Frequently Asked Questions

Accounts & Policies

Will you share or sell my personal information?

No. Sharpen will never share your personal information with third parties without your explicit consent. When you participate in the Sharpen Research Program any personal information you provided during registration, such as name, address or payment information, is excluded from analysis. If data are published or shared with qualified research collaborators, only summaries of research results or pooled data that do not identify any research participant will be shared. In addition, you are always in control of your data. For example, you may choose to share assessment results with specific family members, friends, or education professionals. At any time, you can stop sharing your records. Similarly, you can unsubscribe from the Sharpen Research Program or request that we delete specific information or all the information associated with your personal Sharpen account. For more information see our full Privacy Statement.

What is your refund policy?

You may cancel your order by contacting our Customer Service and receive a refund of the purchase price minus any applicable shipping and handling fee if you notify us within thirty (30) days of your order that you no longer wish to use our service. For services including a swab collection kit, the unopened kit must be returned to us within thirty (30) days from the date you requested the refund. You will not receive any refund if your swab samples have already been returned to us for processing. For subscription-based services, you shall notify Sharpen of your intention to cancel your subscription at least seven (7) days before the next scheduled payment in your billing cycle. You will have access to the services until the end of the existing subscription period and will not be charged after the termination of your subscription at the end of that period. Purchases of printed material such as instructional materials, books, or curricula, are non-refundable.

What is the Sharpen Research Program?

One of Sharpen's missions is to give to anyone using our services the opportunity to participate in relevant scientific research. Sharpen’s research studies are overseen by an independent ethics review board and are performed exclusively on data that have been stripped of any personal identifiable information. If you choose to participate, Sharpen researchers and qualified research collaborators will use de-identified data to study potential links between genetic markers, learning skills, learning traits, and/or other learning characteristics. The output of this research could lead to a better understanding of learning problems and earlier detection and intervention. Our goal is to improve learning outcomes for all children.

How do you protect my information?

Your privacy is very important to us. We use industry-leading authentication and security practices. All data is encrypted when they are stored and when they are being transmitted. To further protect your identity, your personal information and your raw genetic data are stored in distinct databases that have restricted access to minimum essential personnel.

What do I need in order to use Sharpen services?

You will need a computer or personal device, a valid email address, and access to the internet to create an account and use the services.

What payment method do you accept?

For online ordering we accept all major credit cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, and Visa. Please remember that only one payment source may be used to cover the entire amount of your purchase and the billing address you provide must match the address associated with your credit card.

Who can use Sharpen services?

Adults over the age of 18 can create a Sharpen account and benefit from our services. Users must be a parent or a legally authorized representative to collect swab samples from a minor under the age of 18 and to submit their personal information to Sharpen. The Genetic Reading Trait Report is currently only available in the United States of America.

About the Sharpen® Early Advantage Assessment

What is the intended use of the Early Advantage Assessment?

The Sharpen Early Advantage Assessment is intended to be used as a research-based evaluation of a child’s overall risk for developing reading problems. It is important to keep in mind that the results are not a diagnosis of the child’s reading skill development. The results also do not tell you whether your child will or will not have reading problems in the future. Early identification of a child’s risk for reading problems gives parents and caregivers the opportunity to provide the child with help and attention needed to keep the child from falling behind and to achieve age- and grade-level expected reading skills.

Why did I not receive an overall assessment result after completing a given sub-assessment?

When a child is taking the Sharpen Early Advantage Assessment for the first time, you will only receive an overall risk summary result for this child after completing all the assessments relevant for their age/grade. The overall multimodal assessment result may change when your child will complete the next scheduled age- or grade-appropriate assessment(s).

How often should my child take each of the assessments?

After you first complete the Sharpen Early Advantage Assessment, you will receive notifications for when the next assessments are scheduled.

  • The Early Language Assessment, which pertains to children between 1 and 5 years of age, may be completed every 6 months between 2 and 4 years of age.
  • The Early Literacy Assessment may be completed once between 4 and 5 years of age and once between 5 and 8 years of age.
  • The Sharpen TPRI Reading Assessment should be completed three times every school year between Kindergarten and the end of Grade 2.
  • The Family History Assessment (as well as the Genetic Reading Trait Report) are designed to be completed only once.

