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*Due to the nature of this product, the fact that it is a full curriculum, and the detailed description of the product, its procedures, and useful modifications for the blind and DeafBlind members of my audience, this is a long post. However, the information is important and aspects of what you do not need can be easily skipped during reading. Please do not let the length deter you.*

"All About Reading Basic and Interactive Kit"

"All About Reading Basic and Interactive Kit"

Everyone seems to have an idea how to teach your child to read no matter what issues your child may have. Some are nothing more than snake oil or copied methods, good or bad, from days gone by. In formal education settings, one might say that the teaching of reading never changed for a century or more. It was a “one size fits all” kind of thing. I have taught many students to read, and usually without a “proper curriculum”. At that time, I really hadn’t found a suitable curriculum, and often, my students didn’t quite fit the “one size fits all” method. I struggled on my own creating my own materials by hand and discovering the strengths and weaknesses of each student teaching to the strengths and working to improve the weaknesses through trial and error. A loving parent or truly caring teacher longing to teach their struggling child to read is a perfect recipe for innovative teaching systems. I have reviewed a few here for you to check out before. One that I bring to you now, I have reviewed in parts before as the author has developed products beginning with spelling, and as she learned more, her system grew into a full reading program. You can read my other reviews on All About Spelling and All About Homophones  and Beehive Readers along with the reader, What am I from the archives. Now let’s see how this program by Marie Rippel which has become All About Reading has grown.

I was sent All About Reading: Level 1, a full curriculum teaching all key reading skills in a multisensory method which is mastery-based and customizable utilizing step-by-step lesson plans. The program comes with a full teacher’s manual including the step-by-step lesson plans and instructions for using all of the course materials, three volumes of short stories developed specifically for learning to read the vocabulary presented in the program at each phase, student packet with thick paper phonogram and word cards, and a student workbook with activities designed to teach and practice the key reading skills. The Deluxe Reading Interactive Kit, sold separately, contains letter tiles, magnets for the letter tiles, Basic Phonograms CD-ROM (playable in a computer only), reading divider cards, reading review box, tote bag, and smiling star stickers. The materials and container are all well-made and sturdy enough to last through many students. You could laminate the phonogram and word cards which are 4.25 inches by 2.75 inches of sturdy card stock to make them more durable, if you wish. The letter tiles and tabbed reading card dividers have already been given a glossy laminated coating. The teacher’s guide and consumable workbook have sturdy bindings with glossy coatings. The workbook has pre-perforated pages to ease removal, and the activities are separated individually and clearly marked by lesson number. The student texts are made with high quality paper and a sturdy binding reminiscent of fine textbooks of days gone by with a glossy coating. These are products designed to be in use for many years.

After your initial preparation of the materials included in the highly recommended and affordable Deluxe Interactive kit which takes about 45 minutes to an hour to separate the cards and tiles and place them in the reading box provided and a zip type bags, you will then have very little preparation to do to successfully carry out the program. Your preparation only needs a couple of minutes to use the provided CD-ROM of the phonograms for the lesson to ensure that you can pronounce them clearly for student understanding, and another five minutes to preview the lesson layout, and a final five minutes to preview the activity and gather the needed materials. Of course, having the basic needs like tape, scissors, stapler, crayons or markers always handy for the student will help cut down on your prep time even more. The final preparation time is very important and should not be left out. It involves deciding and gathering your read-aloud time books. I like the fact that read-aloud time is such an important aspect of this program. Ms. Rippel gives you plenty of help in learning how to prepare and implement read-aloud time successfully from deciding the best time of day to read-aloud to gathering an appropriate variety and types, and how to minimize distractions. She also makes it clear why this time is so valuable by gaining important background knowledge on various subjects, developing a larger vocabulary, and hearing a variety of language patterns while all of this helps give your child a higher reading comprehension when the child begins to read independently. Even the busiest of teachers can fit lesson preparation for this program into their day.

The basic lesson model for most lessons begins with Review. Review the phonogram and word cards from the previous lessons. If the student knows the sound or word well, you can move the card from the review section of the box to the mastered section. You will find the words for the beginning lesson and new words as they are added in the future lessons section which helps to best organize your box and keep only a few in the section you are working with daily. You will then teach new letter sounds by showing the phonogram cards and saying each sound and having the student repeat the sound. Review them and then place the cards in the review section of the reading box for the next lesson. Using a magnetic board or table, you review the same sounds with the letter tiles practicing until they can say the sound accurately. The lesson also builds in exercises with the letter tiles to practice commonly confused letters such as “b” and “d”.  You will also use the letter tiles to build words and show the student how to sound out words by touching the letter and saying the sound followed by sliding your finger underneath each tile as you sound out the word. Other aspects of the lesson such as changing initial letter sounds to make new words, and color-coded letter tiles to help identify vowels and consonants, and board labels to organize consonant teams and different spellings of different sounds followed by activities from the student book teach and develop the key components of reading which are phonological awareness, phonics and decoding, fluency (which is often overlooked especially at this stage), vocabulary, and comprehension. Using sight, sound, and touch, your student is actively engaged as the student learns and applies new learning immediately.

