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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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Recently, I was sent a game product to review. It is kind of a cross between the old Rubik’s Cube from Mattel and the game Scrabble from Hasbro. I am not a big fan of Scrabble, and I did play with a Rubik’s Cube some as a teen, but I only managed to learn how to get one side to one color. When asked about getting this product, I wasn’t overly excited, but I still will give things a try because my readers, especially my DeafBlind Readers of my DeafBlind Hope blog, might find the product useful. My husband, on the other hand, was excited and wanted me to definitely sign up for it. My husband’s vocabulary is also a lot larger than mine, so this product piqued his interest. Scruble Cube turned out to be more of a success than I thought.

The Scruble Cube rotates in different directions and in different layers to allow you to move individual portions of the cube from one face to another. If you remember a Rubik’s Cube, each peg on each face of the cube had one of six colors. By moving the pegs in various movements, you could line one face with all of the pegs of one color. If you were really good maneuvering, you could make each face a different color. Scruble Cube is different in that the variously colored pegs have capital letters on them along with a number in subscript. The numbers are the number of points the letter will give you if you use the letter in a word up, down, or across a face or even scrolled across two faces similar to Scrabble. Words made in diagonal do not count. I can’t begin here to really explain how this works, but fortunately, I don’t have to do that. The game comes with detailed explanations on the rules of the game variations, cube basics of pattern recognition and initial steps, along with details and diagrams of the various ways to manipulate the pegs to spell words. The steps are easy to follow, so before long you will be racking up points with your great word finds. I admit the game might not be a perfect match for everyone especially if you really hate word games, but again, it could spice up spelling practice alittle for those who might need the twist. For others who really love word games, it can be fun. A little disclaimer: Warning! It can be addictive.

Educationally, the game is great for teaching students of all ages to learn pattern recognition and then build good spelling skills. For the youngest of children, you can create two, three, or four letter words and give the cube to your student to find the word you created. This will help build the skills needed to master the basics of the cube. Over time, Scruble Cube can easily improve spelling skills and build a stronger vocabulary as students try to improve their word scores.

Using Scruble Cube with special needs students is a snap, too, since many varying abilities and issues can benefit from the cube in several ways once the student has letter recognition and the beginning understanding that letters build words. Being able to start with two letter combinations to build three letter words allows even young, beginning readers a chance to play. Scruble Cube can even be played alone with or without the use of the scoring system. Being DeafBlind, I had to find a way to be able to play. I simply made adhesive plastic sheets using 2 braille cells: one for the braille letter and one for the number. I didn’t use the number or letter sign to save space. I simply remember the first cell is the letter and the second cell is the number. If you don’t care to use the scoring system or decide to let someone else add the scores for you, you can simply braille the letter for each cube which does fit better on the peg. There are scoring bonus pegs to for two and three times the letter score. You can braille that as the number and the braille letter “X” to identify those pegs or you can leave those cells as blank if you don’t want to use those cells in play. You would just make sure a blank isn’t in the middle of your word, of course. The instruction sheet detailed how many copies of each letter and number I needed to braille. I got sighted help to place the cells on the appropriate peg. The cell didn’t interfere with rotation, and the rotation can be easily done without damaging the braille cells. With this simple addition, even blind and deafblind can practice their spelling skills and have fun trying to improve their word scores. In my case, we don’t use the provided timer. I take a bit longer to play, of course, but the family is used to games taking a little longer when I play. I also play a lot by myself. It is a lot of fun to challenge myself, or even challenge the family to see if they can find my words on the cube. As I mentioned, I don’t really care for word games, but I do like keeping my hands occupied. The combination of rotation and ability to play with three to five letter words did make it a little addictive even for me. There are a lot of ways to enjoy this word game.

You can purchase Scruble Cube on-line or at many popular stores such as Toys-R-Us® for as little as $24.99. You can find out more at http://www.scrublecube.com or on their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/scublecube. Whether you have a student who needs a little enticing to practice spelling or you love word games, this is worth a twist. Remember, though, I warned you. It can be addictive.

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.