What will the Early Advantage Assessment result tell me?

The multimodal assessment result combines your child’s results from each assessment to tell you if your child is at an overall low, elevated, or high risk for developing reading problems. It will also provide recommended next steps and potential helpful resources based on a child’s overall risk result, and age, to ensure your child is supported to improve their early literacy and literacy skills and work towards age and grade level expected reading skills.

What age should a child be to take the Sharpen Early Advantage Assessment?

There is generally no age requirement for a child to take the Sharpen Early Advantage Assessment. The Family History Assessment (as well as the Genetic Reading Trait Report) can be taken at any age. The Early Language Assessment is designed for children between 1 and 5 years of age. The Early Literacy Assessment is designed for children between 4 and 8 years of age. The Sharpen TPRI Reading Assessment is designed for children between Kindergarten and the end of Grade 2.

Why is Sharpen’s Early Advantage Assessment important?

A 2022 study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that 37% of fourth-grade students performed below the basic reading level, with 66% of students below the proficiency level. The impact of poor reading skills can be long-term and highly detrimental for a child. Children with reading problems can experience failure across academic areas, school drop-out, mental health challenges, and many other adverse outcomes. Research shows that early detection of reading problems and early intervention can efficiently help a child to catch-up and acquire appropriate reading skills. Sharpen’s Early Advantage Assessment uses highly reliable evidence-based assessments to effectively evaluate a child’s risk for reading problems significantly earlier than the typical timeframe of formal diagnoses.

Do other online reading screeners or assessments do the same thing as Sharpen?

No. Currently, no other online reading screener or assessment is as comprehensive and timely in evaluating a child’s risk for reading problems as early as Sharpen. Sharpen uses decades of high-quality and evidence-based research to gather a multi-dimensional understanding of a child’s reading problems. Sharpen’s evaluation of a child’s family history, early literacy and language milestones, and direct reading skills effectively identifies whether a child is at risk for reading problems, as early as possible. The Genetic Reading Trait Report further provides information on known genetic markers associated with reading-related traits, independently of an individual’s age or reading skills.

Taking the Online Assessments

What is the Sharpen TPRI Reading Assessment and how does it work?

The Sharpen TPRI Reading Assessment directly assesses the child’s reading skills from Kindergarten through the end of Grade 2. The child's performance is scored to determine whether the child is likely not at risk or may be at risk for developing reading problems. The series of assessments are administered online to the child by a parent or caregiver. It is structured and available to be taken three times each year in Kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2. Each Sharpen TPRI Reading Assessment takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.

What is the scientific background for the Sharpen TPRI Reading Assessment?

Early screening of a child’s reading skill level is critical for preventing lifelong reading struggles. Multiple high quality, peer-reviewed studies show that early screening and early identification of reading problems is an important first step towards improving the outcomes of struggling readers. The TPRI effectively screens for potential reading problems during the earliest school years. It was designed, validated, and licensed from the Children’s Learning Institute of the University of Texas Health Center, a leading education and children’s health center in the United States. The assessment has been used in hundreds of school districts across the country.

What is the scientific background for the Early Literacy Assessment?

Children typically develop literacy milestones at expected developmental stages. Multiple high quality, peer-reviewed studies have shown that children with reading problems after Grade One are 5 to 9 times more likely to have had early problems with print, letters, and letter-sounds and 3 to 5 times more likely to have had problems with early oral language. The Early Literacy Assessment is designed to detect risk for reading problems. It was developed through a systematic review of peer-reviewed literature. The assessment received item-level validation and empirical reading risk prediction from a research study with hundreds of families, using parent-based reports of their child’s early reading skills and challenges.

What is the Family History Assessment and how does it work?

The Family History Assessment consists of two assessments. The Parent/Caregiver Challenges Assessment evaluates the caregivers’ past and current reading skills and challenges. The Biological Parent Risk Assessment collects and reports on data regarding the biological parents’ formal diagnoses of reading problems. They are both completed online by parents and/or caregivers. The Family History Assessment takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.

What is the scientific background for the Family History Assessment?

