Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Dyslexia Gold {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

A good friend on the Homeschool Review Crew knows that Lauren is still struggling some with reading and suggested that I took a look at Dyslexia Gold when we had the opportunity to do reviews of it. Lauren has made significant strides when it comes to reading and reading comprehension skills this past year, but she's still working below her grade level. Although I wasn't sure how well the whole Dyslexia Gold Full Bundle would work for us, there were definitely some parts of the program that I wanted to try with Lauren.

Dyslexia Gold's Full Bundle includes four somewhat separate programs: Engaging Eyes, Fluency Builder, Spelling Tutor, and Times Table Tutor.

Lauren has used many, many reading programs, including several that were heavily phonics based. She actually reads quite well if I'm just measuring her ability to pronounce all the words in the text. In fact, when we started using Dyslexia Gold she was tested to find out her average words per minute score on a particular passage. Further online research led me to believe that her score of 151 words per minute was an acceptable score for an upper elementary grade student. I wanted to continue using Dyslexia Gold to see what sorts of improvements could be made for a student who struggled, but who was well beyond the beginner stages of reading.

Engaging Eyes is the part of the program that I was most interested in. Engaging Eyes is a series of games designed so that the student practices focusing both eyes on the same point and then tracking the eyes together as they move across a line of typing. I wondered if Lauren's eyes were causing her problems while she read -- not enough to notice when she read aloud to me, but perhaps enough to cause her to fatigue easily or to be exerting so much effort keeping her eyes on track that her brain wasn't able to process the information she was reading.

One of the Engaging Eyes games used 3D glasses to make sure the eyes are focusing on different objects and then working together. Another one did not.

We found that the 3D glasses could be worn over regular prescription glasses, but the blue-light filter on Lauren's regular glasses made it so that she couldn't see correctly through the blue side of the 3D glasses. Her vision is good enough that she can see the computer screen without her glasses and she could play that game while wearing only the 3D glasses.

When Lauren logged into Dyslexia Gold's Engaging Eyes section, it had her complete the same two activities every day. I think she would have progressed to different games eventually, but she prefers programs where the activities change frequently (even if it's still working on the same skill). I later found that there were more games available under a different tab, but not necessarily showing up automatically for her.

I looked at the Fluency Builder section, even though I was fairly confident that Lauren's phonics skills were at a good level. This program would have been helpful several years ago when we were focused on learning separate letter sounds and how they combine to make words, but it is too easy for her now. I was, however, impressed by the fluency section that had longer passages for the student to read. Unfortunately, Lauren wasn't willing to work through the easy exercises to get to the few sections that would have actually challenged her.

Spelling Tutor uses a fabulous approach that I also wish we had found earlier. We've sometimes used dictation to help practice both spelling and grammar skills. Spelling Tutor uses dictation without needing a parent to read the words/sentences out loud to the student. I primarily looked at the purple (highest) level. It starts with a paragraph that is several sentences long. The student reads the paragraph out loud, and then the program speaks the sentences out loud for the student to write on a separate sheet of paper (or whiteboard). After each sentence, the student correct his/her own work and has some practice activities for any misspelled words.

Times Table Tutor is also included with the Dyslexia Gold Full Bundle. I guess that makes sense from an age-based standpoint because much of the rest of the program seems geared for students in 3rd/4th grade which is when memorizing times tables is emphasized. It looked like a fun set-up for practice, and I was impressed with the way it goes up to the 11x and 12x facts instead of just 10. I also liked the way the practice only focused on getting the correct answer and did not add additional stress of identifying the answer within a certain time limit. The program might be especially good for auditory learners because it repeats the multiplication fact out loud after each correct answer.

