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Finding something that really can teach the very basics of reading and not be boring or time consuming can be a problem. Students who are not captivated by learning tend to become slow learners regardless of their intellectual abilities. I have reviewed many reading products in the past. Many of them were great and certainly did prove to be useful and motivating. Most of them were not for the true beginner, though. A parent would have to have started with a good bit of rote learning with flash cards and such. A product I was sent recently might be a little closer. It is simply called “The Reading Game” and is produced by the same author, Kenneth Hodkinson, who created the popular, Wordly Wise series. Learning to read can now be as simple as playing a game.

The game play is simple. It is played in quick rounds in the Memory Game fashion. You lay out cards with colored backs, a printed number 1 to 6, and an animal image on them and the other side is white with a perfectly centered printed word with each black letter clearly printed about 3/8” high. The font used is very similar to actual print handwriting, but properly sized and spaced for modeling of proper manuscript which I think is a plus. After laying the shuffled cards for each game group face down, you and your student each take turns flipping over two. If the cards match, you say the word several times in a clear voice. You keep the cards you matched for later scoring. Obviously, the one with the most matched sets wins. In the beginning, the tutor prompts the student in reading the correctly matched pairs. Use excited voices having a little celebration every time either you or the student makes a match.  A fun, but slightly disappointed voice saying, “oh, no,” or something similar should be used when there isn’t a match to help encourage fun game play.

That is all there is to play, but the learning begins immediately. The cards in the game are divided into card decks of about sixty each with two copies of the thirty words used to make each story book. The book has a matching colored cover and animal image because the story is about that animal. Book 1 is about a skunk. Book 2 is about a snake. Books 3, 4, and 5 are about a bear, a penguin, and a unicorn respectively. Book 6 is about a zebra. The card set for each book is also divided into six groups of five words. The back of each card shows the number of the group it is in. The numbers stand for games dividing the words of the book into smaller chunks to play with at a time making it easier to learn and remember the smaller group of words. When the student has mastered the words in game one, you move to game two words. After mastering the words for games 1 and 2, there are two test sentences using all of the words from the two sets. If the student can read these sentences, he is ready to move to game 3. There are test sentences after game 4 and again after game 6. After mastering the words and test sentences for game 6, the student is ready to read story book 1. You can print the test sentences out on paper individually or in groups, but I think the best way is to use the cards themselves placing them in sentence order. Later, the student can be asked to create the sentences with the cards themselves in preparation for writing. Each book and word sets repeats the same game play and increases in word difficulty. Each round is quick and fun, but the words are already being etched into memory. You can play as many rounds as the student’s attention span allows knowing that every little bit is useful. Follow the student’s leading. As the student learns the five words in a set, they naturally want to play the next set which leads to perfect pace of continued learning.

In addition to fun learning, the educational aspects go beyond word recognition even though that alone is great. By the time all six books have been learned with thirty new words per book, the student has learned a hundred and eighty words. That is a lot of words, but because the words have also been carefully chosen to be predominantly the most common English words (forty-two out of the fifty most common) the ability to recognize more words out of other reading sources increases. The confidence that brings to a beginning reader is very motivating.

The most unusual feature found in this product and perhaps the best almost goes against the convention that modeling of proper grammar is a must. The author has chosen to write his story without the use of capitals and punctuation. However, his chosen technique might do better for the preparation of learning grammar and reading fluency than all the modeling and lessons on larger capital shapes and squiggly lines and dots do in repeated instruction. The story is written without the conventions of grammar and punctuation as just the words they have learned on the cards, but with breaks in the printing where pauses should be teaching the student naturally the proper phrasing of reading and purposes of commas and end punctuation without having those confusing marks to distract from the natural process. After the book has been successfully mastered, tutor and student can explore the concepts of inflections and lead into the learning of the simplest punctuation. The natural pauses they discover in the reading leads naturally to the use and purpose of commas. Students can then be taught how to write in their own capitals to show the beginning of a sentence and place appropriate punctuation in their own books. As would be expected, the use of breaks to show more in-sentence commas is used more and more as the student progresses through the six story books.

With these features leading to a natural priming of the brain for learning to read, you may wonder about phonics. The author has addressed the initial teaching of phonics as well by introducing it after successful completion of game six of each series, you can use cards of the series to show the patterns throughout the series and introduce new words that follow those patterns. For example, three patterns can be found in the book 1 series: (-ay), (-un), and (-o). The words using the (-ay) pattern in book 1 are day, play, and stay. The teacher can use those cards to demonstrate how the first letter changes to create a new word and to help the student create more new words by using other initial letter sounds. The author details all of the books’ patterns in Rules and Teacher’s Guide that comes with the set. This is the simplest method to begin the teaching of phonics, but the best for setting the stage for a true and deep understanding of the mechanics of reading and spelling.

