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I’ve learned lessons the hard way over the years, especially about education. Today, I share a few of those with you over at Home and School Mosaics. You may be an “expert” in education, a compassionate teacher, a parent of a unique student (they are all unique), or a struggling student like me, but I think my lessons learned the hard way might either rub you the wrong way or ring true as a bell. Regardless, with an open mind and heart, you might learn something or at leas see things in a different light. Read Experts Without Answers to find out.

 

http://homeschoolmosaics.com/experts-without-answers/

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discovery-kit

Many students struggle with learning to read. Many also learn to read despite poor teaching as more and more schools leave out phonics and reading fundamentals. Students who do well regardless of teaching seem to pick up on these basics naturally. They may not understand what they are doing completely, but the students sense these elements and use them to recognize words and meanings. Other students with and without learning difficulties may not fully sense these factors, and it hinders their reading development. What is needed is a a program that teaches reading basics well and in a multi-sensory method allowing it to be more beneficial for all types of students. One such program was sent to me a few months ago to review. I have been using it with several students since then with great success. One student is a five year old beginning reader. This student is fairly average in all ways except amazing cuteness. Another is a high schooler with learning disabilities including dyslexia who continues to struggle with reading. One is blind and hard of hearing and is nine. Two others are six and seven and have some mild learning issues. The program is Reading Horizons: Discovery. There is an online version. I won’t be reviewing it due to accessibility issues because I am DeafBlind. The website listed below has a page that lists reviews for their products from independent bloggers like myself. You can check out the other reviews for this program and the online program, too.

The introduction to Reading Horizons Discovery states, “Reading Horizons Discovery is an explicit, systematic, research-based phonics program based on the Reading Horizons method. Multi-sensory techniques are employed via direct instruction and the use of interactive computer software programs. The manuals and computer software are correlated to support each other, but each can be used independently of the other for instructional purposes. All students can benefit from using the explicit, sequential, direct instruction the Reading Horizons method has to offer.” The program is ideally suited for students with learning disabilities including those with dyslexia, but it is also very beneficial to all students because of its multi-sensory techniques and methods that integrates not only phonics, but also basic language arts skills. In addition, vocabulary development and spelling are integral parts of the program.

Providing posters, worksheets, software, online support, Reading Horizons’ method, in a nutshell attempt, involves using hand directions to dictate a letter, sound, or word, use hand directions to receive that letter, sound, or word repeated by the student. The letters, sounds, or words are dictated twice and the students repeat twice. The students will then write the letter, sound, or word once. These aspects helped the student to learn to focus and prepare to listen carefully. Another aspect of the method, is the markings and slide which are taught early on and used throughout the program. The program teaches 42 sounds of the alphabet. The vowel “a” is taught first. The consonant “b” is next. The slide is then introduced to teach, emphasize, and remind students to slide from the consonant to the vowel sound smoothly developing fluid pronunciation from the beginning. In word decoding as the students progress, students learn to mark the vowel first. Then slide through pronunciation of the consonant and vowels before adding the ending sound. The program teaches not only phonics, but also phonological awareness besides just phonemes, all of which is imperative for developing good reading skills for all students including dyslexics. The well-designed program of Reading Horizons ensures that these skills are not only learned, but mastered. The thorough teacher’s manual including complete, scripted lesson plans helps the busy teacher with lots of Reading experience and the less experienced teacher in the classroom or home.

