Friday, August 31, 2012

TOS Review: Reading Kingdom

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What is Reading Kingdom?
Reading Kingdom is an online, interactive reading and writing program developed by Dr. Marion Blank, the director of the Light on Learning program at Columbia University in New York. Reading Kingdom teaches children ages 4-10 how to read and write up to a third grade level and is able to customize itself to each individual child.
Reading Kingdom's success is based on its patented 6 skills: sequencing, motor skills, sounds, meaning, grammar, and reading comprehension. This approach "incorporates elements of phonics and whole language while teaching additional skills required for reading and writing success without requiring kids to learn any complicated rules." This program is designed to work best with children in preschool up to third grade. Struggling readers or children with learning disabilities can benefit from this program as well. Reading Kingdom can be used alone or as a supplement to an existing curriculum. Here is a short, helpful video that gives an overview of Reading Kingdom.

Who Can Use It?
Reading Kingdom can be used by anyone involved in educating children - teachers, parents, homeschoolers, etc. If you are a teacher interested in checking into this program, you can view the teachers' page to see if it would be a good fit for your classroom. For parents and homeschoolers, you can visit the parents' page to see if Reading Kingdom would be a good fit for your child/ren.  Since I will be writing from the viewpoint of a homeschooling mom, I will expound on the parents' page in the following section.
Getting Started
When you visit the parents' page, you will be able to find out if your child is ready to start reading by answering 4 simple questions. If you answer YES to all 4 questions, you can proceed to the Getting Started with Reading Kingdom page. If your child is already reading, you can skip the questions and go ahead and get started.
First, you will see a checklist of things you will need. Basically, the two most important items are a computer with a mouse and an Internet connection. The mouse is important because it is easier for your child to use. I tried having my daughter use the trackpad on my laptop, but it was too difficult. You also need a web browser and the free Flash player. (All of this information is on the website.) It's also important that your child has a quiet place to work in order to be able to hear the computer (Lingo the Owl) "talk" to her.

 Next, you will need to sign up for the free trial and add a reader account for each child who will be using the program. The program will evaluate your child's skills and then start her off at the appropriate level. The free trial ends after 30 days. If you'd like to continue with the program, subscriptions to Reading Kingdom are $19.99/month with no monthly minimum. Or, pay for an entire year up front for $199.99 - a 20% savings. Additional children can be added to your account for $9.99/month or $99.99/year. Subscriptions can be cancelled at any time.
 How Long Will It Take To Complete the Course?
How long it will take your child will depend on her starting level and how well she does during the sessions. If your child starts at the very beginning (preschool level) and is doing at least 4 sessions per week, it could take up to 15 months to complete. A child who can already read may be able to finish in 3-6 months. It really does depend on your particular child.
My First Impression
When I first took a look at Reading Kingdom, I thought it was going to be more about reading than writing and spelling. My daughter, who turned 7 in June, can already read well. I figure she is reading at a third grade level or higher, so I thought the program would customize reading material at the highest level, which is third grade. However, when she took the first skills test to determine her appropriate level, it placed her in Letter Land. I am sure this was due to a few typing (using a mouse to click on an on-screen keyboard) errors on her part, but I was still surprised by the placement. We tried to start there, but it was too boring which led to frustration on her part. Fortunately, when I contacted someone from Reading Kingdom, my daughter was able to be moved to the next level, Reading/Writing Level 1.

*A quick note about the reading/writing levels before I move on - there are 5 levels with 6 books in each level. All the words contained in a book are learned by the time your child gets to that book.
 Our Experience
My daughter's first session only took about 5 minutes. She had to read and type words like some, boys, kids, and girls. She gave me that look like I already know how read this.
I encouraged her to keep at it, though. The second session took a little longer - about 10 minutes, which seems to be the typical length of a session. This lesson asked her to type cat/cats and bird/birds. She has no problem reading these words, but when she made a mistake and spelled bird, B-R-I-D, the entire lesson focused on being able to spell bird correctly. Here are two examples:
She had to fill in the missing letters here.
She had to spell birds here.
This method is great for a spelling program, but in my opinion, it's not great for getting kids excited about reading - at least not for kids who can already read but may not be able to spell as well as they read.
After the first few lessons I realized that this program wasn't going to be a good fit for my daughter because of the way I taught my children to read. I have taught all 3 of my children to read at an early age using phonics with the help of 70 phonogram cards and about 28 rules. All of my children became strong readers by the end of first grade but none of them were strong spellers. My daughter just started second grade and is reading chapter books, but she can't spell all of the words she can read.
She did continue to use this program 5 days a week, usually completing one session per day. She was able to finish level 1 and recently began level 2. She had to complete a progress check before moving on to the next level. If she had not passed, she wouldn't have been able to move on before doing some review. Here's what her progress report looks like so far:
As you can see she has no problem doing well in this program; it's just not rewarding for her to do all of that work to get to a book that she could have already read beforehand.

In this program it is essential for a child's ability to read and spell to be at the same level. It seems like this method would have the potential to hold back a child in the area of reading. I would rather my child be able to read at a higher level knowing that spelling will eventually come later.
I can't say from experience, but I think this program would work better for children who don't know how to read yet. That way they could start from the very beginning. I still think I like the old fashioned way of teaching reading through phonics and rules. I like being able to help my daughter with a word she can't pronounce by being able to explain how to sound it out. I have never felt bogged down by too many rules with my methods of teaching reading and spelling.

When I asked my daughter if she'd like to continue working on Reading Kingdom, she said she really didn't want to because it was too boring. To her it's more about spelling which isn't as exciting as reading.

Of course, this is just one child's experience - please see what other Crew Members had to say about Reading Kingdom.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine

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