Saturday, August 17, 2013

TOS Review: Reading Kingdom



Reading for a struggling reader can be frustrating for the student and the teacher. There are so many different methods and different schools of thought on how to help these kids succeed. I am always looking for something to give Josiah just a little extra something. It could be that extra something that makes all the difference. He is 11 years old and dyslexic.  There is always that internal struggle. “Am I hurting him more by keeping him home?” “Surely they would know what to do better in the public school.” Then I have to wop myself upside the head again. 

Home is the best environment for Josiah right now. And (to be perfectly blunt) not only am I his mother, but I am an educated adult who trained as a teacher. A classroom teacher wouldn’t be able to provide what I can for him right now. Lots of time and determination of a bull dog to help him succeed. I have access to wonderful resources and support when I need it (you can tell I have this little “pep talk” with myself daily). When I was given the chance to review Reading Kingdom for Josiah, I was ready to “give it a go.”  



What is it? 
Reading Kingdom is an online program that is designed for kiddos ages 4-10…or struggling readers. The goal is that by the end of Reading Kingdom your child will be able to read and write on a third grade level.  It can be used as a stand-alone program or as a supplement. It is not a program specifically for homeschoolers. Many classroom teachers use Reading Kingdom as well. 

Dr. Marion Blank is the author of The Reading Remedy and the director of the Light on Learning program at Columbia University. She developed the Reading Kingdom program. It teaches a child to read using her patented "6-SIM" Six Skill Integrated Method; sequencing, motor skills, phonics, meaning, grammar and reading comprehension. This is not specifically a phonics or whole language based program (which are traditionally used). 

 You can read more about her methods here. I found it all very fascinating. It could be because some of the issues I face every day with Josiah are those specifically addressed.  This is straight from the website. 

The Reading Kingdom is highly beneficial for children diagnosed with dyslexia. The system has been designed to teach a range of skills vital to reading but omitted from other programs. Many of these skills are precisely the ones that children with dyslexia need to develop. For example, the children often have problems with visual memory so that even when they have seen a word many times, they do not recognize it. The teaching of visual memory is a key part of The Reading Kingdom. Other features of the program address the specific language deficits associated with dyslexia, such as the notable difficulties the children have with the "little" words such as there, who, of, etc. The Reading Kingdom steadily builds the skills children need to become fluent readers and writers.

The key for us is that little word, “steadily.” This program is also “smart.” It personalizes itself for the student as it goes so he and she are not stuck repeating something they have already mastered. 

How is works and how we used it

So how does it work? Josiah started by taking a placement test called the Skills Survey 1. This test is not of the easy breezy kind. If the student needs a little extra help after the placement test, he or she will be taken through either the Seeing Sequence (if he or she needs help with visual sequencing) or Letter Land. Otherwise, he will be placed in the Reading Program according to the results of the Skills Survey 2.
 
I was a bit surprised with Josiah’s placement. He certainly can read better than he tested.  After a little research I learned that he was placed in Letter Land because he needed additional keyboarding skills. Though I have my suspicions his mind might have been on other things…Like lunch. He also has better keyboarding skills than indicated. However, I was okay with it. Any extra practice is a good thing. I don’t want any holes in his schooling. I did discover that you can request your child be moved to a different level. 

Next comes the Skills Survey 2 to see where the student needs to be placed in the Reading Program itself. 

I want to give you a glimpse of some of the activities involved. Keep in mind that I took some random pictures from a several of the levels. Your child will obviously not encounter all of these activities at once (though the methods might be similar).

This activity is part of the Skills Survey. The student has to find the letter "t" on the keyboard. 



 These activities are also part of the assessment. In the pic on left the student is asked to type in a word that is dictated to him. The one on the right asks the student to choose which word belongs in the sentence.

Notice how the pic on the left shows the word "it" with a capital letter "I" as well as lower case? Love that! The activity on the right requires the student to locate all of the "its" located in the paragraph. 


Another activity. You can see from the activity on the right that the student is asked to find the word people. This is difficult for some kids with dyslexia. The words can jumble all together.


In this activity the student is asked to find the words (from the word bank below). There are a few clues given. I think this is great practice for visual discrimination. 