Reading Horizons Discovery program is suitable for many types of students because it is multi-sensory and that phonics and phonological awareness are emphasized. What about other Special Needs besides Learning Disabled or developmentally delayed, for example? In my case, that question would be, “is it Deaf, Blind, and DeafBlind suitable?” Obviously, there are some that the program or any program based on auditory alone or visual alone would not work. With modifications, it could work for those who are hard of hearing, hearing blind, low vision, and DeafBlind who have some residual sight and hearing. As always, if you wish to try this program with these populations, you must focus on modifying the material and the methods emphasizing the primary mode of communication. Use ASL or a visual communication mode to go along with the hand motions of the program to ensure that the student understands the letters and words being taught. For low vision students, use larger print. For braille users after tactile readiness has been developed, you might think that there is no point, but many braille courses for young learners puts little focus on phonics or phonological awareness. Braille is still reading, but recognizing letters and words by feel, so the need for phonics and phonological awareness is still there and should be emphasized more to improve reading skills. Also, homeschoolers, who are an audience of my blog, often find that braille curriculum is too expensive for them and their blind students to use. Therefore, it is often necessary to modify regular programs for braille learners. Using the auditory cues of dictate and repeat either with or without tactile hand motions (DeafBlind, especially need), the student will still be taught to focus and prepare to listen carefully. Marking can be done verbally to note aspects such as finding and identifying the vowel sound first as can “slide” where the vocal or tactile motions are the reminder for the steps to help the students decode the words they feeling with their fingers. For those with less sight and hearing, we were using these signals both verbally and with hand motions that the student could feel with their hands as we spoke the reminders. At first, you would think this must be frivolous additions, but we have been finding these techniques are useful for helping students decode regardless of their learning issue. It was an easy task, too, understanding what the markings and motions were intended for to modify the techniques as needed while working with our students who have varying degrees of hearing and vision loss. For those who use less speech, their comprehension was occasionally gauged more on their signs and fingerspelling, though most had some ability to speak and/or receiving speech therapy time. Even the braille learner used the techniques while reading with fingers. We did the steps after the student read the individual letters first and indicated what the letter was. Then used the steps to indicate what the sounds were followed by using a motion of the hand forward to indicate the slide (the word “slide” was also spoken)  as the slide of the sounds (ex. fa) was then pronounced verbally. As with anything, some of our initial modifications were cumbersome or ineffective, but we recognized that the system can be useful if we are thoughtful of the purposes of the techniques and adjust as needed. The best educational research always goes on in the grassroots of  the individual classroom.

This has been a description of Reading Horizons Discovery in a nutshell. There is no way to cover it well here or cover the many types of students and how the program can be modified to help these special populations. I also know that there is no one program, text-based or software, that is suitable for all students. I can say that Reading Horizons Discovery does work for those I am working with and can for many others. As in my own case, I always have to be creative when using some product, but it is often worth the effort. Reading Horizons Discovery was worth the effort for me and several of my students.

Pricing information for the Discovery at Home reading set is as follows:

Discovery Product      Pricing 

Discovery Online Software     $  199.00

Discovery Instructor Materials     $  299.00

Discovery Software and Instructor Material Bundle     $  439.00

Discovery Little Books Grades 1-3     $  159.00

Discovery Little Books Kindergarten     $    29.99

To learn more about Reading Horizons Discovery program, go to http://www.readinghorizons.com.

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There are a lot of awesome things on Homeschool Mosaics this month about the holidays in regards to giving, remembering the importance of family, and including the Special Needs members. My column is all about how to include them in the upcoming festivities including the DeafBlind, so please check it out and think about those you may need to think about and how you need to do that to have the best holiday season for everyone!

http://homeschoolmosaics.com/include-your-special-needs-family-friends-in-your-holiday-gatherings/

*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.

I was recently asked by Critical Thinking Company to review a couple of their products with my students. I didn’t hesitate because I have reviewed some of their products before and felt that they can be useful products. Worksheets and work booklets can often be used for nothing more than busy work and lead to a lack of progress, but if the sheets are well-produced to teach specific concepts and used appropriately by a teacher, benefits can be provided. Critical Thinking Company has a variety of work booklets that do present specific concepts well. I was sent two different topics for two different ability levels. I will begin here with the elementary level for grades 2-3 called “Editor In Chief: Beginning 1”.

This new booklet is the first in the Editor In Chief series, though the series has been in publication for many years. This is an addition as the publisher takes the series to earlier ages which had already been expanded to cover eight levels for grades 2-12+. There are sixteen lessons across sixty-seven pages of content including multiple review pages. Each lesson covers a specific concept from capitalization to verb tenses to subject/verb agreement to homophones and everything in between. Each lesson presents the rules for the concept and ample practice exercises. The publisher states the booklet can be used in individual and group activity for instruction, reinforcement, practice, and assessment of English grammar and mechanics. There are multiple selections to provide instructional examples and others for assessment of student understanding. There are mini reviews and reviews provided throughout the lessons to provide short-term and long-term assessment during the use of the material. Each lesson is also pre-perforated to allow easy removal for use. Answers are also provided in the back of the booklet. The writing samples are varied and interesting to most students to provide motivation to focus on the lesson. In each of the lessons, I, especially, like the list of rules stated clearly with a good example as the introduction to the concept. The rules are not buried in narrative making them easier to refer to as the student progresses through the exercises. Thus, the student frequently reads the rules while making decisions about its use case by case aiding retention and application. Another good feature for this level is the marking of the number and type of errors to the right of each selection. If there are two comma errors and four contraction errors, each are listed with the number of circles with the number inside the circle, so the student knows what to look for and can mark them off as they find them. This guides the student and helps to prevent frustration and possible loss of interest. Editing your writing is always the best way to reinforce your learning. These exercises teach these skills that are often only vaguely learned rules with no grasp of how they are used. Editor In Chief can go a long way helping to improve your student’s writing.