Level 2, Volume 1 of the All About Reading series arrived in my mailbox. I was looking forward to it because the newly brailled copy of The Beehive Reader, Level 1, I had done for one of my DeafBlind students had already been read and re-read many times. The student loved the book, and the mom was pleased to have some well-written stories that use words built in increments of simple to more difficult.

Of course, Mom had done lots of ground work in this case, since the child is profoundly deaf, and no one knows for sure exactly what or how much he hears. Mom teaches using all communication modes including voice and sound. Mom has also introduced phonics, but we don’t know how much of the phonics he truly hears or understands. The child does place his hands on the mother’s throat and lips to feel the vibrations of voice. The child has spoken a couple of words before, so the mother and I feel that continuing the process could be beneficial.

The All About Reading series is providing a needed resource in being able to control the types of vocabulary that the child will be introduced. Level 2, Volume 1 continues this progressive build of phonics-driven vocabulary while continuing the development of entertaining and lesson-filled stories. This edition also adds fun, quirky poems to the mix of stories and a clever “guess what I am” game in rhyming verses. The book continues to use the delightful and detailed black and white pencil sketch illustrations that are even good for low vision students, since the information is specific to the task of showing the story without a lot of color which can be distracting. Varying colors can produce contrast, but also introduces additional focal points which can be distracting. In addition, the durable binding that helps give years of life to a much used book is still being used. Quality seems to be important to the writers and publishers which is a very good thing.

The All About Reading series continues its commitment to quality stories with decodable vocabulary in a building progression toward teaching students to read and read well. What Am I? Is a delightful mix of stories and poems that should interest most young readers and get the on the path of reading for life. Go to http://www.all-about-reading.com to find out more about this program and the other products they provide.

Finding good reader series and reading programs can be difficult. Often times, the series vocabulary doesn’t match the students’ learning set. Many times, a student will be learning a set of vocabulary for reading and a totally different set in spelling even if the curriculum is designed with reading and spelling combined. For some students, this can be frustrating if not a fatal blow to their learning process. Last year for The Old SchoolHouse Crew, I reviewed a program called All About Spelling which I found to be a good method to use for many students. You are welcome to check out my All About Spelling review from last year. The authors are creating a series of readers, The Beehive Readers published by Takeaway Press, which follows the levels of their spelling levels which gives excellent support for both reading a spelling in this coordinated style.

For review, I was given level one of the new series. My first impression was more aesthetic, since I am DeafBlind. I approach new things from the angle of touch and smell. The sturdy binding and glossy cover got my attention reminding me of those expensive, but much desired reading books teachers wanted when I was teaching in public school. The durabinding as it was often called lasted much longer and was well worth the cost in the minds of teachers. The Beehive Readers seem to be constructed basically the same way which is a definite plus in my mind. Opening the book, the thick, textured pages were reminiscent of old textbooks from the 1950’s and earlier which had such excellent quality that many are in good condition today. That textured feeling along with the aroma like that of many a good book from that era had me pleasantly remembering stories I read as a child. Many an hour I sat reading books and living adventures much like this one loving that feel and smell all of which kept me longing to be in the pages of a good book. Beehive Reader is made just that way. I can see more students developing that love of books with this quality in their hands. The illustrations are fabulous with the contrast of line drawings similar to a pencil sketching with just the right amount of detail that is focused on the specifics of the words on the page. This format supports the reading process without distracting the student from the reading of the words. Many think color is always necessary to motivate, but that isn’t necessarily true. Autistic Spectrum Disorder students actually do better with simpler line drawing art to help them stay focused.  Other readers also find the line drawings and pencil type sketching fascinating and inviting. Beehive Readers have the quality to entice your student to reading.