With my own students, I followed the program step by step and modified the materials when it was necessary for my learning disabled, low-vision, blind, deaf, and DeafBlind students. The program being based on the Orton-Gillingham approach and the latest research is very beneficial as is for most learning disabled, dyslexic students. Ms. Rippel begins her instructional method based on this approach at the beginning of the reading process (there is a Pre-1 level for preschoolers and Kindergarteners, too) which is seldom done in regular school programs. Many begin using a program suitable for these children after they begin to struggle with the regular program. Starting from the beginning using the researched approaches sounds like the better idea. Now being DeafBlind myself, I scanned the text and teacher’s guides into software such as OpenReader which then translated the OCR’ed text into braille. This let me independently prepare for the lessons and even prepare the readers with braille. With my other students, I modified or created my own tiles using braille for the letter, sound, and key word clues for my blind and DeafBlind students and myself, since I need that to teach the students. The sound cards provided are yellow with black typed .5 inch to .75 inch thick, clear letter fonts without serifs or “tails” which should be readable for most students including low-vision students. Legally blind students may need larger font cards made on white background or other individually-suited backgrounds with print color that provides good contrast. As I have done with another set of readers received from this author, I brailled adhesive plastic for the text of the books in the same reading pattern as used by the author on the pages. The pages of the books are delightfully textured like linen paper and have a smell both of which tickle the senses like books of old. This is great for those students who love sensory stimuli and blind and DeafBlind who rely on the other senses for pleasure and information. Visually, the illustrations are simple, but pleasing using an interesting snapshot and card label layout like it is a picture of a scrapbook page. The illustrations depict scenes that aid comprehension, but they do not go so far as let you read the text just from pictures like some children who can look at the pictures and almost perfectly word the text as if they are truly reading, but aren’t. With these modifications, the program can be beneficial for many types of students and used as independently as possible by most teachers regardless of abilities or disabilities.

The final aspect you may be wondering is whether, even if the materials can be modified for use, the method is actually beneficial for most types of students especially Deaf, blind, and DeafBlind. For those students, the sensory aspect seems to be missing some elements at first glance, but if you understand the way these students learn and think, you will see that multi-sensory is still in operation. The Deaf may not hear and many may not speak, but they speak with their hands; and therefore, it is there you find their voice, and it is naturally kinesthetic. Their eyes allow them to read print, but also in many cases their natural language is often “read” on the hands. Reading print and reading signs stimulates different parts of the brain. The blind and DeafBlind do not see directly, but they do visualize print or braille and the pictures that reading brings in their minds, so with individual words and letters they see that printed or braille letter in their mind, and then in reading the words come alive like movies. Their fingers do the reading rather than the eyes, but it is also naturally kinesthetic as the brain receives the movement of the hands and the texture of the braille dots. Like the Deaf, the reading of braille stimulates another part of the brain for the blind. The hearing blind will also hear the teacher’s voice and the sound of their own as they say the words out loud. The Deaf and DeafBlind do not hear the sound even if they can talk, but the multi-sensory presence is still there, and many will mouth the words or at least some of the sounds as they read in braille or tactually read the sign. Yes, these students can benefit, too, as my students showed, but the teacher does need to understand the differences and make sure that as many communication methods as possible are used along with the tactile uses of the cards and tiles as prescribed by the author. Although there is no study on the use of non-braille specific curriculums for teaching the blind and DeafBlind, my work with my own students seems to indicate that using good quality programs such as All About Reading modified for their needs, can be just as beneficial if not more, since the researched methods of dealing with learning difficulties is built-in to some of these products, especially All About Reading. I certainly cannot guarantee that what I have seen work with my students will work with yours, and the author, of course, didn’t develop her methods with these types of students in my mind, but you might want to check it out for yourself based on your students’ abilities, since braille curriculums are expensive for the parent who has chosen to teach their student at home or even a small Special Needs school.