In terms of accessibility, the series is perfect for many special needs populations including those with processing disorders due to the non-distracting, clear, crisp, and contrasting print of the cards and story books where the words are displayed. The illustrations in the books are reminiscent of pencil sketches found in the textbooks of days gone by. Often times, this kind of drawing is great for attracting autistic and learning disabled students due to the unusual contrast it details for the objects drawn. This is normally even good for low vision readers especially when done on regular book paper. The glossy pages which are great for young beginning readers does make the details of some very involved sketches less crisp for students with acuity and perception issues, though. The tutor will need to verbally describe these illustrations to these low vision students. The size and font of the print for both cards and books are larger than many such reading products, so may be fine for those with milder low vision issues. Teachers of some students who need much larger print may need to create larger word cards and magnifiers or a CCTV for the story books. The kinesthetic use of word cards and the game play are useful tools for tactile learners and those who need multisensory techniques. Adding objects with the cards initially can help those who have receptive language disruptions and other processing disorders. The cards were easily brailled for blind and DeafBlind students. For the blind and DeafBlind teacher such as myself, I brailled the cards with not only the word, but also the game number and the book animal to help me keep the cards properly separated for ease of use and to prevent confusion while teaching. I used clear adhesive brailling plastic to place the sentence strips on the storybook for my reading along with the student. I copied the exact phrasing breaks the author used to provide the same natural fluency features. These braille sentences can be used separately for the blind and DeafBlind student, if necessary. The beginning braille reader benefitted the same from this phrasing technique without the braille punctuation and capital cells as the sighted student to my delight. It is wonderful to see a product that is useful as is or so easily modified to benefit the possible varying abilities of many students.

The Reading Game, along with progress sheets and other teaching suggestions, can be found at http://thereadinggame.com for just $24.95 which is a great price for the gift of literacy. The strategies here are simple and easy to implement, but the foundations for reading, spelling, and writing are etched into the brain ready to take your student fully prepared to become a great reader.

To read other reviews about this product and others from The Old SchoolHouse Crew, go to the TOS Crew blog.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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Helping students improve their vocabulary for college entrances exams can be difficult when the means is tedious. College Prep Genius, which publishes a fantastic college entrance test preparation program that I love and have reviewed here before, has developed a series of books to really help students read more and learn more advanced vocabulary while they read. The CaféVocab series contains some very interesting stories that intertwine 300 words captivating students while demonstrating the proper use of difficult vocabulary.

The stories are all about the lives and activities of normal teens. There are stories in several different genres to help most teens find one that will grab their attention. The advanced vocabulary is properly used and sprinkled throughout the story. At the bottom of the page, the words used on that page are listed with a pronunciation guide, part of speech used, and a clear definition. A listing of the chapter’s used words is at the end of each chapter to aid in review. There is a glossary at the end with all the words, definitions, part of speech, and pronunciation guide, too.

The vocabulary used is in total for all four books in the series well over three hundred. Each book uses about three hundred, but there is some overlap. The books also use some of the words in different parts of speech and with slightly different content meaning to help the student really see how the words can function and make them a part of their own vocabulary to some extent. The use of the vocabulary in these stories, though, can really help them be better prepared for the advanced vocabulary found on the college entrance exams.

One of the students I gave these books to for reading assignments, Ryan S., was impressed enough with just the first few chapters that he is writing his own review on The $ummer of $aint Nick (dollar signs are intentional and part of the title). I will put an excerpt here, but if Ryan grants permission, I will post his full review when he has finished the book and review:

“I have read 9 chapters so far in my book. I love the book.  The vocabulary words I have not ever heard before like the word  Besmirch that means discolor. The book does show how to say word and meaning. but I will not be using these words in my writing. The book was interesting.  I liked the book because the boy who found $300,000 gave to those who needed money and was not selfish with the money he found. He gave money to people in community who needed help. He gave anonymously because he did not want the attention and praise.”

Even with his honesty of not wishing to actually use the words in his own writing due to their complexities and awkwardness, Ryan admits that he is learning to recognize and understand these new words. Along with his interest in the story leading him to read more, this new knowledge really shows the CaféVocab series is successfully completing its mission.

As far as accessibility, the pronunciation guide and definition are good for all students including those with slight reading delays. It would be more beneficial if audio and electronic text versions could be found on-line to help more who are print disabled, blind, or deafblind. Hopefully, this could be something added to the series in the future if the publishers really want to help more students while expanding their market.

There are currently four books in the series: Operation High School, The $ummer of $aint Nick, Planet Exile, and I. M. for Murder. Each book costs $12.95 and can be purchased Maven of Memory Publishing at http://www.vocabcafe.com.

To read other reviews about this product and others from The Old SchoolHouse Crew, go to the TOS Crew blog.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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TOUCH POINTS

by Renée K. Walker

 

You may remember me describing here the troubles I have had getting doctors in my area to provide me interpreters. That fight continues, but I now have completed the first battle. Though I can’t speak of the specific circumstances or resolution, I can describe the process that I have been through now and that the process worked. At least for one incident, compliance to the ADA law and education to help those who come into this particular situation in the future has been met. That is what the advocacy process can do. We all need to learn the skills to advocate for ourselves, but at times, we need help to move the mountains before us.