Since my primary concern (potential concern) was addressed with Engaging Eyes, Lauren focused on that area of the program for our review period. It took her approximately 10 minutes to do the assigned games. She says she doesn't know if it made a difference, but I remember her complaining about her eyes hurting after the practice sessions when she first started. She no longer has any complaints of eye fatigue while playing the games. Her reading skills in terms of reading books on her own during our daily quiet reading time has seemed to improve over the past few months. I cannot tell if Dyslexia Gold was the key thing thing that made the difference, but I think it's very possible that the Engaging Eyes practice helped keep her eyes from getting tired while reading and therefore made reading time easier and more enjoyable overall.

If you have a child that is struggling with reading or a child who could use extra phonics practice while learning to read, it would be well worth your time to check out Dyslexia Gold. You can click on the banner below to read other reviews from Homeschool Crew Review families who have been using the program for the past few months.

Dyslexia Gold Full Bundle {Dyslexia Gold Reviews}

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Lightning Literature {Homeschool Crew Review}

As I start plans for my sixteenth year of homeschooling, there are some subjects that are easy. Order the next level of math -- check. Print the next few chapters of the online science textbook -- check. On the other hand, there are other subjects that drive me crazy as I try to figure out the best option. Language arts, especially reading and literature, has often been the subject that frustrates me the most. I wasn't at all sure what Lauren would do for literature for next year until a good friend suggested that I take another look at Lightning Literature by Hewitt Homeschooling Resources.

I've used Lightning Literature before. Addison did Lightning Literature & Composition: American Mid-Late 19th Century when she was in high school, and Brennan used Lightning Literature & Composition: Seventh Grade. (Click on the product titles if you'd like to  read my previous reviews.) When I've looked at their younger elementary offerings in the past, they didn't have that was quite the right age range for Lauren. Even when I pulled up their new materials, I was frustrated that it only went up to fourth or fifth grade. I looked a bit closer, though, and found that those materials weren't necessarily too young or too easy for Lauren. I requested to be able to review Lightning Literature and Composition: Grade 4 Set through the Homeschool Review Crew (a division of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine).

I was initially drawn to Lightning Literature: Grade 4 because of the books chosen for this level. Part of my difficulty in choosing a literature program for Lauren is that she's heard a lot of books. She loves read-aloud time and audiobooks, and therefore she has heard many of the books that are used in elementary or middle school reading programs.While I don't always object to studying a book that she's already familiar with, I found that often she wasn't enjoying the thrill of hearing a new story unfold because she already knows the ending. Last year sent me on a search for new books to experience with her and ideally a curriculum that would allow us to study these newer books together.  Of the twelve books covered in Lightning Lit, she has only heard two of them, and those two were done on audiobook while riding in the car. They aren't old favorites that she knows inside and out.

A full list of the books in this level is available here, but some of the ones that appeal most to me are The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, and The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan. As you can see, the selections span a wide range of cultures and types of literature. It also includes two books of poetry -- Love That Dog by Sharon Creech and Gone Fishing by Tamera Will Wissinger.

When choosing these materials, I decided to ignore the big "Grade 4" written on the front cover of the student workbook and press forward with these materials because the books are at her working level. She is perhaps capable of reading slightly more difficult books, but I want the focus of her literature study to be on thinking about the book. If she's struggling to read a book that is too difficult for her to understand, she's only going to be frustrated by assignments requiring her to analyze it.

As Lauren reaches middle school, it's important to find materials that are written directly to the student. I'm usually nearby to help while she's doing her schoolwork, but she likes to be able to work independently as much as possible. It frustrates her to have to wait while I read her materials that are only included in the Teacher's Guide.

Lauren appreciates that each section in the Student Workbook is set up to be completed in a week. It has a weekly checklist for the student and also divides the assignments up into daily work. The work is divided into four days which allows an extra day to catch up, add an extra project, or to have extra time to play board games. For our family, this extra day means that we don't fall behind when we have a lengthy doctor's appointment or other activity.

