Website review by Mieke VanderBorght, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2021

Headsprout

Detailed, adaptive literacy program goes from basics to analysis

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Grades
K–5
Subjects & Skills
English Language Arts

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Pros: A solid leveled experience with good learning progression and abundant resources for both students and teachers.

Cons: The student experience feels a bit outdated and is sometimes clunky.

Bottom Line: This is a comprehensive resource that's worth a look for teachers needing help getting students to actively engage with reading material.

Headsprout should be used by students individually in their own accounts. Have each student start with the online or paper assessment test, or review the levels and choose manually where students should begin. Headsprout is comprehensive and works well as the primary resource for reading instruction. It could also help as a robust program for reinforcing what teachers are covering in class, but they'll need to be mindful about aligning what they're doing to the Headsprout episodes. There's a good bunch of teacher materials, including lesson plans and whole-group activities to do at certain points along the way, which teachers will certainly want to take a look at. The program is adaptive, but teachers will want to actively check in regularly to see how students are doing and if there are areas where they can supplement or scaffold learning. Teachers can extend learning by providing opportunities to read hard-copy books as well.

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Headsprout is an adaptive reading program that covers everything from the basics to elementary school-level comprehension and analysis. Students sign in with their own unique account and work through leveled "episodes," each approximately 30 minutes long. Episodes are grouped into three sections: Early Reading, Reading Comprehension, and Advanced Reading Comprehension. Students can take a placement test (online or on paper) to determine where they start on the journey, or teachers can manually place students at any level. The program adjusts based on how students are doing as they progress. There's also a section with original books matched specifically to each reading level. As students play, they earn stars to spend on decorating a rocket ship or robot avatar. On the teacher side, supporting material includes lesson plans and off-screen activity suggestions, guidance for teaching English language learners, and a professional development blog. Teachers can also see individualized progress reports for each student. Before paying for a subscription, teachers can sign up for a 14-day free trial.

Headsprout is a comprehensive program, rich with support for teachers and students. Because of its level of detail, it may be best for teachers who want their students' reading instruction to involve some more hand-holding. Sometimes the graphics feel a bit old, and the student experience isn't as flashy and smooth as it is in some more modern, spiffy tools. Thankfully, younger students can be a bit more forgiving. Even if it's a little outdated in style, the reading instruction is thorough and really does offer scaffolding as students make their way through the levels. Reading activities also include some neat proactive features, like the ability for students to record themselves reading, or draw notes or comments directly in their digital books. While Headsprout does adjust based on how students are doing, it's still no substitute for live interaction with a teacher. So like any reading program of this sort, teachers will want to keep student progress monitored, and make interventions as necessary.

Thankfully, there are also extensions and support materials here to help teachers better integrate Headsprout into classroom routines and curriculum. It actually may feel overwhelming, particularly because the organization on the teacher site can be a bit confusing, but after some digging, teachers will likely find some gems. Overall, Headsprout is an appealing and valid option for reading instruction in the elementary school years.

Overall Rating

Engagement

The overall look and feel is kid-friendly even if the graphics feel somewhat outdated. Sometimes games can get tedious or repetitive.

Pedagogy

The step-by-step approach starts with phonics, and then adds comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, and more through a variety of activity types. Adaptive leveling and feedback help meet students right where they are.

Support

The website isn't always easy to navigate, but it has lots of supplemental materials and progress reports. Printables and lesson plans help teachers extend beyond the screen. There's also guidance for helping ELLs.


Common Sense reviewer
Mieke VanderBorght Researcher

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