Along with quality in the book’s making and illustrations, you need a story that is fun and readable for your student at that level. The authors of Beehive Readers specifically build their stories around the vocabulary in their spelling series by level. They build the stories with as little additional words as possible including avoiding sight words that must be memorized and trip young readers who are still learning the concepts of phonetics and sounding out words. The student can easily learn to read at each level based on what I saw with level one and the description from the web site on how the rest of the series will work because almost every word can be sounded out using the principles of phonetics. The student does not have to be using the All About Spelling program to learn and enjoy this series. The stories can be easily decoded, and the stories are simple to follow and interesting to the students at that level. My students asked to read the book again after we tried it with each the first time. An older student smiled when he was able to read the book’s first chapter on his own by sounding out the words. He said, “There weren’t any words that break the rules.The Beehive Reader level one helps many students learn to read. With or without using their All About Spelling program, students will find the ability to read and enjoy the stories while improving their phonetic skills as an accomplishment they can achieve. At $19.95, parents will find the book excellent quality at an affordable price. Go to http://www.beehivereaders.com/ to find out more.

Regardless of your style of teaching, you often need just the right worksheet or activity. Often, your brain just can be taxed anymore. That is when you need a really good place to go for fresh ideas, or ready-made worksheet to save you some time. The site, http://www.abcteach.com, may be just what you need.

 

For $40.00 a year or $70.00 for two years, you can have access to over 35,000 printable worksheets on various subjects and grade levels. You have access to clip art for any type of classroom project or decoration. You also can find activities and templates for projects like book report forms, research note card forms, etc. You won’t find any annoying advertising either. There is also customer service available to answer your questions and give tips. Whether you need a learning center, or research project, or just a practice worksheet, you can find it on this site, and it is growing every day with more and more resources being added.

 

As part of the TOS Crew, I received free access to the site for about a month. For myself, I was unable to access most of the site, since I am almost totally DeafBlind. I was disappointed because I was looking forward to browsing the site. I had to get sighted help to get any help at all from the site. Accessibility is great for sighted users, but those who need screen readers will be unable to make sense of the page for the most part. I know the main page has 104 links that are recognizable to the screen reader, but I can’t seem to get to them or know what they are. It reads “Your online resource for children’s Education and thousands of free printable worksheets and activities plus over 35,000 pages of worksheets… Then it skips to a series of links in the highlighted Directories under “Sandy’s Picks.” Many of the links are icon links made of graphics, and there is a table with a graphic that contains the links. A screen reader just can’t access that at all. I hope the owners will work on the accessibility of their site. I have many parents of hearing/sighted children who are blind and deafblind themselves. They like to work with their children just like other parents do. These parents need resources, too. If you can access the resources with sighted help, you will find the .pdf format files are open to the accessibility options allowed by Adobe. Of course, that is only suitable for hearing blind because Adobe forces you to use their text to speech program. This program doesn’t allow access to a screen reader that allows braille access. Therefore, I can’t recommend this site for my blind and deafblind parents. Sighted parents will find it quite user-friendly, though.

 

If you need worksheets or activity ideas, this site will certainly give you a lot of help. Check out the ABCTeach site at http://www.abcteach.com for more information.

Have you got the Spelling blues? Many parents and students dread spelling. That usually is because there is so much drill involved. Well, I have found a new tool to put in the arsenal. SpellQuizzer! It is a great way to bone up on those spelling words each week.
SpellQuizzer uses little sound byte recordings to help your student practice the spelling words from any subject. The teacher can also set it up to do the tests at the end of the week with the typical say the word, use it in a sentence, and repeat the word. Now spelling can be done almost independently by any age student if needed. The sound recording is actually a really good length. You can pack a lot of words in that little byte. Downloading the program and installing it was quick and easy. There is also a great update button to get free updates when they are available. The most recent one even lengthened the length of your recordings’ maximum. You can edit your spelling lists and randomize how they are given to the student, too.
I set up different activity files for my different students. There was a testing file and a regular quiz file for each set of words. I was able to name these files in a way the student could identify his file for practice or test time. I also set up a couple of different quizzing features, too. Each one quizzed the spelling, but I also recorded using the definition of the word in the recording or a sentence to help the student review both spelling and vocabulary during his practice time. No, the quizzer doesn’t grade the sentence or vocabulary in quiz mode, but for practice the repetition helps them remember any kind of fact or definition you might want to use. You could have the student write the sentence or definition on paper for later grading if you like to incorporate that in your weekly tests, though. I also let my older students create their own spelling lists including recording the words, sentences, and/or definitions, too, to give further practice while creating the lists for later drill. For some students, this could be a regular way to help them learn their spelling and vocabulary for all of their subjects. They practice and get graded on spelling while recording their own definitions after looking them up in the dictionary or practice using them in sentences correctly.
This is a neat little program and can be purchased and downloaded for a small price of $29.98. You will also find free spelling lists you can download and import into your SpellQuizzer. One I downloaded was U. S. States and Mottos. The spelling of the state’s name was graded, but the recording also pronounced the name, gave a state fact, and stated the motto. The text that can be written for the student to see as a reminder phrase was a fact or the motto. You can create lists using similar features including a statement for the student to see on the screen. These features give you flexibility in what your lists can teach.
SpellQuizzer is a great tool to use to help your students learn to spell words and learn in all their subjects. The software is a small package, but it can pack a lot of teaching for your student. Their web site is http://www.spellquizzer.com.