As you can tell from the checklist pages, Lightning Literature covers reading comprehension, grammar, and composition. We started using this program in May, and since both Lauren and mom were suffering from a severe case of Spring Fever, we opted to skip the composition assignments. We found the grammar to be a good review for Lauren, but may continue using our separate grammar program next year. The strength of the program definitely lies in its reading comprehension and literary analysis assignments.

In addition to questions about the book, the workbook often asks the student reflective questions that encourages her to make connections between the story and her own life. It's important to me to see Lauren reflecting on the story and not just answering fact-based questions about the material.

The Teacher's Guide contains more than just the answers to the Student Workbook pages. It contains teaching hints for the composition assignments, including ways to break down the larger assignment into smaller, more manageable chunks. It also has book discussion points for the teacher to cover with the student. I'm still trying to figure out how to frame these discussions in a friendly way and not a teaching way to make them more acceptable for Lauren. These discussions cover theme, character, setting, conflict, symbolism, etc. -- all the important elements of literary analysis she needs to learn.

We're taking a summer break right now, but I look forward to picking up in Lightning Literature: Grade 4 when we start back to school in August. It's going to be a great year of reading in our house!

Members of the Homeschool Review Crew have been using other levels of Lightning Literature and Hewitt Homeschooling's other products, be sure to click on the banner below to read about them.

Lightning Literature, My First Reports, State History Notebook & Joy of Discovery {Hewitt Homeschooling Resources Reviews}

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Memoria Press: Poetry for the Grammar Stage {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

I think that every homeschool family has certain companies that they come back to year after year. One of the companies that keeps popping up in our family is Memoria Press. Memoria Press is a classical Christian education program with materials that cover all subject areas. They are perhaps best known for their Latin programs (Prima Latina, Latina Christiana, and more). I have used several of their products with Lauren, and most recently she is using their materials to work through a literature study of Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.

Recently, we had the opportunity to use Memoria Press's Poetry for the Grammar Stage Set, another part of their literature options. For classical educators, the grammar stage is roughly defined as kindergarten through 5th or 6th grade. The product description notes that "poems increase in difficulty as students move through the book over a four-year period." Since Lauren is at the upper end of the grade recommendation, I introduced these materials with the intention of working through the poems all at once -- sort of a unit-study on poetry to make up for all the years that I didn't add poetry into our other language arts work.

The Poetry for the Grammar Stage Set ($42) consists of three softcover books -- a poetry anthology, a student guide, and a teacher guide. The materials cover 32 separate poems ranging in difficulty from fairly simple, single page poems such as The Hayloft by Robert Louis Stevenson to longer, more difficult works such as The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe. The Teacher Guide lists places where they would naturally fit with other Memoria Press materials, either literature, history, or science studies.

I flipped through the books and saw a familiar framework of a printed copy of the poem followed by vocabulary and comprehension questions. I thought that they could fit in nicely during the part of the day when Lauren works independently. Thankfully, I noticed a single page of notes titled "How to Teach a Poem" at the beginning of the Teacher Guide. It was then that I realized that these materials were not well-suited for a student who prefers to work independently. The Poetry for Grammar Stage Set required me to actively teach much of the materials (regardless of whether Lauren wanted to be working on her own).

We adapted the materials a bit so that Lauren could work independently but I could still teach the materials. On the first day, I read the poem aloud to her. Depending on the time available that day, I sometimes had her also read the poem aloud. For our initial reading, we usually used the copy printed in the Poetry for the Grammar Stage Anthology. The poem is also printed in the Student Guide with space for the student to draw an illustration and blank lines to use the poem as copywork. 

Then, instead of discussing the poem right away, I set her loose with the questions regarding the material. I hovered nearby doing housework or whatever so that she could ask me for help as she completed the work. She was more open to me explaining the rhyming structure or terms such as alliteration once she saw a question that she didn't know how to answer. Then, on the next day, we discussed her answers to the comprehension questions. She wasn't willing to discuss the poem on the day I introduced it, but she was willing to discuss the questions and answers after she had made an attempt to do them on her own. It wasn't the way Memoria Press suggested in the teaching instructions, but it managed to work for us.