Children with reading problems are more likely to have a parent or caregiver with reading problems due to the genetic source of reading and the learning environment that children tend to share with their caregivers/parents. Multiple high quality, peer-reviewed studies show that children with reading problems after Grade One are 3 to 4 times more likely to have a caregiver or parent with reading problems. The Family History Assessment is designed to detect risk for reading problems in parents or caregivers. It was developed through a systematic review of peer-reviewed literature. The assessment received item-level validation and empirical predictions of caregiver/parent risk from a research study with hundreds of families, using parent-based reports of their own reading skills and challenges.

What is the Early Literacy Assessment and how does it work?

The Early Literacy Assessment evaluates the child's early literacy development. It is completed online by a parent/caregiver and collects information on the child's early reading milestones using behaviors that can be directly observed by a parent/caregiver. For children between 4 and 5 years of age, information on the child’s current literacy milestones are collected and analyzed. For children between 5 and 8 years of age, information about the child’s literacy milestones before the child’s 5th birthday are collected and analyzed. The Early Literacy Assessment takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.

What is the scientific background for the Early Language Assessment?

Early language problems are one of the most significant and earliest predictors of reading problems. Many high quality, peer reviewed studies have shown that children with reading problems after Grade One are 2 to 3 times more likely to have had early language problems. The Early Language Assessment is designed to detect risk for language problems. It was developed through a systematic review of peer-reviewed literature. The assessment received item-level validation and empirical language risk predictions from a research study with hundreds of families, using parent-based reports of their child’s early language skills and challenges.

What is the Early Language Assessment and how does it work?

The Early Language Assessment evaluates the child's language development relative to the performance expected for children in the same age range. It is completed online by a parent/caregiver and collects information on the child's early language milestones between 1 and 5 years of age using behaviors that can be directly observed by a parent/caregiver. For children between 2 and 4 years of age, the assessment is repeated every 6 months in order to measure and monitor language development progress. The Early Language Assessment takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.

What will the results from each assessment tell me?

The results of each online assessment will tell you if your child is at low, elevated, or high risk for developing reading problems based on the risk factor(s) measured in that assessment. It is important to keep in mind that individual assessment results are not a diagnosis of the child’s reading skill development. The results also do not tell you whether your child will or will not have reading problems in the future.

Will the result of a particular assessment be affected if I answered incorrectly to one of the questions?

You do not need to worry if you made one error when completing an assessment online. Our scoring algorithm is flexible to few questions answered incorrectly. However, we encourage you to provide your best answers to as many questions as possible for the most accurate results. You will also have the ability to revisit the question(s) and provide accurate information.

What if I don’t know the answer to some of the questions about my child’s skills or family history?

If you do not know the answer to any of the questions in an individual Sharpen assessment, you may click the “I don’t know” option. However, we encourage you to provide your best answers to as many questions as possible for the most accurate results. You will also have the ability to revisit the question(s) and provide up to date information.

Why did I not receive an assessment result after completing it?

You may not have received a result for an assessment that you completed online because you answered “I don’t know” for too many questions - insufficient information to calculate a valid result. You will have the ability to revisit individual question(s) and provide up to date information in order to get an assessment result.

Genetics Learning Kit / Sample collection

How can I track my sample status?

You can check the status of your sample online after signing in to your secure Sharpen account. You will also receive email notifications when your sample is received, processed and in the event of a failed analysis requiring re-testing or a new collection kit. There may be a delay between the time a sample is reported as “delivered” based on USPS tracking information and the time it is reported as “received” by our system. A sample is reported as “received” only after the envelope has been opened and the unique barcode has been scanned at our lab.

Is sample collection painful?

No, the collection process is non-invasive and painless. Cells from the inside of your cheek are gently scraped using a single-use, sterile swab that has a round and soft tip. This type of device, absorbent tipped applicator, is routinely used to collect different types of samples from infants to elders.

How do I return my sample to the lab?

Use the provided sealable plastic bag and prepaid, pre-addressed envelope. Only samples returned using materials provided in the Sharpen collection kit will be processed by the lab. Drop the envelope at any U.S. Postal Service mailbox.

One of the vials is missing liquid, what should I do?

If the liquid from one of the vials has been spilled, make sure that the snapped off swab tip is in contact with the remaining liquid in the vial and mail it anyway. The sample might still be OK. If both vials have little or no liquid left, contact us and we will send you one replacement kit.