For regular and Special Needs students, the booklet uses a clear, crisp font and a large size for easy reading of the rules and the exercises. Spaces are placed between the lines of the paragraphs making them easier to read and mark to correct errors. The error-tallying feature is also great for some Special Needs students that need more structure and guidance along the way.This is especially helpful to some Special Needs students. The age and grade levels are marked, but I also found the Editor In Chief: Beginning 1 useful for high school students who had significant issues with certain concepts or had lower reading levels. The simplicity of the writing samples helped many of the older student’s practice the skills they had not mastered earlier without needing to focus heavily on content helping them to concentrate on rules and practice for retention. The short samples on various and more interesting topics also helped me with providing instruction to my blind and DeafBlind students. Being short, but interesting, I could quickly and easily braille them for use by my blind students to supplement their limited and expensive curriculums. I would like to suggest to educational providers to consider providing for a cost an additional .txt file with the purchase of their booklets for teachers such as I who need more materials that can be embossed in braille for our blind and DeafBlind students.

Critical Thinking Company’s Editor In Chief: Beginning 1 can be used in many ways to help a student. This booklet and many others on various topics in Language, Math/Science, and logical thinking can be found on their web site, http://www.criticalthinking.com. Editor In Chief: Beginning 1 is available for $14.99. This series is a fun way to improve your child’s writing by learning the skills and learning to apply them.

Look for my review here of Critical Thinking Company’s Mathematical Reasoning: Middle School Supplement in a few days. You won’t be disappointed.

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.

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.

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.

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, the resources are very limited, as well. 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. The main product of this company is a book. I will describe it first for those blind and deafblind with some residual sight for use with a CCTV. 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 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. The narrations of the videos are not closed captioned, but the deaf will find it useful as the book is if they prefer apps for learning. 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.

I must add a caution to parents and to adults who are wary of the content they put into their minds. There are some cartoon and sentence examples that some may consider inappropriate for some readers.  One sentence for anathema describes a girl using voo-doo to put a curse on her boyfriend. A cartoon for the word carnal shows a busty woman. Each parent or adult needs to decide if the material presented is suitable for their student’s use or even their own. This reviewer would never ask you to present material for use that you feel is inappropriate. I make note of these possible things when I can to help you make an informed decision about the product.

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.

 

I was provided a free product to write this review. I was not compensated in any other way. The opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

Many students have reading difficulties that are caused in part by tracking issues. The eyes have trouble following the line of words, move from line to line accurately. Good readers learn to read words by “focusing on manageable chunks of information in each line of text”. See-n-Read reading tools provide simple devices designed to help a student track and smoothly move between lines.

See-N-Read provides three reading guides made of polypropylene that are transparent grey with a clear strip about a quarter the way down the guide to clearly show the text of the current line that a student is reading. The rest of the guide is transparent enough to help the student move smoothly from one line to the next. This clears the mind to focus on the more manageable amount of text that is shown through the clear strip aiding comprehension. Another strip is provided that is the same length but one and half times longer to accommodate larger books and textbooks. The third guide is the same length and width as the smaller guide, but has the clear strip cut out to allow for highlighting of text without losing their place on the page.

There is also an electronic version of these reading guides that can be used for reading on a computer. The computer version also allows for modifying size, shape, and color of the guides used for computer sources. It can also be use with a PC-driven projector or interactive whiteboard. I was unable to use that part of the product due to my vision loss and the vision loss of many of my students, so I can’t properly review it, but one should be aware of its availability.

Learning disabled students often do find the use of reading guides beneficial. Our understanding of the needs have come a long way since the days of a folded piece of notebook paper. Many students find the reading guides of such a design as the See-N-Read tools as a great way to learn to control the movements of their eyes and move from line to line. However, studies have shown as well as my personal teaching experiences that certain students need different shades of color to help them see the words clearly and focus. The electronic version may provide these variations. Variations in the physical reading guides may be needed, though, as well. Other products reviewed on this site have addressed these variations. The parent needs to evaluate the products and make the final decisions based on a child’s needs.