The Poetry for the Grammar Stage set would be better used in a setting where the teacher and student discuss the materials together. At times, it seemed like it might be even better suited for teaching a small group of students where each student can contribute their ideas so that the group as a whole can discuss possible meanings and interpretations. It is possible to make it work with just a single student at home, though, and even possible with a student who is reluctant to discuss what she has read.

The thirty-two poems in the book increase in difficulty rather quickly. An older student with some poetry background and with strong reading comprehension skills could perhaps work through the poems at a pace of three to four per week to make a complete study on poetry. In most other cases, I'd recommend using this book as a way to introduce poetry one time per week (finishing the book in a year) or even introducing just eight poems over the course of a school year (finishing the book in four years).

Even though this program wasn't a perfect fit for my daughter who insists on working independently whenever possible, other Memoria Press products have been a perfect fit for her. I guess that's why Memoria Press remains one of the homeschool companies that I keep coming back to again and again.

If you're interested in learning more about other Memoria Press materials, please click the button below to read other reviews. The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine Homeschool Review Crew members have recently looked at their beginning reading materials, some of their Latin offerings, and other levels of poetry.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Understanding Pre-Algebra from The Critical Thinking Co.™ {Homeschool Crew Review}

The Critical Thinking Co.™

When I look back over our years of homeschooling, I see that we've used products from certain companies nearly every year we've homeschooled. One of those beloved companies is The Critical Thinking Co.™. When Brennan was a preschooler we were introduced to their Building Thinking Skills books, and more recently we've used their U.S. History Detective books for high school.

For the past few years, Lauren has used the Mathematical Reasoning™ series of workbooks for additional practice alongside her regular math curriculum. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review Understanding Pre-Algebra, the next work text in the series.

Understanding Pre-Algebra is suggested for Middle School students in grades 6-8. Lauren is just now finishing up her sixth grade year. In terms of math skills, she can confidently do calculations with whole numbers, fractions, and decimals. As we continue in her regular math program, she would be starting pre-algebra in the fall. I was confident that she was ready start the pre-algebra material from The Critical Thinking Co.™.

The Understanding Pre-Algebra book is a hefty softcover book (442 pages) that combines instructional materials and practice problems in one volume. It has fifteen chapters and 120 lessons. Each chapter has a chapter review exercise that could be used as a test, and the book includes a final examination covering all the material presented in the book. Based on my examination of the materials, it looks like it covers absolutely everything that is covered in any other pre-algebra course.

A lesson in this course generally consists of a page or two of text explanations and sample problems followed by ten to twenty practice problems for the student to complete on their own. Answers are provided in the back of the book, sometimes with a brief explanation but the problems generally aren't worked out.

I am quite impressed with the materials. In addition to be a comprehensive look at pre-algebra topics, this book requires the student to think through the concepts. For instance, in one of Lauren's first lessons, she was reviewing important divisibility rules. One of that lesson's questions was, "Joan said that 27 cannot be divided by 2. Is she right? Explain your thinking." Lauren need quite a bit of guidance to think through the exact way that question was worded, and eventually I coached her enough that she realized that you could still divide 27 by 2, even if it didn't divide evenly.

Unfortunately, as I was discussing the material and some of the questions with Lauren, I realized that she's just not ready for this book. She's done quite well with math in the past, but I don't think she's developmentally ready to move from the concrete world of elementary math to the abstract world of pre-algebra. This book introduced a lot of new abstract concepts (natural numbers vs whole numbers vs integers) on the very first page, and she quickly became overwhelmed. She also became frustrated because this book requires a student to either have good reading skills in order to process the teaching section or have a parent/teacher helping with the explanation. Lauren wanted to complete the lessons independently because in the past she's usually done math on her own. It just isn't possible for her to work through this book independently right now.

