Two evidence-based programmes by All About Learning Press (AAL)

(Note: I have no personal or financial link to these programmes, I’m just a mum who uses them with my son and has got to know them well, and have decided to write this up to answer the questions I get asked about the most.)

What makes these programmes “evidence-based”?

AAR and AAS are based on the Orton-Gillingham approach. They are multisensory, structured, mastery-based, use synthetic phonics … all those good words you need to look for in any approach. The reading programmes covers all of the “Big 5”: phonological awareness, phonics and decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The programmes are created to make sure there are no gaps and include built-in revision. The reading programme includes custom-made decodable texts supplied as part of each level. Both programmes are built around a very detailed scope and sequence. You can learn more about the programmes and their evidence-based approach, on their official site

Why are there two programmes, instead of combined spelling and reading?

The two skills of reading and spelling are often combined in other programmes but are intentionally separated out by AAL. This is because children may struggle in spelling but not reading, or struggle with them to different degrees, or advance through these two skills at different speeds. Separating them out allows for the versatility and individualisation to match the child’s various challenges and strengths. Here is the explanation in their own words for why they separate them out.

Who can use this programme – do you need prior training?

This programme is specifically made with parents in mind so does not require prior training. Every single skill and piece of knowledge is explained for you in special sections prior to the relevant lesson, so you have a good overview of what you’re about to teach, how, and how it fits into the wider scheme of reading/spelling. You’ll learn a heck of a lot yourself about structured literacy as you go through it. The teacher manual is scripted too – telling you exactly what to say and when, it’s what’s called “open-and-go” – you’re ready to start using it as-is. Trouble-shooting sections and extra activities are included, so if your child gets stuck on a skill you can help them through it using the programme as well.

This is a USA-created programme, does that make it hard to use as a NZer?

Short answer: No, it’s still excellent in all regards.

Longer answer: There are some sections of the spelling levels in particular that will need changes, but not many. The creators know English is spelled differently in some regards between US and UK English, and that accents vary (remember, accents vary in the USA too, so they understand the relevance and challenges of this too). The required spelling level changes are outlined in an officially compiled document that I’ve already shared on the resources page – the changes are few and easy to make as you come across them. In reading, I’ve also found it easy to make the necessary changes; for example, at level 1 all I had to do was change “Mom” to “Mum” in the decodable texts (and some books in level 2 even use the word “Mum,” acknowledging this international variation).

How many levels are there, and how do I know which level to start at?

AAR has 4 main levels (plus a “pre-reading” level); AAS has 7 levels. There are free placement tests to make sure you start at the right level, on their website: For reading and for spelling 

Children will work through each level at their own speed – for my son, it has a been just over a year for each level so far, for others it may take half a year for instance. This will also be affected by how many days a week you work on the programmes and how long the sessions are, depending on what your individual child can handle.

How much does each level cost and where can I buy them?

[Note: Prices will of course vary over time, the below prices are current as of 2020.]

There is one NZ reseller, who officially brings them in from the supplier in the USA: Engaging Minds. If you see the item is out of stock on their site, email them or contact them through their Facebook page, they are happy to take advance orders for the next shipment and will give you some idea of when that next shipment is due.

Each AAR level costs $295, each AAS level costs $89. You’ll also need an “Interactive Kit” that costs $53 – this kit is a one-off purchase that covers all AAR and AAS levels, it includes magnetic tiles and card dividers. You’ll need to buy a magnetic whiteboard for the tiles, ideally 60cm by 90cm (or “two feet by three feet”). You can use an app instead of the magnetic tiles if you prefer that option; that way you won’t need to purchase a whiteboard either. Do not buy all the levels in one go – just buy what you need to get started and then if you love the system you can look into buying more as needed.

This guidance for New Zealander thinking of buying All about Reading and Spelling programmes was written up by Linda Kimpton on the on the 16 February 2021 who is a founding member and holds as main administer role of the deb community.