Where can I find the kit registration code?

The unique code can be found next to the barcode on the two collection vials and on the outside of the collection kit. The code must be the same for all kit components. If the numbers do not match, do not proceed with sample collection and contact us immediately.

Why are there 2 swabs and 2 vials in the collection kit?

The kit is designed to collect two samples, one from each cheek. Only one of the vials will be initially processed by our laboratory to extract your DNA. If there is not enough DNA recovered or if the process doesn’t work, we use the second vial as a backup without having to ship another collection kit to collect another sample.

Why do I need to register the kit online?

Registering your kit is the only way for us to link your sample to you and your account. For privacy reasons, the samples received and the results generated by our laboratory do not include any personal identifying information. The unique registration codes allow us to determine which results belong to which accounts and users.

I received a kit from a third party, what should I do?

Please create a new personal Sharpen account at or log in to your existing account and create a new learner profile for the person who will be providing the cheek samples. Follow the instructions to register the kit and collect the swab samples. Please remember that you must be a parent or a legally authorized representative to collect swab samples from a minor under the age of 18 and to submit their information to Sharpen.

How long will it take to receive my swab collection kit?

Genetics Learning Kits are typically shipped one business day after orders are placed. Transit times within the U.S. are usually 5 to 7 business days but may be as many as 10 business days or more depending on the location and time of the year (shipping times are often longer during the holiday seasons). If you believe that your kit has been lost in the mail, please contact us and we will mail you one additional collection kit at no charge.

Can I pay for a swab collection kit and have it shipped to another person?

Yes, you may choose a shipping address that is different from the billing address during the ordering process. The receiving person will have to create a personal Sharpen account at and manage the account set up and kit registration process. Please remember that the receiving person must be a parent or a legally authorized representative to collect swab samples from a minor under the age of 18 and to submit their information to Sharpen.

Genetic Reading Trait Report

What will the Genetic Reading Trait Report results tell me?

The Genetic Reading Report describes if a person has specific genetic variants associated with reading traits. However, there are a few important limitations to what the report can do:

  • The report is not as a diagnostic tool.
  • The report cannot describe a person’s overall risk of developing a reading problem. Other factors, such as environment or family history, can affect the risk of developing a reading problem.
  • The report does not include all potential genetic variants in all genes linked to reading skills. This means that the absence of variants included in the report does not rule out the presence of other genetic variants that may impact reading.
  • The report cannot determine whether a variant was inherited from the mother or the father and whether multiple variants were inherited from a single parent or from both parents.
  • The report will not tell you anything about your or your child's current state of health or risk for developing a disease in the future. Sharpen does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment for any disease or physically identifiable condition. If you have questions or concerns about your health or your child’s health, you should consult a healthcare professional.

What is the intended use of the Genetic Reading Trait Report?

The Genetic Reading Trait Report is intended to be used to assess genetic-based educational traits associated with reading performance, independently of an individual’s age or reading skills. The report describes the presence of select genetic variants that are most common and best studied but may not represent all the possible variants found in various populations and ethnicities. The Genetic Reading Trait Report is intended to enable users to access information about their genetic traits and is not a substitute for consultation with an education professional for reading screenings or appropriate follow-up. The assessment is not intended for prenatal use.

What are the risks associated with an incorrect result?

As with every DNA sequencing technology, the possibility of an incorrect Genetic Reading Trait Report result does exist. An incorrect result would present minimum risk to you or the person tested. An incorrect negative result (false negative) would not directly affect the health or reading performance of the tested person. An incorrect positive result (false positive) could potentially lead to additional reading assessment or instruction but would not lead to any invasive or harmful procedures.

How will I receive my results?

Results will only be available online after signing in to your secure Sharpen account. We will not email you the results or send you a printed report by mail.

When will my results be ready?

Results should be available 3 to 4 weeks from the time your sample is received by our laboratory, depending on the testing volume and the quality of your sample.

Is Sharpen DNA analysis accurate?

