Publisher: SRA Reading Mastery

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, beginning the first day of first grade.  It is introduced before the consonants m and s, which would normally be learned in phoneme awareness lessons in kindergarten. The program introduces consonants as well as vowels, which ignores the fact that vowels are far less familiar than consonants for most beginners.  New correspondences are introduced at nearly 2 per week, at the optimal pace of intensive phonics programs.  However, vowels are introduced relatively slowly; for example, the second vowel, e = /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 instruction.

Components of phonics lesson.  Items to note:  Clarity of explanations; explicitness in modeling; simplicity of initial guided practice.
The phoneme /a/ is introduced as a sound to be repeated, and then signaled by letter a.  The teacher does not use the letter name a, though most children probably know this name, and letter name knowledge is strongly associated with first grade achievement, probably causally. The letter symbol is the typed a rather than the simpler a used in printing, which would allow children to use the letter in invented spelling. The dearth of spelling work also means children do not use guided spelling practice to learn the correspondence, a method well established in research by Ehri and her colleagues. The vowel sound /a/ is taught as an abstract sound by paired association; there is no initial attempt to help children locate the phoneme in word contexts.  Children learn to discriminate the symbol a from pictures of a tree, dog, etc., and later from variant forms of a (but not a), which seems rather silly.  Meanwhile, children learn blending routines by combining words into compounds, e.g., peanut and butter into peanutbutter.  They learn to print the typed form of a by tracing the sequence of strokes along dotted lines, which is unlikely to reveal the critical features of the letter.  They also cross out a's on a worksheet and complete and color a dot-to-dot picture, a non-reading activity.  The second and third lessons essentially 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, the symbol ë (marked with a macron) is introduced for the phoneme /E/; the e alone far more commonly represents phoneme /e/ (short e) in one syllable words typically found in beginning reading texts.  In this lesson, children first begin to blend, but they blend pseudowords /sa/ and /ma/ rather than actual words.  Their first actual word to blend, am, is encountered in Lesson 28, after more than a month of instruction.  This seems an excruciatingly slow pace.  

Explanations are extremely clear and simple, modeling is as explicit as possible, and initial practice could not be simpler.  These are direct instruction principles carried to their logical extreme, with the result of an extraordinarily slow instructional pace.

Blending method:
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.