The program certainly highlighted Josiah's struggles.  When asked to find a specific word such as “some” he doesn’t have any difficulty. However, when asked to spell “some” he will spell it phonetically. If he is asked to find a word such as “rocket” in a whole paragraph he will get flustered (with a smaller group of words he is fine). He is at the stage where he will eventually find it, but not without some wailing and gnashing of teeth.  And forget about spelling “rocket” off the cuff. He would spell it something like “rokit.” I found that the program dealt specifically with this issue. It didn’t simply ask him to click on words that were dictated to him.

After those first initial steps (if needed), there are 5 levels in Reading Kingdom with 6 books in each level. The student moves along at his own pace through each book and subsequently each level. You can repeat levels if necessary.

For this review period, Josiah used the program almost daily (it is summer, after all) and did 2 lessons a day. 

I mentioned before that Reading Kingdom is not simply a “point and click” kind of program. Spelling and keyboarding are key components. I will tell you that the typing option is pretty great. Your child does not have to be a proficient typist in the traditional 10 manner. However, there is something about learning to find your way around a keyboard. I think it has made a big difference with Josiah. I realize that some might not see the need to incorporate typing skills into a reading program. With kids like Josiah who do not learn in the traditional manner, that little motor development (almost like a muscle memory) helps it stick. You have to decide what you are most comfortable with. 

Here are a few more things to consider.
         
·       You can adjust the time requirement in the Parents/Teachers tab.
·       The program tracks the child’s program. You can even schedule an email to be sent to you.
·       There are some training exercises that will assist kiddos who need additional help with their keyboarding skills.
·       If the student makes a mistake the program immediately corrects them and shows him what he needs to do to fix it.
·       It requires the student to use capital letters (where needed) and correct punctuation.
·       The website is full of great helps. On this page you can find sample lessons, worksheets to print, book recommendations and more.
·       Sometimes I felt a bit lost. I finally realized that I could check a box to have progress reports sent to me, but I still felt like I was a bit in the dark. I finally decided maybe that was a good thing. Sometimes we focus too much on scores. I need to breathe a little and just let Josiah learn.   
A little bit of honesty here. As parent with a struggling reader (who is dyslexic in this case), I sometimes feel helpless. Some techniques that seem to work one day might completely crash and burn the next day. There is not an easy formula.

 However, I have learned that consistency is the key and little by little Josiah is getting there. I have yet to determine if Reading Kingdom is going to be the final answer. But I certainly feel that it is a pretty hefty weapon in our arsenal. Josiah enjoys it and I can see that he is making progress.  It has helped my frustration level tremendously. I set Josiah up in our bedroom and occasionally wandered past the door to make sure he wasn’t hanging from the closet rod. It is suggested that you don’t assist your child. That is very hard sometimes, but I actually found that he was perfectly capable of doing the job. 

The particulars
 
There are a few different ways to purchase Reading Kingdom. First, I recommend signing up for a 30-day free trial (don’t you just love FREE!) The cost for the program is $19.99 monthly or $199.99 per year for the first child. Each additional child is $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year. There are additional products for purchase as well, but they aren’t necessary to use the program. They do include, however, all of the story books used in print version for those of us who like a paper copy. All you need for this program is a computer with audio, an internet connection and the Adobe Flash Player (which is free).  Here are specifically the recommendations from the website. 

1.    That the student uses the reading program at least four times a week. The session should last about 10-15 minutes at the beginning and then get longer as the student progress.
2.    Set up a comfy area (computer, keyboard, and chair at comfortable height for student.
3.    Create a quiet work environment for the student. They also recommend it to be uncluttered. Oops! I guess now is not the time to show that pic of our computer desk.
4.    Use a mouse. Not the furry kind you understand ;<)


The price is something that is a bit much for some of us to swallow. If I hadn't been blessed with a chance to review the product for free there isn't any way we could have managed it. However, that being said, there are some big benefits to the program. 

Even if you don’t have a struggling reader, but would like your child to improve his reading skills (or even learn to read) I suggest you try it out. I am adding this program to our schooling schedule daily this year. I am looking forward to some significant results. 

My TOS Crew friends also reviewed this program. You can check out what they thought here.




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