The Genetic Reading Trait Report uses a state-of-the-art technology called sequencing by synthesis that has an extremely low error rate. Only base calls (A, T, C, or G) that have a probability of error lower than 1 in 1,000 (i.e., greater than 99.9% accuracy) are used in the analysis and each base is sequenced multiple times to increase the confidence in the results. To ensure the highest level of quality and reliability, DNA extraction and sequencing are performed exclusively by trained professionals in a laboratory that meets the same standards that are required for medical tests ordered by healthcare professionals.

How does Sharpen analyze my DNA?

We use qualitative targeted high-throughput parallel sequencing to detect relevant variants in genomic DNA isolated from your cheek samples. The process involves multiple steps: DNA extraction, DNA fragmentation, adapter ligation, target enrichment, amplification, sequencing, and finally sequence alignment and analysis. For the sequencing step we use paired-end sequencing by synthesis, an industry-leading technology that generates high quality results with high base calling accuracy, including for repeat sequences. Our targeted panel covers complex DNA sequences and regulatory regions that cannot be analyzed by other technologies such as genotyping (interrogates specific single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs) or exome sequencing (interrogates only protein-coding regions of the genome). Our proprietary panel includes patented markers in genes such as DCDC2, KIAA0319, and GARRE1 that are exclusively licensed to Sharpen by Yale University for the assessment of genetic-based educational traits associated with learning performance.

Why can some samples fail analysis?

There are many reasons why sample analysis may not be successful and it is sometimes impossible to determine the root cause. One major source of failure is inappropriate cheek sample collection resulting in low DNA quantity and quality. It is extremely important that the sample provider does not eat, drink, smoke, chew gum, use mouthwash, or brush their teeth for at least 30 minutes before scraping the inside of their cheeks with the provided swabs. Be careful to not spill the liquid from the vial during swab collection and verify that the swab tip is fully submerged in the liquid when closing the vial. This liquid helps protect DNA during shipping and is essential for the extraction process. Mail the collected samples at your earliest convenience.

What happens if my sample(s) fail analysis?

In the very rare event that both samples (one from each cheek) fail initial testing, we will mail you one additional collection kit at no charge and re-analyze your new sample(s). You will also receive an email notification.

What happens when my cheek samples are received by the lab?

All samples are received by and processed in our central laboratory located in the U.S. The first step is to scan the barcodes on the collection vials that are unique to each order and collection kit. This is the only identifying information the laboratory will ever know. Your sample, your DNA and your genetic information cannot be directly linked to you by the laboratory. One of the vials is used for DNA extraction on an automated platform and the other vial is stored in a secured room as a backup. Samples that yield enough DNA are batched together to perform high-throughput, multiplex sequencing using a proprietary targeted panel. The entire process involves multiple quality control steps. If a batch or individual sample fails any quality metric, the lab will retest the same DNA sample or extract DNA from the backup sample to re-test it. Once a sample has been successfully analyzed, we use the unique code that you provided during kit registration to link you to your DNA sample and deliver the results to your secure online account.

About the Sharpen® Reading Program

What does the Sharpen Reading Program do differently from other programs?

The logic of the spelling code is explicitly taught.

The underlying organizational principle of our writing system is that letters represent individual speech sounds, known technically as phonemes. For example, the word “cat” is spelled the way it is because it has three sounds /k/, /a/, and /t/ and the /k/ sound is spelled with a c, the /a/ sound by a, and the /t/ sound by t. There is not a simple one-to-one correspondence of letters and sounds in English. However, while there is a relatively large amount of complexity in these letter-sound relationships, mastering them is made considerably easier when the learner understands three important features governing how letters represent sounds in English:

  • Two or more letters are used to represent a single speech sound or phoneme, as is the case with sh in shop, the ch in rich, and the oo in boot.
  • Many sounds (especially those for vowel sounds) are represented by multiple spellings. The words boat, no, low, hope, and though all have the same vowel sound, but the sound is spelled a different way in each word.
  • Many spellings (especially those for vowel sounds) represent more than one sound, as can be seen and heard in the words know and how.

All these features of our writing system are explicitly presented in Sharpen Reading through engaging activities such as word puzzles and sorting tasks. Very few other reading programs make this underlying logic of our spelling system as clear as Sharpen Reading.

Letter-sound correspondences are taught explicitly and systematically.

