Our school uses ORT. A lot of the words in them are not yet decodable according to the phonics the class have been taught to this point (e.g. Fence, soggy.) My child keeps receiving comments about not guessing at words.
Questions are: Do all ORT books use a level of 'guesswork'? Do the majority of schools still use ORT? What decodable schemes are available / recommended? (I use songbirds and RWI at home, both of which I find good.)
As a retired TA, I'm afraid it seems an AWFUL LOT of schools are still using ORT books, that may be thirty or more years old. The OUP website praises their book ranges that ARE modern and decodable, but many schools haven't invested in them yet.
It doesn't HAVE to be 'guesswork' as the initial sound of a word, and other 'clues' can be used, to go some way towards towards working out what a word might be; after all, these are the books we were all using thirty-plus years ago, when I was first a parent-helper, and then a TA, and the vast majority of children DID manage to learn to read (though spelling is probably better today, thanks to Phonics).
I'll give you two items that may help:
ONE - When reading harder books with a child, get him to point to words as he goes along. If he knows the word, or can sound it out, he can say it. If he doesn't know the word, he can hover his finger over it, and YOU say the word for him. Don't stop to analyse or discuss the word at this stage, but try and keep the 'flow' of reading going. Review difficulties at the end, if you wish to. This way, he has the satisfaction of reading more difficult books, without the fear of getting 'stuck' on words.
TWO - An inexpensive and easy to use book, that can encourage children with reading, spelling and writing, and really help them to understand Phonics, is reviewed in the MN Book Reviews section. Just search ‘Phonics’ and my name.
The old ORT books were written so that children could guess unfamiliar words using picture clues. Mixed strategies such as guessing the word from initial letters, pictures or context have proved to be ineffective or even damaging for some children. All words are decodable once you know the code so you could either help your child to decode the words by supplying missing phonic knowledge or simply by telling them the words.
Personally I'm a big fan of the Dandelion books as they provide plenty of practise at each unit. They are also available as iBooks with the first unit free.