The original Reading Mastery program was called DISTAR--Direct
Instruction System for Teaching Arithmetic and Reading. Research
in the 1970s found DISTAR to be the most effective program for "follow through" with
graduates of Head Start, i.e., low SES beginners. It features
systematic, explicit phonics in a very gradual program with small
incremental steps. The lessons are scripted, with
every-pupil-response and immediate feedback. The chief criticism
of the program is that it delays the introduction of reading texts.
During the 1970s, the chief alternative to DISTAR was whole-word basals
with analytic phonics. DISTAR did very well against the
whole-word basals. Effects with low SES first graders continued
into high school, improving HS grades, likelihood of graduation, and
enrollment in postsecondary education.
Primary grade lesson teaching the
short vowel a.
System and pace in introducing correspondences:
The vowel correspondence a = /a/ is introduced in Lesson 1,
the first day of first grade. It is introduced before the
m and s, which would normally be learned in phoneme
lessons in kindergarten. The program introduces consonants as well as
which ignores the fact that vowels are far less familiar than
for most beginners. New correspondences are introduced at nearly
per week, at the optimal pace of intensive phonics programs.
vowels are introduced relatively slowly; for example, the second vowel,
= /e/, is not introduced until Lesson 19.
Phoneme awareness review:
SRA Reading Mastery does not teach children to identify phonemes in
spoken word contexts. Rather, it teaches children letter sounds
and symbols, with explicit instruction on blending sounds into
words. Blending routines are taught very thoroughly, using
left-right movements along a blending line to signal new
phonemes. Children learn to hold out the phoneme as long as the
teacher's finger is under it. The manual recommends having
children collect illustrations of objects with each phoneme, but this
is practice without
Components of phonics lesson. Items to note: Clarity
of explanations; explicitness in modeling; simplicity of initial guided
The phoneme /a/ is introduced as a sound to be repeated, and then
signaled by letter a. The teacher does not use the letter
though most children probably know this name, and letter name knowledge
strongly associated with first grade achievement, probably causally.
letter symbol is the typed a rather than the simpler a
in printing, which would allow children to use the letter in invented
The dearth of spelling work also means children do not use guided
practice to learn the correspondence, a method well established in
by Ehri and her colleagues. The vowel sound /a/ is taught as an
sound by paired association; there is no initial attempt to help
locate the phoneme in word contexts. Children learn to
the symbol a from pictures of a tree, dog, etc., and later from
forms of a (but not a), which seems rather silly.
children learn blending routines by combining words into compounds,
peanut and butter into peanutbutter. They
to print the typed form of a by tracing the sequence of strokes
dotted lines, which is unlikely to reveal the critical features of the
They also cross out a's on a worksheet and complete and color a
picture, a non-reading activity. The second and third lessons
repeat all the activities in the first lesson, reruns. Lesson 4
introduces the phoneme /m/ and letter m, staying with
continuants for ease of
blending, and repeats previous activities. Lesson 9 adds another
continuant, s = /s/. These sounds and routines are
reviewed through lesson
18 without ever reading or spelling a single word. In lesson 19,
symbol ë (marked with a macron) is introduced for the
/E/; the e alone far more commonly represents phoneme /e/
in one syllable words typically found in beginning reading texts.
this lesson, children first begin to blend, but they blend pseudowords
and /ma/ rather than actual words. Their first actual word to
am, is encountered in Lesson 28, after more than a month of
This seems an excruciatingly slow pace.
Explanations are extremely clear and simple, modeling is as explicit as
and initial practice could not be simpler. These are direct
principles carried to their logical extreme, with the result of an
slow instructional pace.
SRA Reading Mastery uses left to right, letter-by-letter
blending. Blending routines are introduced very carefully and
thoroughly. The program stays with continuant consonants, which
helps make initial blending experiences successful.
Decodability of practice texts:
No application of reading is presented in the entire first book (56
lessons). Children do not even read sentences, much less stories.