Students learn the major letter-sound correspondences. They practice saying these in isolation as well as finding target graphemes (individual letters and letter combinations representing a single sound, such as sh and ea) within words and reading these graphemes. When students reach the upper levels of the program, they explicitly learn and practice reading and spelling common morphemes (smallest meaningful unit of language, such as eat, cat, or go).

Phonics instruction is organized by sound.

Most phonics programs teach letter-sound correspondences explicitly. Almost all, however, organize this instruction around the letters or graphemes. That is, they select some letters and then tell the students what sounds the letters represent. The phonics instruction in Sharpen Reading, in contrast, is organized by sound. Each lesson starts with sounds and then shows students what letters are used to represent those sounds. For nonreaders and very beginning readers, the first task is a word puzzle, which is essentially a spelling task. Students are given a word orally and then with the teacher's help, they spell that word with movable letters. This presentation reinforces the lesson that letters represent sounds and shows students just where the sounds come from. More advanced students ready for first-grade level material in Sharpen Reading start learning the various vowel digraphs such as ow, ea, ay, oi, ou, au, etc. But they are introduced to them by means of a simple activity in which students are presented with a list of twelve words that have the same sound, but the sound is spelled in a variety of ways. The various ways to spell the sound are presented at the top of the page. The student's task on this introductory activity in each unit is to read these words. The only new bit of phonics information is the new sound, so students will be able to sound out the word. The format of this activity not only teaches students letter-sound correspondences explicitly, but also reinforces that one sound can be spelled multiple ways.

During the remainder of the unit, students focus on a small number of high frequency words with the newly introduced sound. In contrast to the many phonics programs in which vowel digraphs such as ow, ea, and ay are not taught for some time, the organization of Sharpen Reading allows for quick mastery of many common words and reduces the amount of time it takes for students to read first grade level material fluently.

Instruction helps students connect sounds with letters.

It is important to emphasize that while students in Sharpen Reading focus on learning a set of high frequency words from the very early phases of their instruction, they are not asked to learn these words as a whole. Rather, students carefully analyze all of these words so that the relationship between the sounds in the word with the letters used to spell it are made clear.

Handwriting instruction is integrated with phonics instruction.

Beginning students need explicit handwriting instruction. If a school uses a separate handwriting program, valuable instructional time can be lost because the letters practiced in the handwriting program do not match up directly with the sequence of letters being introduced with decoding instruction. In Sharpen Reading, beginning students receive explicit handwriting instruction as they practice reading and writing the words they are learning to read.

Phonemic awareness instruction is conducted efficiently.

Most beginning reading programs acknowledge the importance of helping students develop the ability to identify and manipulate individual speech sounds, or phonemes. Unfortunately, however, many programs have teachers conduct these activities exclusively as oral activities, separate from reading lessons in which students learn to associate the correct sounds with letters and how to use this information to sound out words. There is a good deal of research to indicate that reading growth is accelerated when instruction combines phonemic awareness work with letter-sound work, or phonics. Moreover, when teaching itchy 5- and 6-year-old children with limited attention spans, such a separation wastes critical instruction time. In Sharpen Reading most of the phonemic awareness activities are integrated into each reading lesson.

Another inefficiency in many other reading programs is that they have students practice phonemic awareness skills that are indirectly related to building up beginning reading skills, such as identifying words that have the same first sound, or recognizing rhyming words. In contrast, Sharpen Reading focuses on the specific phonemic awareness skills that are most directly related to building up beginning reading skill: segmenting (breaking a word into individual speech sounds or phonemes), blending (taking a string of phonemes and recognizing what word they make), and phoneme manipulation (the ability to modify or move individuals sounds in a word).

Teachers correct errors productively.

No matter how clear and precise instruction is, all students make some errors. Indeed, errors are a necessary part of learning just about anything. Good instruction, therefore, should take account of errors and treat them not as failures but as opportunities for learning. To take advantage of these opportunities, it is important that teachers know how to respond to them productively. And the way to respond to errors productively is to show the student why his answer isn't correct. Sharpen Reading provides teachers with a template to help them provide this information simply but accurately and in terms that the student can easily grasp.

Students read lots of text.