Despite our recent frustrations because Understanding Pre-Algebra is a poor fit for Lauren right now, I continue to highly recommend The Critical Thinking Co.™ materials. I had to set this book aside for now, but I'll hang on to it for when Lauren's ready to tackle the challenge.

Homeschool Crew bloggers have been using both this book and other excellent options for the past month. Be sure to check out some of the other reviews:

Critical Thinking, Understanding Math & Vocabulary {The Critical Thinking Co.™ Reviews}

The Critical Thinking Co.™ has generously offered a coupon code for readers to use on an upcoming order (see below). Also, they offer free critical thinking puzzles delivered weekly to you inbox. Sign up here and select your appropriate grade level (or levels).

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©2009-2018 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced. http://throughthecalmandthroughthestorm.blogspot.com

Monday, June 4, 2018

First Day Photos -- June 2018

When I posted my first day photos back in January, I was thinking about taking a bit of a blog vacation. I didn't expect it to last quite this long.

Nothing bad happened. I just needed some time off of the pressures of writing stuff to post publicly.

Lately, I've been feeling a bit of a pull to get back to sharing about our life and probably even recording some of the years ago stories that I've never written down. I may not write every week, but I hope it won't be five months between blog posts next time.

What better way to jump back into blogging than to once again snap everyday pictures on the first day of the month. (Full disclosure: June 1st was perhaps too everyday for even everyday pictures so these are all from June 2nd.)

About a month ago, we moved from base housing to the new house we built. It's been a crazy move, and I suspect it'll be a long time before everything is put away. I decided the boxes could wait while we enjoyed the summer weekend.

Summer reading:

Close up of her emoji socks:

I'm exploring new paths for my runs. Instead of running beside the flightline, I'm exploring a path that runs along a creek bed for several miles. (And of course, enjoying the mountain views.)

Lauren and I spent a fun afternoon with friends attempting to conquer the inflatable obstacle course at the pool.

I also made my way successfully across. I credit years (and years) of ballet class for my balance skills. And lots of good luck.

Our favorite life guard (who didn't want to pose for a picture):

While Lauren, Brennan, and I were hanging out at the pool, Tim was off backpacking with a group of scouts. He didn't get any pictures of himself, but kindly contributed this gorgeous photo of an alpine lake they found so that I could include it in my collection.

Addison is in Ohio doing engineering research this summer. I didn't ask her for first day pictures. I have a feeling their robotic stuff is top-secret anyway.

I have a few more blog post ideas brewing, especially as I start planning for our next homeschool year. I plan to continue with first day photos now that I've gotten back on track. I've missed capturing little things like emoji socks and successful runs across the pool obstacle course.

©2009-2018 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced. http://throughthecalmandthroughthestorm.blogspot.com

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Improving Reading Comprehension with Home School Navigator {Homeschool Crew Review}

When Addison and Brennan were younger and I was still a homeschool novice, I described my search for a perfect language arts program as searching for the Holy Grail. I was hunting for a program that balanced reading instruction, literary analysis, composition, spelling, grammar and any other topics that I might otherwise forget to cover. As the years passed, I realized that the perfect program didn't exist -- at least not the perfect program for my kids. It became easier to pick piece together several programs, each focusing on a specific subset of the many skills lumped into the language arts description.

Recently, I've been searching for a language arts program that will allow me to focus on the gaps Lauren has in reading comprehension skills. We've been using Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum for the past month to see if we could adapt it to fit her needs and if it would be a good fit for us.

Home School Navigator is a complete language arts program with both online and print components. It includes activities to teach literature, comprehension skills, reading skills, writing skills, phonics, vocabulary, grammar, spelling, handwriting, and even some computer skills. The program is divided into six color-coded levels ranging from red (kindergarten) to indigo (fifth grade). Since I was primarily concerned with Lauren's reading comprehension skills, I decided to back up several grade levels and start with the green lessons. Many of the phonics and grammar skills were far too easy in this section, but the literature and independent reading activities looked to be at an appropriate difficulty level for her.