The All About Reading program can be purchased on-line at the All About Learning web site, http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com. The basic program with the teacher’s guide, student readers, and student workbook can be purchased for $99.95. The Basic Interactive Kit which has the tiles, cards, Phonograms CD-ROM, and magnets can be purchased for $28.95. A Deluxe kit with the basic kit contents plus a tote bag, star stickers for student progress chart, and Reading Review box can be purchased for $48.95. Individual components of both kits can be purchased separately, as needed. Other levels and supplemental resources can be found on their site, as well. All of this high quality and researched materials make All About Reading an excellent program that will be useful for many types of students and last for years. A great reader learns to love learning.

For me, I don’t always recommend a product. I just will give you very specific details about a product and how it might be beneficial with different groups. All About Reading is a program that I can recommend.

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.

SAT ® and ACT® preparation is on anyone’s mind if they plan to go to college. Most of our curriculums will help prepare you for the writing, verbal, and math portions, but one section tends to stump a lot of us, and that is vocabulary. Where do they come up with some of those words? Finding a good resource that is interesting is the key. If you are blind or deafblind, those resources become very limited. VocabAhead may just be the choice for you and your students with its “entertaining and effortless vocabulary building solution”.

VocabAhead’s SAT Vocabulary: Cartoons, Videos, and MP3s is a simple, but handy study aid for any trying to bone up on their vocabulary. Let’s describe the book aid first. Each page covers one word. The page lists the correct spelling of the word and its part of speech. It then lists the definition along with a humorous cartoon illustrating the word’s meaning. The cartoon has two to three different sentences describing the cartoon using the word or using the word appropriately in additional example sentences. The page concludes with a short list of synonyms and antonyms for the word. There are 30 units which group words in loose categories of similarity. At the end of the unit, a review exercise is provided of matching and fill-in-the blank practice of the words in that unit. Answers are included in the back of the book. This is a great way to build visual connections to easily learn and reinforce that learning.

Visual learning is not the only style supported by this little aid. You can download the narrations of each page on MP3 files to your favorite player and listen and learn on-the-go. This is great for the blind and  auditory learners and those with reading difficulties and dyslexia. There are also videos to download that will allow you to take the book with you in a digital fashion on your IPod, IPhone, and IPad which for some students with special needs is a great plus. Some autistics are learning to use the IDevices to spur their learning and reinforce their memory and attention spans. The audio files and the videos are free for download of their website. I also hope the team will add a feature. That is a pronunciation guide for the word. Some students need that visual key to help them with learning to pronounce words. Regardless, this is a perfectly priced study aid for vocabulary improvement.

To my great surprise, I found on their website that an IPhone/IPod app is available for this study aid. Being Deaf and Blind, I was happy to see a lite or free version available for testing. That means this review will also go on my DeafBlind Hope blog to help DeafBlind people know what can help them. To add to my excitement, I found they did a great job making the app accessible to braille output for the most part. Everything in the “Study Words” section works fine with braille. The flash cards work well too except for the tap to hint section which can be selected on a braille display, but because the hint is only an image, the braille display goes blank. This would definitely confuse a person needing the braille. They might not know what to do next or think the program closed or locked up. I suggest that they add a text hint here such as a synonym or a sentence using the word or a text description of the image that would help with the word. In the quiz section, the main page is accessible. The buttons work and even the dial a word section which is more of a graphic is accessible. You can scroll through the list to see which words will be on the list and change the list from the “don’t know yet” list and the “mastered” list for continued practice on all the words. Once you click the start quiz button and change to the first word on the test, the app loses it on accessibility. The home and back button work fine. You also can see which word you are being quizzed on next, but the multiple check boxes of possible definition answers only shows on the braille display as “btn” which means button.  You cannot read what the choice is at all. You can check with the select button on the display, but you don’t get any response as to right or wrong as you should. You only get the text “dmd btn” which is demand button. I also couldn’t figure out how to move forward in the quiz by braille display either. You do a one finger flick on the touch screen. That isn’t always easily understood by people who are totally deaf and blind, so a next button should be added. These are easy fixes for the app developers, though. I am hopeful that this will be updated soon because I am sure the developers would like to make their app fully accessible. I am going to email them with my suggestions as their app boldly asks for which is a positive point for the developers. They obviously want to get suggestions for improvement. When it is, I can tell you that the app will be worth buying even at $9.99 if you are blind or deafblind because it covers 1000 words. It is already a great app for other users including some special needs students.

Between the book, the audio files, the video files, and the IPhone/IPod app, VocabAhead SAT Vocabulary: Cartoons, Videos, and MP3s should have everyone covered. To find out more, go to http://vocabahead.com. This neat study aid can also be purchased easily at Amazon.com for $12.95 in book form. A DVD version is also available for $24.99. This could be a fun way to a higher SAT® or ACT® score or just to get a little smarter.