Good growth in reading ability requires lots of practice reading text. Sharpen Reading simplifies phonics instruction so that a significant portion of each reading lesson can be devoted to reading books. This emphasis helps Sharpen Reading teachers keep phonics and decoding instruction in the proper perspective, and allows them the flexibility to use Sharpen Reading with a variety of trade books or reading anthologies.

Do the lessons need to be followed in order?

Yes. Sharpen Reading presents the lessons in a set order, an essential component of an evidenced-based structured-literacy program. Some students may be able to do some of the activities very quickly and easily, but this provides valuable reinforcement and practice, and makes sure that all the associated skills are being properly developed and integrated.

Can lessons be skipped or skimmed over quickly?

In general, no.

Lessons should not be skipped. The lessons have been carefully designed and sequenced to assure that all the relevant skills are being properly developed and integrated in a systematic, structured manner, a core component of evidenced-based structured literacy.

Is it OK to stretch the Sharpen Reading Program over the school year?

You should progress through the curriculum at a pace that is comfortable for your learner. Almost all kindergarten students can finish the kindergarten level of the program in 3-5 months if they receive 1-2 hours of instruction weekly (ideally delivered in 15-25 minutes daily sessions). At that point, you may decide to begin immediately with the first-grade level material of the program or to pause and have your child work primarily with simple readers such as the Storybooks in the Sharpen Reading Program. Almost all first-grade students can finish the first-grade level of the program in 4-6 months if they receive 1-2 hours of instruction weekly.

Is the Sharpen Reading Program multi-sensory?

Yes. In every lesson, Sharpen Reading students look at words, say out loud the sounds in the words, and write the way each sound is spelled. In most activities, all of these tasks are done simultaneously.

Will my child be confused if the school is using a different reading program?

No. Although routines and activities may differ between a child's lessons at school and with a tutor or parent using Sharpen Reading, the general content and the ultimate goals are exactly the same. Students read English words in both lessons and they are evaluated in terms of how many words they can read accurately and fluently. Sharpen Reading explains the logic of our spelling system explicitly, comprehensively, and precisely without using extraneous vocabulary or having students memorize rules to explain spelling patterns. Because the instruction is so precise and efficient in Sharpen Reading, students avoid frustration, learn quickly, and see their own progress, so they are motivated by their lessons and enjoy reading more, and are better able to make sense of the activities they have to perform in their reading lessons at school.

The greatest difference between school instruction and Sharpen Reading will occur in the unfortunate event that the school instruction actively encourages students to guess when they come across an unfamiliar word. What is potentially confusing in this situation, however, isn't the discord between school and Sharpen Reading lessons, but confusion sewn by the inefficient strategy of guessing. Although there are many struggling readers who are resigned to guessing because they do not have the letter/sound knowledge and blending skills to sound out unfamiliar words very well, there are virtually none who are happy having to guess. Guessing is not really a tool but a mark of limitation and a sign of struggle. What will happen to students using Sharpen Reading is that they will acquire the knowledge and skill necessary to read unfamiliar words well - they won't be obliged to try to read words without really having much to go on. In short, they will become less confused.

What about older students?

Supporting older students to catch up is almost always more difficult than teaching students making “normal” progress. For one thing, remedial students are more likely to have difficulties with the skills involved in developing automatic word recognition, and may need more intensive practice to develop these skills. In addition, older students who are behind are more likely to have behavior problems in response to the frustration they have experienced with their earlier learning. The goal of remedial instruction is to help students make more than one year's academic growth in a calendar year.

Older struggling students who are non-readers or read at about a first grade through second grade level can usually progress through Levels A, B1, and B2 at a rate of about 1.5 to 2 hours per unit. To go through all three levels usually takes about 60-80 hours of instruction time. Students should be able to read second grade level material well after completing Level B2. A number of teenagers and adults with very low reading ability have an extremely difficult time learning how to blend. Depending upon their level when they start Sharpen Reading, these students may take a couple of years to progress to second grade level reading ability.

Older struggling students who read at a third-grade level or higher can usually complete Level B), Level C, and Level D in 45-60 hours of instruction time. By the end of this work, most students will be able to decode at a sixth-grade level. For the fastest progress, remedial students should read about an hour outside of their lessons each day.

How fast do students make progress?