The program is organized by month, week, and then day. From Lauren's online dashboard page, she picked which month/week of the program that she was working on and then picked the specific day on the next screen. It helped when I made notes in my regular lesson plans so that I could direct her to the correct lesson. "You did lesson 2.1.3 (month 2, week 1, day 3) yesterday so go on to 2.1.4 today." At the end of each lesson, there is an option to mark that assignment complete or to upload the student's work for later access as part of an online portfolio. Since I was not often able to scan Lauren's assignments immediately and since the program would not allow me to upload assignments to lessons she marked as complete, I insisted that she leave the assignments unchecked when she finished them. She was often frustrated that the program was not showing her correct amount of progress because of my delays in uploading scanned assignment pages.

The lessons in the first month of the green program focused on fairy tales, specifically different versions of Cinderella. The read-aloud books for the month were picture books showing how the Cinderella story had been told in different cultures. I found most of the books at our public library. For the ones I couldn't find, Lauren watched Home School Navigator videos of them being read aloud. After hearing me read the book, there was usually an activity page that I had printed for Lauren to complete. One of my favorite types of activities were the days where Lauren had to use her thinking skills to find similarities and differences between two (or three) books in order to complete a Venn Diagram. Thinking back on the story and remembering details is one of the skills I hoped to strengthen by using the program. As a veteran homeschool teacher (with a background in early childhood education), I'm fairly confident in my ability to discuss picture books. At times, however, I wished that the program gave me some additional guidance in terms of things that I could point out to Lauren, topics we should cover in our discussions, etc.

While I loved reading aloud and discussing the picture books in the first month of the program, I switched gears and jumped ahead a bit so that I could prepare some materials to use while we were offline for a few days during our move. A big component of the upper levels of Home School Navigator is their interactive book study notebooks. These sets of study materials are available as part of the complete program and can also be purchased separately as pdf files to download. Once I downloaded the first interactive notebook, we were able to work on it without needing to access the online materials in Home School Navigator.

Lauren's first interactive notebook was based on the book Ahyoka and the Talking Leaves by Peter and Connie Roop. I was quite impressed with the introductory materials for the book. Lauren and I spent quite a bit of time exploring the recommended website to get background information on the Cherokee people, Sequoyah, and the development of a Cherokee syllabary to make written language possible. The rest of the book study follows a fairly predictable pattern of reading a chapter of the book and then completing the printed activities. Much to Lauren's dismay, the program recommends reading the chapter aloud to a parent instead of reading it independently. From a parent standpoint, I think it's a great idea because I'm now getting a better idea of her reading skills.

Each day's assignment includes some vocabulary words to define. In addition, there is always at least one more question that either relates directly to the story (write some of the main character's character traits) or teaches a new skill for literary analysis (find two more examples of similes in this chapter).

The interactive notebooks are the piece of the complete Home School Navigator program that will help us the most in terms of building reading comprehension skills. Lauren seems to do well with a read-then-anwer-questions approach, and the interactive notebook is a bit more fun than just filling out pages in a workbook. I am looking forward to some of the later studies, both ones in the green level and in later levels. Future book studies include 26 Fairmount Avenue by Tomie dePaola, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Carr, Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, and several other old favorites. It's an exciting line-up of chapter books for us to look forward to studying over the next few years.

The complete Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum costs $97 per year and includes access to all the levels. (I believe it also includes access for up to four individual students in your family, but I've only been using the program with one.) The interactive notebooks are included as part of the lessons in the regular program and are also available to purchase separately for $8 each. If your primary concern is improving reading comprehension and building literary thinking skills, it might be wise to focus on the interactive notebooks. If you are looking for a compete Language Arts Curriculum, I think you'll find that Home School Navigator has enough materials in their lessons to meet all your needs.

Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum {Home School Navigator Reviews}

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