The qualities of the See-N-Read products are high and quite durable making them worthy of this evaluation at inexpensive prices of $2.99 each for the book size and $3.49 each for the document size. There are various packages available, as well. The electronic version is available for $29.99. To find out more and view the research on reading guides, visit http://www.see-n-read.com.

 

Though I was provided samples of the product to do this review, I was not compensated in any other way. The opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

Game playing is a wonderful way to bring a family together. It is even better during the tough economic times. As a family, we are always looking for new games, but that can be difficult in my family due to special needs issues. Recently, I was sent a product called Wits and Wagers Family from North Star Games. My husband was excited. He had played the game with the same name, but not a family version, years ago from another company that no longer exists. He was very happy someone had decided to publish it again. As per our tradition, I got the game out after Thanksgiving Dinner. We would just see how it went.

With overfull bellies, we got the game out to play rather than sleep the afternoon away. My children and a girlfriend who are grown and just out of college or in college groaned when their Dad said he had played it years ago. The idea of playing something he liked long ago didn’t sound very promising to them. With that, we opened the box and as promised, explained the game play in just a couple of minutes. My husband explained it to me by fingerspelling the steps as I needed to do something. First, a question is chosen and read aloud. My husband fingerspelled it to me. We each had little dry erase boards to write our answer on to and place face down when done. Our first question was how many different colors of Froot Loops are there? Everyone tried to imagine their morning cereals from breakfasts past and wrote down a number and placed their card face down. When everyone was finished, the cards were turned face up and placed in numerical order. We each then got to decide if we wanted to stick with our answer or try to help our chances by backing another’s answer. You each have two little meeples or wooden people shapes. One is larger than the other at about ¾ of an inch high and each set of meeples is a different color than matches an answer board. The large meeple is worth two points and the smaller one is worth one point. You place your meeples on any of the answers you think might be correct. You can place them all on your answer board if you are really certain you are correct, or you can place them on one or two others to help your chances of gaining points. The answer to our question was six. I had written 4 as a guess, but I knew there had to be more. Other answers given were 5, 6, and 8. I decided to put a large meeple on 5 and the small one on 8. If your card answer is right, you get one point. If your meeples are on a correct answer, you get one or two points for a possible high of 4 points if all of your meeples are on the right answer. I totally missed that one. My younger son’s girlfriend, Rachel, got that one right as I had watched her count imaginary Froot Loops. The only question I got right for the game was how many feet are in a mile. My two sons missed that one. I guess I didn’t teach that fact very well, did I? Rachel won despite not getting too many questions right as did none of us. That is the beauty of the game. Even those of us who have gotten foggy in our brains have a chance to win by mooching off the right answers of others. We all laughed at our silly and far-fetched answers and even enjoyed our temporary status of victors with appropriate trash talk. The game proved to be a hit.

Well-made and durable, the quick play of about twenty minutes is also perfect for most families regardless of ages involved. North Star Games states that it is best suited for those 8 and over and with three to ten players. As most of us know in homeschooling families, you often have younger children around. “The questions are varied and range from easy to hard making the game fun and easy for young and old people”, Rachel said. If you need a few easier questions though for a much younger child, you can let all of the family help you write up a few more to mix in. Brendan felt that “some of the questions could become outdated”, but you could also add a few more timely questions to replace them if you want. Brian thought it was really fun and “worked well for all ages” to play despite differences in abilities, but he agreed with his brother about some of the questions becoming outdated. Most though will stand the test of time and popularity. My husband really liked that it was the game he played and enjoyed so long ago, but also had a good playing and scoring format for families that might not feel the connection to wagering was a good example.

I liked the game setup and durability of the materials. The questions can be redone in braille, large print, or signed for family members with sensory impairments quite easily because the questions are short and simply stated. Scoring is simple even for the youngest members. North Star games can easily add additional question packets to be purchased separately to address issues of outdated questions or for providing special play topics, too. The game is easily modified for any family and their specific needs and a perfect fit at $19.99. There is the more adult party version available, too, if your family needs more of a challenge.

Check http://www.northstargames.com for more information about Wits and Wagers Family or any of their other games.

I was provided a free product to write this review. I was not compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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