Monday, November 21, 2011

The Reading Game


Despite all the great computer-based phonics and reading programs we've been truly blessed to review so far this year, I bet if you ask Levi which is the most fun learn-to-read product, he'd vote for The Reading Game. ($24.95)

It's a simple premise:  play a memory game with common sight-word over and over again until your child can read the words.  Use a few "test sentences" to make sure said child (let's call this child "Levi" to make it easier) can read the words within the context of a sentence.  If he can, then pull out a nicely illustrated  rhymed story so he can read it to you.  After reading a book, Levi has learned 30 words! After all six sets of cards, Levi will know 180 words.

This new game was created by Kenneth Hodkinson, who is familiar to many homeschoolers in my area because of his Wordly Wise vocabulary program.  You can read how he developed the game and some field testing that was done here.

I tend to steer towards phonic, Orton-Gillingham-ish approaches to teaching reading (the rules and patterns make sense to me).  So, using The Reading Game, which presents words without instruction in phonics, is different for me.

But different isn't bad.  As a matter of fact, I've been able to use many of the words to reinforce some of the phonograms we've learned!

We used some of their Pre/ post-game worksheets to track progress before Levi began working with the 3rd set of cards (green).  Before playing the game, Levi knew 18 of the words easily.  After a day and a half of playing the game, he knew 28 of them easily, but with a little (very little) help from me, he could get all 30. What a great way this has been to reinforce and learn more words!

Most of the words Levi has learned will be frequently used in English.  According to the website:
PhotobucketOf the twenty-five most commonly used English words, twenty-three are on that list; of the most commonly used fifty words, forty-two.
Obviously, this isn't the only tool you'll need to teach your child to read, but if you have a child who isn't too keen to sit with you and look at a phonics instruction book and doesn't love workbooks or writing, this would be a great introduction to reading tool for you to consider. This would've been great for Luke when he was 5 and wanted nothing to do with the traditional phonics books that lived in our house.
I know that the memories Levi and I build because we are playing this game are going to stay with him, and hopefully he'll always associate reading with fun!

Head over to The Old Schoolhouse Crew to see what others think of this game.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Crew Review: Read Naturally Live

If you've been reading my posts about homeschooling my boys, you might recall that Luke struggles a bit to read.  While he might be testing at a generally appropriate grade level, and listening to him read makes me think that he gets the gist of the passage, reading is not easy for him.  And, while his comprehension is fine now, I know that as he begins to rely more on reading for learning (as opposed to me reading aloud to him), his comprehension will break down and he'll get lost.

So I practically begged to be able to review Read Naturally Live, an online program that purports to help students improve their reading fluency and comprehension.

The Product:  Here's a video explanation of what it does:

And here's some quotes from the website (which is huge and is full of information and research about their approach!):

...Our industry-leading programs develop and support the five essential components of reading, identified by the National Reading Panel: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. ...

Read Naturally's structured intervention programs combine teacher modeling, repeated reading, and progress monitoring — three strategies that research has shown are effective in improving students' reading proficiency. Using audio support and graphs of their progress, students work with high-interest material at their skill level.
With teacher modeling, a proficient reader models good, correct reading for a less able reader. In Read Naturally, students read along while listening to a recording of a fluent reader. This helps students learn new words and encourages proper pronunciation, expression, and phrasing.
Repeated reading is another strategy that research has shown improves fluency. In Read Naturally, students practice reading a story until they can read it at a predetermined goal rate. Mastering a story helps students build fluency and confidence.
Daily monitoring of student progress has also been shown to improve student achievement. Students become more involved in the learning process, and teachers remain aware of each student's progress. In Read Naturally, students monitor their progress by graphing the number of words read correctly before practicing and then again after practicing. The graph shows the students' progress, motivating them to continue to read and improve.
Each Read Live seat includes:
  • ·         Access to 13 Sequenced and 6 Phonics curriculum levels for each enrolled student (Read Naturally Live).
  • ·         Access to oral reading fluency benchmark assessment passages and reporting for up to 30 students (Benchmark Assessor Live).
  • ·         Online teacher training videos.
  • ·         The ability to reassign purchased seats if a student completes or leaves the program.
  • ·         Technical support...
Read Live is $149.00 for a 12-month subscription.  You can find a free 60-day trial here.

