In full transparency, you need to know that I’m a certified Barton tutor, but I’ve also used All About Spelling and All About Reading. I’m biased toward Barton, but this comparison is as unbiased as I can make it.
So, I looked at Levels 1-3 of the Barton Reading & Spelling System and Level 1 of All About Reading and created a comparison.
Both programs have some type of screening test for beginning the programs, but they have different focuses.
Barton has a 3 part student screening. Students must pass part C in order to begin in the Barton Reading & Spelling System. The part C of the Barton Student Screening is to test auditory discrimination, memory, and sequencing. These skills are critical to using an Orton-Gillingham approach.
AAR has a 2 page placement test that asks the teacher/parent to assess the student’s readiness in letter knowledge, print awareness, listening comprehension, phonological awareness, and motivation to read. There is nothing in this placement test that addresses auditory discrimination, memory, or sequencing.
All of Barton Level 1 is dedicated to phonemic awareness as a critical first step to beginning reading for a dyslexic child. In 80% of the population, phonemic awareness develops naturally, but in 20% it does not. That 20% represents the dyslexic students. These children must be explicitly taught phonemic awareness.
All About Reading does not have any foundation phonemic awareness level. It is stated in the placement test for level 1 that the student should display phonological awareness. There is a phonemic awareness activity in most of the lessons in Level 1 called “Change the Word”, but in most exercises the initial sound is the only sound changed. There are a few times when the ending sound is changed. I did not see any vowel changes.
Students with dyslexia need intensive work in this skill.
In all three basic levels of the Barton Reading & Spelling System, the student is using tactile (touch and say), auditory and visual senses. Barton uses wooden tiles in their program. Given a choice between wooden and plastic tiles, my students strongly prefer wooden tiles.
All About Reading also has a multi-sensory component. The students as asked to touch and say (tactile) under the letter cards, and then blend sounds into a word by sliding their finger underneath the letters.
From level 1 through level 3 , the Barton Reading & Spelling program uses nonsense words as an instructional/assessment portion of almost all of the lessons. There are a small handful of times when nonsense words are not part of a lesson.
I found no use of nonsense words in All About Reading Level 1.
Both All About Reading Level 1 and Barton Levels 2 and 3 have fluency pages. The fluency pages are in the student book, and part of every All About Reading lesson.
The fluency pages for the Barton levels are contained on the tutor support page of the Barton Reading website. All tutors who have purchased a Barton level can access these with a username and password.
Sight words are introduced very differently in both programs. In the Barton Reading & Spelling System, sight words are introduced in Level 3 once all the foundation work is complete. The student is given a list of approximately 14 sight words to read and spell. The student only works on the words they have difficulty with.
In the All About Reading program, sight words are introduced in Lesson 26. There are only two introduced at a time. The student is only reading these sight words. They are not spelling them. Reading sight words is typically not what dyslexic children struggle with. They more often struggle with the spelling of the sight words. The spelling of sight words does not seem to be addressed in All About Reading Level 1.
There are 7 spelling rules in Barton Level 3. One of those 7 rules is the FLOSS rule. The FLOSS rule tells the student that in a word with one vowel ending in f, l, s, or z must be double those letters.
All About Reading also introduces the FLOSS rule in Level 1, but it merely states that some words need this. There is no explanation of why it is needed.
Unit syllables are also introduced in Level 3 of the Barton Reading & Spelling System. These units include -ang, -ing, -onk, -unk, etc. The All About Reading program introduces the sound card -ng, and then puts the a, e, i, o, and u with it. This is slightly problematic as -eng is not found at the end of American words. Teaching these sounds as units makes it easier to understand that these vowels make an unusual sound when combined with -ng and -nk.
The concept of closed syllables is also taught in All About Reading Level 1 and Barton Level 3. Open syllables are not taught until Barton Level 4. All About Reading teaches them in conjunction with closed syllables.
The confusion between b and d is one of the very classic warning signs of dyslexia. The Barton Reading & Spelling System addresses this strongly in Level 2. Students are required to check each “tricky” letter each and every time before they read it to eliminate all guessing.
All About Reading addresses this in an appendix of Level 1. The approach AAR uses to address this confusion is from a handwriting standpoint. Correct formation of the letters should help the confusion. This is not enough to help a dyslexic student overcome this ingrained confusion.
Grammar and Syntax
Barton addresses grammar and syntax from Level 2 and up. All About Reading does not address grammar and syntax in level 1.
So, which program is right for your dyslexic child? That choice is yours. Barton is a much more intensive program that covers a multitude of elements that are essential to learning to read and spell.
AAR does not appear to include all the essentials that are necessary for a dyslexic child nor does it have the depth that the Barton Reading & Spelling System does.
Feel free to leave a comment letting me know why you chose one program or the other!