Spelling comes easy for some children while others struggle to decipher one sound from another. For some they have to spend tedious hours memorizing word after word hoping to remember a few. For most students, spelling class is done the same way it has been done for decades. Write the words ten times each. Use them in exercises in the spelling book which are the same old exercises from decades ago like fill in the blank, unscramble, word searches, etc. Then you do definitions and have a test on Friday. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. I did spelling that way, and I always made A’s. It worked for me, but there are plenty of children that it doesn’t work for at all. What do you do for them? Many methods have been developed in recent years working from different angles. Now there is All About Spelling. It is based on the Orton-Gillingham methodology. It is a multi-sensory method.

In the past, there wasn’t much choice, and children who were lousy spellers became adults who were lousy spellers. Computers and spell checkers became their friend in the 1990’s. However, that really isn’t the answer as many have discovered when they turned in a crucial report to an employer or client only to find the spell checker didn’t catch that word like “there” which is spelled correctly, but the word needed was “their”. Educational researchers began to study modalities or learning styles to develop better curriculums. Teachers began to write lesson plans based on how many different ways they could present a concept through verbal activities, auditory activities, visual activities, and kinesthetic or tactile activities. For awhile, spelling was seemingly ignored, or it was somehow considered not possible to do from a learning styles perspective. Now that has changed. Several programs have come out in recent years dealing with spelling skills using different methods including modalities. All About Spelling is one of the best and uses various methods to encourage engaging the spelling words from many different learning styles and encourages repetition to develop mastery.

The lessons are very well planned for the teacher. Now that they are cutting up the tiles that you use for the lessons, set up is a snap, too. Each lesson provides you with a set of words. You first practice saying the words out loud in syllables. Tokens and color coded letter tiles are also used in the lessons as you pronounce the syllables to reinforce the separate sounds in the word kinesthetically. Phonograms are taught using the color-coded letter tiles. The first lessons in level 1 are 2 syllable words like pig, you pronounce the syllables as “puh-ig”, then pig. These words at this level use two tokens with the tokens placed side by side on a table or magnetic board. Each time the syllables are said a token is pulled down. The teacher begins by reviewing the words for the student pulling the tokens as the syllables are spoken. Then the student repeats the activity also pulling a token down for each syllable. This repetition of the same steps provides auditory, visual, and kinesthetic styles as the teacher and then the student complete the activity. The activity is repeated several times until the student can successfully master the activity. Once they master words, they can be put away in a review card file, but the words are reviewed periodically. In this way, the students learn to read and spell at the same time. The authors also suggest additional activities for the tactile learning style that is a key part of this method. Air writing, writing words in sand, writing in puff paint, etc. are additional ways to review these words. The students learn to spell the words by the repetition of making the sounds. Other activities involve spelling the words out using magnetic tiles after the syllable activity is mastered. Yes, the method seems complex, but each lesson is written in simple, but detailed instructions. They are very easy to follow, and the student does grasp the spelling. In addition, they learn to sound out unknown, but similar words which lead them to correctly spelling additional words, as well.

The All About Spelling program is unique, but it uses sound principals. Students with many different abilities and levels can successfully learn to read and spell using this system. Level 1 and 2 with all materials costs $29.95 each, and Level 3 and 4 with materials costs $39.95. Go to www.all-about-spelling.com.

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