You may have heard of the Advanced Placement tests offered on different subjects by the College Board. If not, the AP tests allow a student who has studied advanced material on a subject through college level to take a test to receive both high school and college credit for the material. It is a good program for students who excel in one or more areas. Learning the material isn’t necessarily enough. Additional preparation on completion of essay writings required, topics covered, test-taking strategies, etc. could mean the difference between credit and no credit. The Cerebellum Corporation now presents their Light Speed Advanced Placement video program to clear the way for success.
This new program uses a format similar to their popular Standard Deviants series sold on DVD and seen on PBS. Through young actors and on-screen graphics, the program covers extensive research on essential test topics of Chemistry, U. S. History, U. S. Government and Politics, and English Composition and Language. The producers say it is a rapid and thorough approach to the topics. I received U. S. History to review. As the date for my students’ testing was only about two weeks away when I received the tape, I could give the students’ limited time to review the material before the test date. I showed the video on one school day, and let them use pages from the digital workbook provided with the program. The workbook pages are very concise and detailed to reinforce the material presented on the video. After viewing the video, I asked the two students to write comments about the experience. Both stated that they enjoyed the time spent viewing the video and thought it was helpful to them. It seemed to allay some concerns about the test and strengthen confidence at the very least. The essay section seemed to be the most helpful to the students. They felt the material was presented very clearly and concisely. One felt the actors were a bit corny and felt that was a little distracting. I definitely wouldn’t normally present the material in one session and only a couple of weeks to use the digital workbook. The program was designed to be used in small sessions and repeatedly throughout the year of preparing for an AP test. You can’t judge the program for its effectiveness in improving scores, of course, but both students felt more confident about taking the AP test after viewing the material. That is a plus in itself.
I have a little complaint with the DVD because I was not able to view this program myself. For deaf students, the DVD is not closed-captioned. Blind students would have some difficulty with the digital workbook because of the .pdf format limitations for speech readers and braille output. You can copy to another program for accessibility, but some of the pages consisted of pictures with information that can’t be view with a brailled display or spoken with a speech reader. I certainly hope the producers will at least consider using closed captions in the future.
Although we can’t say how the program affected my students’ scores, their increased confidence even with the short time they had the program should count for something. At the cost of $14.98 for each title, Cerebellum’s Light Speed AP U. S. History should not be considered a waste of money. For the rest of the year, you can receive a 20% discount off any product using the code OSH20 at checkout. Check out their full listing at http://www.sdlearn.com.
I received a free U. S. History program to write this review. I didn’t receive any other compensation, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

One of the many problems facing some students in learning math is that they have trouble reasoning or thinking logically. The student may have been presented facts previously that they memorized for a tentative period, but they didn’t learn how to use those facts to reason or think logically about problems given to them. Thus, the student tends to forget many of the math facts shortly after the test. One problem with teaching a student to think logically is creating problem samples that are interesting and suitable for applying facts learned to deeper levels. The Critical Thinking Company has long established that they can produce materials designed to teach a student to think mathematically and apply the math facts to useful and interesting problems. Their newest edition to the Mathematical Reasoning series, Mathematical Reasoning: Middle School Supplement continues that tradition beautifully. My high school and middle school-aged students have been using this product recently in order for me to review. Let me tell you about our experience.
First of all, Mathematical Reasoning: Middle School Supplement has fifty problem sets covering topics typical of Middle School level from 2D Geometry to Probability to Per Cents to Statistics to 3D Geometry along with some higher level thinking practice on miscellaneous topics. There are a hundred pages of actual content with fifty-four remaining pages of detailed answers. Each lesson comes with a list for review of any math facts needed to solve the problems for review. In the answers section, strategy tips are also listed for each lesson if the student needs a little help finding the process to solve. Each problem was developed to stimulate mathematical reasoning and provide enrichment and practice for specific skills. The problems are not particularly real-life oriented, though, so if you are looking for that kind of problem set predominantly, you won’t find it here. The author might provide more of that in the future, though, if needed by many. While the answers provided are detailed and comprehensive, many problems do have more than one solution method, so students can be encouraged to be creative in the process. The publisher suggests that the book can be used for enrichment, but also as an overall assessment tool of how well a student learned middle school concepts.
I found Mathematical Reasoning: Middle School Supplement useful with my gifted Sixth graders and for my lower level Ninth graders. The Sixth graders were excited by the idea of doing middle school math problems, and also found them challenging and interesting. The 9th graders needed to revisit the math facts and practice using them and focusing on the thinking process of working the problems designed for a specific skill. Many found the work in their own books too challenging. These problems were just the right fit.
The Critical Thinking Company has its Mathematical Reasoning series in nine levels from Pre-K to 8 all focusing on the strategies need for solving a wide variety of math problems. Other workbooks covering other subjects and topics are also available on their web site. You will find Mathematical Reasoning: Middle School Supplement on their site at http://www.criticalthinking.com for $19.99. The series will be a great step to improved math reasoning preparing students for upper level math courses, as well as improved test scores.
I also recently reviewed The Critical Thinking Company’s Editor In Chief: Beginning 1. Please check it out, too, here.
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.

