reading, struggles with hand-writing and has a shorter attention span.  Even with my second son, we have had success with what I outlined above.

    Next in line is 3rd son (1st grade, turning 7 in May).  I am presently using the reader/word book method for our oral reading sessions, and we are using Reading Lessons Through Literature for phonics.   I’m very happy with RLTL – for both the reading sessions and the fact that it incorporates spelling in a way that actually forces the child to KNOW phonics application.  You might want to check it out…the author does show an Appendix on using the program for older children (though I think she cited age 8 or so)…it might be too much “starting over” for you, but you know your child best!  For what it’s worth my almost 11 year old and 9.5 year old have occasionally listened to me teaching my 7 year old from RLTL and have commented that they wish they had learned how to figure out words that way (how smiling I am on those days!)

    Blessings, Angie



    While I am not sure how ETC would work for dyslexia, it has worked well for us. We started with Sonlight’s grade 1 reading program and their I Can Read It! Set of 3 readers and a word list book. The word families in the Word list book and the ETC word families match. We used ETC books 1-3 with that program. Although Sonlight drops ETC and their word list, we keep these up. Their word list book goes to ETC 8 word families. On the last page of each ETC lesson, there are about 8-10 words I have them study for a weekly spelling test, starting with book 3. They always do well on it. They are independent in their ETC workbooks, doing 2 pages per day for 4 days and studying words/taking spelling test on the 5th day. And they read aloud to me the words in that week’s word list from the Sonlight word list book. After all 8 ETC books, my son moved to Spelling Wisdom mid-4TH grade with no trouble. He is pretty good at reading and spelling.


    ETC was a bust for both my kids ages 7 & 8 at the time. We are now settled in and using MCP phonics and they are fairly independent with it. This is their only worksheet other than their math. We also use AAS or All About Spelling and my daughter seems to take it all in naturally, but my son struggles. He has no label or diagnosis, but it is abvious that their is some disconnect for him when it comes to spelling. He has reading down nicely, but spelling is a hard hard struggle. I have found that with him, he needs to write it, say it, read it. So I have him look at the AAS word cards and copy the word 3 times. While he copies it, he is to vocally spell it out as he writes it…then when he is done I have him read the word list. We spent 7-8 weeks on one set of 10 words and after this method, he got them all correct and after a week later included them in with that week’s words and he still got them all correct. So it works for him and because he has seen how it helps him, he is not complaining about copying them down at all and he is now for the first time enjoying spelling. 

    It is strange to have a child read words like environmental, providing, avalanche, conservation without batting an eye, but you ask them to spell desk or dishes and they have no clue. the mind is an amazing thing!!


    Best of luck to you and hope this helps you.


    Phonics Pathways and Reading Pathways were recommended to me by another mom. So far I have only looked at them on Amazon. She also recommended Plaid Phonics. I had to do a Google search to be able to look inside and decided it wouldn’t be a good fit for my ds. But you may want to have a look at them. The Barton Reading System looks really good, but oh my goodnes – the cost. Yikes.

    I was thinking of having a look at ETC, so I sure appreciate y’all taking the time to relay your experience. We have not had my guy tested yet, but are seriously considering it. I’m still reading and learning about all this.


    ETA: MCP mentioned above is Plaid Phonics.  🙂


    Thank you all for your responses.  I am feeling like I need to do some more looking around. Probably be making another post or two soon.


    ABeCeDarian is a good one for dyslexia. My dd7 with special needs is doing well with it. He offers a book for homeschoolers as well as a unique spelling program (different book). I haven’t used spelling but discussed it at length with him…we’re not at that point yet.


    We use Explode the Code as a supplement, simply because the kids like it and it’s good review. I know lots of people who use it as a core. I agree with the previous poster though, to use it as a core I think you need to make sure you are present to teach the concept and review it, and even then…it’s always presented the exact same way. So some kids will get it, and some probably won’t. We use AAR/AAS and it’s been an awesome combo. It’s highly recommended for dyslexia, so it’s worth a look. Both programs are very thorough. What I like about them: review is built in, steps are well laid out, it’s engaging, appeals to multiple learning styles, and once you do the initial prep work (seperating cards and organizing tiles) it’s open and go.


    Wow, I just found this super helpful about phonics programs. She only talks about two types in the post, then there is more discussion in the comments where the Orton-Gillingham method is brought, which is what is recommended for dyslexia.

    Melissa  🙂


    Thank you so much for the continued suggestions and discussion.  I am looking some of them up right now.

    We have used AAS.  My DD10 did levels 1 and 2 but I really don’t think she retained any of it.  She hates it when I ask her to use the tiles.  I thought she was a kinesthetic learner so it baffles me why.  Sometims I wonder if it is just because I asked her to.  We really butt heads a lot – especially on reading.  That is one reason why we started taking her to the schools reading time.  We felt like she needed somebody besides me so it would be a completely fresh start.  I am wondering if we have made enough progress to just stay home next year.  She keeps telling me that she doesn’t like going to reading class anymore.  It is getting more and more boring.  And, one of the kids (there are only 3 in her class) acts out most everyday.

    I have looked at AAR a lot.  In fact it is open in my browser now and has been for a couple days.  I don’t know what is still holding me back, I guess I just want to know that it will work (with good attitudes – maybe that is asking too much!)  I had planned to start DD over with AAS level 1 once her reading was better.  Not sure if next year is the year or not.  But, my SIL borrowed my level 1 and is not returning it (a lot more to the situation).  She only has the teacher’s manual.  Not sure if I should re-buy it or if I should do something else.

    Can someone just tell me what is going to work?  Be stress free?  Enjoyable?  LOL  While you’re at it, you can just make my whole plan for next year! =)

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