 

The best way to begin is to call and ask for an appointment first. Once the organization has given you an appointment, tell them your specific communication needs that fall under ADA law for effective communication. This could be the CART system, which is where you have a typist who has been trained in medical or legal interpreting depending on your setting, or it could mean an ASL interpreter, or some other form of communication. If the office tells you that they don’t provide interpreters or your method of communication, try to remain calm and use the moment to educate the personnel regarding the ADA law. Explain that it is required by law and offer to provide the personnel with a copy of the law section that pertains to the situation. You can also direct them to the National Association for the Deaf’s (NAD) website at www.nad.org or the ADA website at www.ada.gov. Document your call and its contents in some way. If you use relay services, save the transcript. If you have a hearing person call for you, see if they will write a summary of the transcripts. In my state, the laws allow me to record conversations without the permission of the other party. That could be a possibility, but you have to check the laws of your state first. You do not want to be in violation. A written record is usually quite sufficient. Even if the office personnel stated they weren’t interested in the ADA information, mail them a copy anyway asking them to please look it over and seek legal advice if they wish. Respectfully ask them to consider your need. Call the office again after giving them a little time to do as you requested, documenting the phone call. Many times this opportunity to educate politely is all that is needed to help people to understand your needs and their responsibilities. Often, the personnel didn’t mean any disrespect. They just were unfamiliar with the law and had not had any prior experience with disabled persons needing communication assistance.

 

In the event that your needs are still not met, please don’t get discouraged and give up or go to an appointment using just a friend or relative who can communicate with you. The ADA law has been written to help you. There are reasons the ADA law stipulates using a qualified interpreter. Family and friends may not be able to translate the complex medical or legal concepts to the patient in an effective manner. Often times, emotional situations may be difficult for them to handle, and the family member or friend may resort to hiding some information. The love and concern is understandable and commendable, but it is not appropriate when the patient’s ability to make decisions regarding their health or legal issue is hindered. It is the patient’s right to decide the form of effective communication they need and want, but understanding why the ADA law was written is also important in helping the patient function on his own behalf.

 

Your next step should be to contact your state’s local advocacy agency or ADA attorney. The attorney assigned to you will then work with you to get the information regarding your complaint. If non-compliance is determined, the advocate will contact the organization and inform them of your complaint against them, providing the legal information that the organization needs to understand in order to best serve you. This may be enough to resolve your situation and help you get your communication needs met.

 

If not, you are not alone. Your advocate will help you with the next steps. If you wish to proceed, the advocate will file on your behalf a complaint to the Department of Justice (DOJ). You will provide input as to what you would like to receive from the organization that is in non-compliance, such as an appointment where an interpreter is provided to allow effective communication. Once the complaint is written, you will receive a copy and give final approval to allow the advocate to file the complaint with the DOJ. DOJ prefers to start off with using a third-party mediating company. This company provides people who are trained to remain objective and help the parties in a dispute come to an agreement. In this situation, they help the organization understand the need for compliance to the ADA and the best procedure to do that. They also help educate both parties in how to best meet the needs of the complainant (person filing the complaint). The mediation meeting takes place at a neutral place or using telephone conference or whatever method works best for the parties involved. Your advocate is with you throughout the process. You can decide if you want the advocate to speak for you or if you want to speak for yourself asking help from your advocate as needed. The process of mediation is not a court trial. It is an informal meeting for discussion. The mediator helps to keep the discussion flowing and working toward resolution. Either party can end the mediation process at any time. All conversation during the mediation is completely confidential, so you and the other parties can be open. You are not forced into anything, but you do have lots of support from your advocate and the mediator to help things run smoothly and professionally.

 

Hopefully, the mediation meeting will lead to a resolution plan. The plan itself may take several months or more for the respondent (the person you are filing the complaint against) to fully complete all aspects of the plan depending on the situation and the complexities involved. When all is complete, you will be notified. If you are to be given an appointment using effective communication, that will be part of the plan. You will be given the opportunity to arrange that appointment. The mediation process and your case will not be closed until you and your advocate agree that the plan has been completed as prescribed.

 

Should the mediation process fail, the DOJ will then take the case back and a federal trial may then be held. I am not familiar with that process yet, and hope I will never have to go that far. I would prefer that education and/or the mediation process would be enough to secure my rights to effective communication in medical and legal settings. From my experiences with the mediation process so far, I can see that it is highly effective, and the results are probably very successful in many cases.

 

Remember as you request for your needs to be met, that you are not only advocating for yourself, but you are also advocating for others who will follow you. If we all are more willing to use the resources available to us to enforce the ADA law, we can educate more organizations and make the lives of all disabled a little easier.

 

If you have comments about this topic, you may write a letter in braille or print to Renée Walker, 143 Williamson Drive, Macon, GA 31210; or you may email me at rkwalker@wynfieldca.org. You can also read and comment on my blog at http://www.deaf-blindhope.wordpress.com. You can also check me out at www.facebook.com/reneekwalker.

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