I have often been asked for products that teach the concepts of fractions besides the old and possibly tired fraction pie resource. TOS Crew has reviewed a few good and different ones in that you can check out in the Blog Cruise archives. Recently, though, a couple of fun game products were sent to us to review that I think are quite unique. If your student really doesn’t feel motivated to learn fractions, the one I was sent is definitely worth a try. Fractazmic is a fun game that teaches fractions and numbers and measurement. And did I mention that it is a game! What better way to learn!

The basics of the game are to create a hand and have the most hands before any player runs out of cards. A hand is created by adding together the fraction cards of the same suit to equal one. There are three suits in three different colors. The sixteenths suit is red, the twelfths suit is blue, and the tenths suit is green. Within a suit, the cards show fractions that can be added together. When you have cards that total together to equal 1 in that suit, you have a hand. For example, in the twelfths suit or blue cards, you might have ¼ and 1/3 and 5/12. Those fractions when changed to equivalent fractions with the same denominator can be added to equal 1 such as 3/12 plus 4/12 plus 5/12 equals 12/12 or 1. Using graphical depictions on the colorful cards, the student can quickly make the mental calculations required while learning and reinforcing the concepts of equivalent fractions and adding of fractions. Each suit uses a different application for representation of the fraction amount such as eggs in a cartoon for the twelfths suit, water in a water bottle for the tenths suit, and a close up view of a ruler for the sixteenths suit thus teaching the concepts of numbers, fractions, and measurement. To aid even further the quick mental calculation, the ruler graphic used in the sixteenths suit also depicted cute little brown ants and green grasshoppers to visually and quickly see one sixteenth unit and 4 sixteenths units. This visually helps the student to remember that 1 grasshopper is 2/8 or 4/16 allowing for quick denominator change and adding along with the addition of the number of ants to better see and calculate the ones. This is an excellent use of visuals for mental calculation and concept reinforcement.

Along with the colorful concept depictions, the game play is simple and fast moving to motivate and encourage even the most reluctant of math learners. The play really does make it fun while teaching the complex concepts and the “why it works” behind the math.

Many special needs populations should benefit from the colorful representations of the fractions in comparison of equivalency especially learning disabled students. I will give suggestions for modifying the cards or adding to the cards that can work, especially if you wish to include your special needs students in play with your other students. These are merely suggestions. You may feel that they are more complex or work intensive than the benefit brings. You can decide that for yourself. If you have students who really need more tactile and kinesthetic representations, start with tutor-aided demonstration games where the student has a tutor to help him manipulate real objects of an egg carton with wooden or plastic eggs, a liter water bottle with the same graduated increments (if the student needs more than just counting the line markings to visually see the amount, use a clear water bottle and pre-measured colored plastic page strips that can be slipped inside the bottle to represent water to the desired level), and an oversized ruler or card-drawn ruler (if needed or to add more textured manipulation for the student who needs multisensory input to attach meaning to objects and words, and allow for the same visual effect for quick mental calculation, use appropriately sized models of an ant and a grasshopper). For blind and DeafBlind students, I would use the real objects first to help the student grasp the representation of the fraction and addition of fractions. The cards are easily brailled with the fractions each card represents and the word name or fraction name with the word suit to distinguish suit differences. After the student fully grasps the object representations, tactile markings can be placed on the cards to remind the student of the components for calculation. Or the cards can be brailled with the additional cell for the suit fraction such as the ¼ card of the twelfths suit can be brailled with “3 eggs” or the 3/12 fraction cells. Thus, the card would have the ¼ braille cells (with or without the number braille sign), the word twelfths or the number 12 and ths cells for 12ths representing the suit, and the braille cells for 3/12 or “3 eggs to cover all of the needed information to play the game successfully depending on the memory aids needed for the student. It must be noted that tactile markings and braille cells will make it necessary to be gentler when shuffling and during game play. Tactile markings may have to be reapplied occasionally, too. Again, these modifications are just ways to try to make the cards more useful to more student populations.

Fractazmic can be found at http://www.fractazmic.com for just $6.95. The website also describes other ways to play and listings of other great card games to learn other math concepts.

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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