How quickly a student learns to decode depends on several factors. Fluent decoding of first and second grade level material requires that a student has virtually instant recognition of a large number of frequently occurring words and word analysis skills to help them rapidly figure out unfamiliar words they come across. Having these skills involves good visual memory for words, which is aided by good knowledge of letter/sound associations, and the ability to hear a string of isolated sounds and know what word is made up of those sounds in that particular order. The stronger a student's receptive and expressive language skills, visualizing skills, and blending skills when he or she starts, the faster he or she will make progress.

Many kindergarten students will be able to complete Sharpen Reading Level A  in 9 months if they receive 15-30 minutes of instruction a day. This translates into roughly 45 hours of instruction. A large number of children can make it through the material in considerably less time. A small number of students will need 45-60 minutes of instruction a day to make this progress in 9 months. After completing this level, students will know the 1-letter consonants and vowels, the digraphs sh, ch, th, and ck, have the skills to sound out 3 and 4 sound words with the letter/sounds that they know and read about 40 high frequency words easily.

Almost all first-grade students will be able to complete Sharpen Reading Levels A and B1 by the end of first grade, assuming about 25-30 minutes of instruction daily. This translates into a total of about 72 hours of instruction time. Most students will be able to complete these materials in considerably less time. If a student begins first grade after having already completed Level A, he will very likely be able to complete B1 by the middle of the year. After completing Level B1, students will have learned 26 vowel digraphs, will recognize 100 high frequency words easily, and will be able to read first grade material at least 50 words correct per minute.

Do I need special training to teach Sharpen Reading?

No. Instructor tutorials, both in training videos and in written short form, provide instructors step-by-step coaching to effectively guide the student through the digital lesson and ensure that the material is both engaging and productive. Information about error correction is clearly provided. Training workshops and webinars are held periodically for those that wish further support.

Does the Sharpen Reading Program work for all students?

Yes. Sharpen Reading is appropriate for all students including those struggling or at risk as well as those who want to enhance their reading skills, decoding, spelling, comprehension and fluency. Students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, attention problems, and general cognitive impairments or delays need comprehensive and direct instruction. They also need carefully sequenced lessons and instructional language that is simple but precise. All this is provided by Sharpen Reading. Multi-sensory, structured literacy benefits all students.

What will vary among students is how much repetition and practice they will need to master the material in each lesson. Pacing guides allow parents and instructors to understand accurately how much practice a particular student needs with material in a lesson before progressing. For students who are fortunate enough to have no particular learning difficulties, parents and instructors will find that Sharpen Reading's precision and efficiency accelerate learning and allow these students to quickly read at grade level or above. Furthermore, because so many of the activities are in puzzle-like form, children of all ability levels remain very engaged.

How early can my child benefit from the Sharpen Reading Program?

Most children who are ready for kindergarten are able to begin formal reading instruction. Formal reading instruction refers to specific lessons to teach decoding that involve learning letter/sounds, undertaking exercises to acquire the skills to blend isolated sounds together to form words, and providing sufficient repetitions of words so that the child will be able to read these rapidly and without sounding them out. When working with 5-year-old children, it is important to keep lessons to 15-30 minutes in length. A very large number of 5-year-olds will be able to make excellent progress with just 15 minutes a day of formal Sharpen Reading instruction as part of a set of rich experiences in which the child reads many books and has the opportunity to talk about a variety of topics with knowledgeable and interesting adults and older children.

Some 4-year-olds and even 3-year-olds show interest in learning how to read. It will do no harm to use Sharpen Reading with such interested children provided that the lessons are brief in duration. When working with such young children, it is very important that the teacher take the cue from the child and let them move on to another activity as soon as they are ready. In other words, it is not a good idea for the parent to have a set-amount of time for each lesson and make the very young child stick to that. The most important literacy activities to do with students of this age are to spend daily time reading and re-reading books to them, and to converse with them frequently. In addition, children this age need plenty of play, both outdoors involving running around and building things in sand boxes and making mud pies, and indoors involving big blocks, little blocks, and make-believe and other developmentally appropriate play activities. These are important activities for older children as well. The rich use of conversational language during daily household, planned multi-sensory learning activities, and play, will provide your child with a strong language foundation, a cornerstone to early literacy development.

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