Our Experience: Luke is currently working on the Phonics Series reading material.  These stories are reinforcing simple phonics rules (short/ long vowels, digraphs, blends).  How are they reinforced?  When Luke first picks his story (there are 12 to chose from), three key words are shown on the screen, with an explanation of the phonic pattern (short i, for example).  There are additional words that are shown as well.  He's asked to repeat these words that the speaker (not a computer-y voice,  but a pleasant, patient female) says.  He'll see these words later in the lesson when he's asked to read lists of words for speed and accuracy.
  • OK, so Luke picks a story.  His most recent one was about a Rosy Spoonbill, a bird.  All the stories are non-fiction, and there is a wide variety of content:  science, social studies, and biographical information.  He's enjoyed each story so far! 
  • After go over the Key Words (which I explained above), Luke is asked to type in a Prediction of the story's content, based on a simple photo, the Key Words, and the title.  This is hard for Luke, because he's not a confident speller, but I don't care in this situation.  Near the end of this lesson, I'll determine if his answer is correct of not, so maybe someday I'll decide to count spelling.  Or not.
  • Next is Wordtastic, a vocabulary game where Luke is given four choices from which to pick a synonym or antonym.  I'm glad that the definition of synonym and antonym is on each page, and I just discovered that the program will read each word to the student if they are having trouble decoding it!  I cannot wait to show that feature to Luke tomorrow!
  • Wordtastic is a great little game, but it is really just purposeful busywork [please don't get me wrong, I love this game.  It is good for Luke!].  Luke plays this while he waits for me to come listen to him read the passage he selected for a "Cold Timing." This is his first time reading, and the purpose is to baseline is reading speed in words per minute.  [This is part of the "monitoring progress" the graphic above.]
  • After this, the Read Along session.  Here, a pleasant female voice reads the passage at a comfortable rate and the student is supposed to read aloud as well.  The sentence that is being read is highlighted in blue to help your student follow along. 
  • Next comes Practice.  Luke clicks the "start time" button, and begins reading the passage aloud.  When 1 minute is up, he clicks on the last word he read.  His goal is to read fluently at the words/minute goal that I set for him (right now he's working on 90 wpm).
  • When he's met his goal, Luke has read the story a minimum of 5 times!  He's now asked 5 Quiz Questions.  These quiz questions are factually and inferential.  I love this part.  I feel like I'm killing two birds with one stone: making sure he is reading for the sake of practice, but also getting some practice with thinking about his reading.  When I have him read aloud to me in other situations, I sometimes get so narrowly focused on the mistakes that he's making that I forget to consider "is he getting the message of the story?"
  • Next Luke has to practice the Word Lists.  This is unique to the lower level, Phonics Series.  Here, Luke has to read approximately 28 words that are in groups of 3-4 from the same word family. This section is probably the most helpful for Luke, as he struggles with reading accurately.  He does a "great" job of guessing at words, and this task has caused him to slow down and pay attention to the whole word.  Here's a sample:

  •  When he's done practicing this list (read in columns and then in rows), He's ready for the Pass Activities.  This is when I listen to him read (counting his errors), grade his Prediction answer, and listen to him read his word lists.  The program has specific criteria which the child must meet, but many of the parameters are customizeable.
I need to be honest and say that Luke does not like this at all.  Have I noticed any generalization yet?   Well, no, but I plan to continue to use this through our complementary subscription period.  I know he's learning something about reading, because his fluency has gotten better and he has certainly gotten the "hang" of reading the words lists much more than at the beginning.  I suspect with more practice, I'll see his reading in subject work improve as well.

To see what others thought of Read Life (and their paper product, One-Minute Reader), please visit the Review Crew!

FCC:  Thanks to Read Naturally for a complementary subscription to this product in exchange for my honest opinion about our experience with this product.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    Gratitude Challenge: A Week at a Time, part 2

    This week I'm thankful for:

    7.  Music that brings joy to our souls. {Luke had his first guitar lesson}

    8.  Our neighborhood friends.  It is such a blessing to live close to such great friends.

    9.  My husband.  He's a great father and an awesome friend.  He reminds me to laugh.

    10.  Family dinners.  I love sitting down together, the 5 of us, and enjoying a meal together.  I'm grateful for our health, the blessing of our food, and our love.

    11.  I'm grateful for homeschooling our boys.  I'm glad Dave thought it up, and I'm glad God opened my heart to it.

    12. I'm grateful for all the hard work we all did today.  Hard work feels good! (have to remind myself of that sometimes).

    13. So nice to be back at church after a crazy fall football season.  I'm grateful for God not forgetting any of us.  I'm grateful for His living word that speaks to me

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Review - A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers

    We all have high hopes at the beginning of the school year, right? Nutritious breakfasts daily.  Quality family time.  Joyful students happily doing math.  Everybody loving and enjoying one another.

    Then we wake up.

