Headsprout Early Reading and Comprehension Programmes taken over by Learning A-Z

Effective Reading Instruction

The post below will describe a little about the Welsh educational system, but will then go on to discuss the Headsprout Early Reading (HER) Programme. The excellent news is that both HER and the Reading Comprehension programme have been adopted by A -Z Learning. They are now offering classroom licences (for up to 36 children) for $99.95 per year, or if you buy for 2, or 3 years, you receive a further 5% discount. This is exceptional news, so I thought I had should write a post to advertise this. Just navigate to headsprout.com and then click on Buy Now. You will then be taken to both Headsprout programmes, and when you then select one of the programmes you will be redirected to the A-Z Learning Site where you can purchase  the programme. I do not have any connection with the company, but I am an enthusiast for children being taught to read efficiently, so that every child can become an effective reader and reap the benefits that come with such skills.

Welsh Educational System

In Wales, children are taught through the medium of Welsh until they reach the age of seven. Before that they have no contact with reading in English, even though they will hear and perhaps speak both languages at home.

Really it depends on the nationality of their parents. I married a Welsh woman (who is fluent in English too), but my first language is English (although I am learning Welsh). Therefore the main language in the home was English, with very little Welsh spoken.

I wanted to help with my son’s education, and as Welsh is a phonetic language, I was able to read books to Matthew when he was little. However, as he got older the books reached a level at which we both couldn’t understand what was happening in the story—that is when I returned to learning Welsh with a vengeance. My latest certificate is below.

Welsh Certificate

Effective Reading Instruction

Anyway, back to my son Matthew learning to read. A good friend and colleague (Dr Carl Hughes) told me about an internet based reading programme  (Headsprout) that had been designed using behaviour analytic principles. Carl had listened to a presentation by Professor Janet Twyman at a conference he had been attending.

The Headsprout programme uses principles of effective instruction and fluency-based practice; and operates in a non-linear fashion. It momodoes this as it adapts to each learner on an individual level. If you sat 10 children down at computers and started them off on the programme, they would all take a different route through each episode. Their progress through the programme is monitored and the programme adapts to each learner.

The careful work that went into the planning and design of Headsprout can be compared with the type of preparation that was necessary for the Wright Brothers in preparation for flight.


—“It is difficult to underestimate the value of that very laborious work we did over that homemade wind tunnel. From all the data that Orville and I accumulated into tables, an accurate and reliable wing could finally be built. In fact, the accurate wind tunnel data we developed was so important, it is doubtful if anyone would have ever developed a flyable wing without first developing this data. Sometimes the non-glamorous lab work is absolutely crucial to the success of a project.”  Wilbur Wright
Even after Headsprout was released through the internet, the development continued through the careful analysis of the data from users all over the world. If the data showed that there was a way to improve the instruction, this was done and the results monitored again. Always seeking to make the instruction as effective as possible.
Below is an example episode from the beginning of the reading programme.

Watching this sample episode, I can still remember looking on in admiration at the effective reading instruction that was unfolding before me. Even though I was aware of other books that showed how to teach reading;

it was for me (and I suppose for most parents) easier and more likely to succeed by using something that was readily available (over the internet) inexpensive, and provided consistent, effective instruction. You need to adhere to three things in order to guarantee the programmes success:

  1. Complete 3-5 episodes a week
  2. Speak out loud–when the programme requires the learner to
  3. Do all of the associated readings

The episodes are about 20 minutes in length so the first goal is easily attainable, and there are cartoon celebrations ([positive reinforcement) throughout the episodes,as a child completes each part.

speakoutloudAn icon appears on the screen to remind the learner that they need to say their response out loud.

The readings are not very long and they only use elements that have already been taught. So the first book only becomes available when they have competed the first seven lessons.


Here at Bangor University, we have carried out research with Headsprout. We have successfully used the programme;

  • In mainstream schools with struggling readers (some of whom have been 11 years old
  • In SEN schools with children with Cerebral Palsey, Down’s Syndrome, Verbal Dyspraxia, and ASD

Headsprout bangor article

The team of people involved in the research at Bangor includes:

Professor Richard P.  Hastings, Dr J. Carl Hughes,  Dr Corrina Grindle, Bethan Mair Williams (BCBA), Beverley Jones,

Awaiting their PhD vivas:  (Dr) Emily Tyler & (Dr) Amy Hulson-Jones

Having Matthew complete the Headsprout programmes also had a positive effect ion his Welsh reading too. He was able to effectively apply the decoding strategies learnt in the programme to his Welsh reading. So to read a word he would sound it out, then say it fast, then if needed self correct if he had made a small pronunciation error.

Anyway, to close this post, let me share a brief video that Matthew did for me in 2011 about his experience of learning to read with Headsprout. I was presenting about our research at the Association for Behavior Analysis International conference in Denver (2011), and I asked Matthew (approximately 9 years old at the time) to make a video and email it over to me for the presentation. This is what he sent to me.

Creative Commons License
Effective Reading Instruction by Dr Mike Beverley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Intro Part 4: Precision Teaching—What is it?

One evidence-based educational method that has had almost six decades of success is Precision Teaching (PT). PT was founded and coached by Ogden Richardson Lindsley (Lindsley, 1995). Lindsley had been one of B. F. Skinner’s PhD students and many of the fundamental principles of PT stem from the free operant research originally carried out in Skinner’s laboratories (Lindsley, 2002). Free operant in this context refers to “students are free to respond at their own pace without having restraints placed on them by the limits of the materials or the instructional procedures of the teachers” (Lindsley, 1995, p. 10). Additionally PT uses frequency of response as its measure of effectiveness: Skinner reported that his greatest two contributions and legacy to science was his use of frequency (or rate) as a measure of performance and the cumulative response recorder (Evans, 1967; as cited in Lindsley, 2010, p. 23).

PT can be given an arbitrary starting date of 1964; this was when Lindsley published his seminal paper (Eshleman, 1990; Lindsley, 1964). PT has been effectively applied with many different skills and with many different populations; ranging from children with special needs (Gryiec, Grandy, & McLaughlin, 2004; McDowell & Keenan, 2001; Zambolin, Fabrizio, & Isley, 2004); children in mainstream schools to college students (Johnston & Pennypacker, 1971; Vieitez, 2003) and the elderly. Even though PT has been shown to be effective across different time periods, settings and curriculum, there is still resistance to adopting the approach (Kubina & Yurich, 2012).

Read on if you wish

If you would like to buy a Time Timer Watch in the UK

Just a quick post to let you know where you can buy a Time Timer Watch in the UK. I had been looking around for a while, in an effort to buy one of these watches. I could find links to the USA, but the UK branch that I was redirected to did not stock the watch (See video below for features).

Anyway I got in touch with Robo Educational Toys in the Netherlands (which is where I got my Time Timer software update for my Mac computer from), and they thankfully pointed me to a UK supplier Alphabet Educational Supplies. Whilst they seem more expensive (in comparison to the US sites), if you were wanting to place a large order, you could contact them beforehand and they could look into offering a discount for you. NB: Please note that this would obviously vary depending on the quantity ordered.

Here is a link to further details on the Autism UK Independent web site, and the original Time Timer site.

All of the range of timers are excellent resources for teaching.