    I had the best of intentions of incorporating music history into our study of the 1800s this year.  There are so many fantastic composers to learn about! But as the summer warmth faded and my planning time dwindled, I realized that I probably could not pull it all thogether myself.

    Thankfully, I had the opportunity to try out a .pdf version of Bright Ideas Press' A Young Schoar's Guide to Composers (available for $31.50 as a book at,).

    This is one stop shopping at its best! You really couldn't ask for a more complete program.  Here's what's in it (I've included some of my own clarifying comments so you can get more than just the salesman's schpeal):

  • 32 Weekly lessons (a week is spend on each composer or musical period)

  • 26 Bios of famous composers (These are nonfictional accounts of their early lives, their rise to prominence, and their contribution to music.  Musical terms like "oratorio," "movements," as well as music theory concepts are used throughout these narratives.  Also, the composers spiritual lives are explained, if they had one.)

  • 6 eras of music explained (Ancient/Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary)

  • Easy-to-use comparative timeline (You can see the overlap of the composer's lives as well as a few major historical events which are printed on the customizable sheets. Directions are given so students can mark relationships and influences amongst the various men)

  • Easy-to-use maps (maps of the continents for showing where various composers lived/ worked/ were born)

  • Composer info-cards and game directions (Go Fish, Bingo, and Memory Match type of games with suggested variations to make it more difficult for older students -- like matching the composer to his musical time period)

  • Note-taking pages (these are fill-in-the-blank sheets to copy for your students for each musical era)

  • Quizzes (after each composer, a variety of questions are provided for the student to fill in to demonstrated some understanding of these amazing men.  They do not have to be used as quizzes.)

  • Answer keys

  • Listening suggestions (links to videos of the recommended selections, such as this one for the Farwell Symphony

  • Blackline coloring pages (Beethoven sitting at a legless piano, for example)

  • Recommended additional resources (8 pages of books, coloring books, games and websites to take your studies further)

  • Our Experience:  As much as I loved this resource, it sort of fell flat with my kids.  Here's some of my "learn from my mistakes" lessons:
    1. This resource is recommended for grades 4 - 8.  While it is adaptable for all ages, I could really see my younger kids zone out during our reading about the Classical Era and  Beethoven (and they like Beethoven!)  The authors do not shy away at all from incorporating some simple music theory into the narratives (which are guessed to last about 15 minutes of read aloud each).  For our family (read: no musical proteges or geniuses), this information was somewhat confusing, and since we had no listening experience to make comprehension of "polyphony" (for example) meaningful, it was easy for the the kids to discard the information and begin to zone out.
    2. Now, since our school year is solely about the 1800s this year, I was most interested in matching up music history with our time period.  I think we really lost a lot of valuable pre-Classical information (especially being able to see how the periods intertwined and influenced each other).  We should have just started from the beginning so we could see the whole sweep of history and get some musical terms under our belt to make our learning better.
    3. For as much as is included in this one resource, I think it's fair to say that sometimes less is more.  Especially with younger students.  To that end,  instead of loading my grammar aged students with coloring pages (not something they usually like), instead we decided to listen/ watch a few songs, and then (serendipitously) take them to a local symphony's children's concert highlighting Beethoven's life and work.  Thank you PSO!
    4. At the PSO Children's Concert, October, 2011
    5. Ben (the 7th grader) is doing much more writing this year compared to last year.  This is a good thing.  I decided however, to cut him some slack and not have him do the composer information sheets.  In retrospect, I should have had him use the notetaking pages or complete the reviews, because I think he would have paid better attention.
    My only major criticism of this resource is that my kids love to crowd around me when I read a book to them (and I love it, too) because there are inevitably awesome pictures and illustrations to augment what they are hearing me read.  Unfortunately, there were not illustrations outside of simple line drawings of each composer such as these: 

    This is unfortunate, because putting music into the context of geography and history is something that can help to cement new information (especially if your children have little previous introduction to music history, like my kids).  It would be wonderful to have photos of the instruments used during these periods as well as pictures of the beautiful cities of Europe to help spur our children's imaginations as they hear about these interesting, talented men.

    In all, this is a great, comprehensive product -- we just got off to a bad start with it.  I know that we will use it more as the school year progresses, and I'll do a better job of showing how we use it once we get re-started!

    Timberdoodle has lots of great resources to help you create a great music appreciation program.  Just click HERE.  If you'd like to see more of what Timberdoodle has to offer your homeschool, sign up HERE for a free catalog.

    FCC disclaimer:  I was sent a free digital copy of this resources in exchange for my honest opinion -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. :)