Tuesday, June 7, 2016

MaxScholar {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

I've mentioned before that one of my homeschool focuses for Lauren lately has been improving her reading comprehension skills. She's quite proficient at phonics and being able to sound out words, but she struggles with understanding the text, remembering details, and drawing conclusions. MaxScholar offers online reading instruction and intervention programs suitable for preschoolers through high schoolers, and I was eager to see how the comprehension component of the MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs would help Lauren.

MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs Review

MaxScholar offers activities in seven different categories of reading instruction when you purchase a MaxGuru license. Since Lauren is already working at grade level in terms of phonics, we skipped over the MaxPhonics and MaxWords categories.

MaxReading approaches reading comprehension in a way that we've never tried before. It is based on the Lindamood-Bell© process which teaches the student to use highlighting, summarizing, and outlining to help with comprehension and retention. (Note: MaxScholar is not affiliated with or endorsed by Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes; they just use a similar method.)

All of the reading comprehension programs I've used simply have the student read a passage and then answer questions. The easiest way to show how MaxReading works is to step through a complete activity.

When Lauren first sees a passage, she has the opportunity to make sure she understands all the vocabulary words. If she clicks on a gray highlighted word, she gets a pop-up screen that will pronounce the word, give a definition, and use it in a sentence.

For the next activity, Lauren uses the online highlighters to mark the topic (in blue), the main idea (in green), and important details (in yellow).

After reading and highlighting the passage, she can compare it to the answers. In this case, she picked most of the same details as the program suggests.

The next step is to take the information from the passage and organize it into an outline.

Lauren then gets a choice of three questions to answer for her writing assignment. One option is always to write a summary of the passage (including a main idea, three important details, and a concluding sentence). The open-ended option for our example passage asked, "What are some similarities and differences between Abraham Lincoln's childhood and your own?" The final option was to write about conclusions that could be drawn from the text.

After reading, highlighting, outlining, and writing, the MaxReading program moves on to the questions. By this time, Lauren is quite familiar with the material and is able to answer most of the questions correctly. If there's something that she's unsure of, she has the option to refer back to the text to refresh her memory.

Lauren does quite well on the comprehension questions after going through the MaxReading activities. The process of highlighting the main idea and important details helps her slow down and pay attention to the text.

From a teacher standpoint, there are several places where I wish this program offered a bit more support to the student. For instance, Lauren compares the words she highlighted with the ones the program chose, but she was never explicitly taught how to find the important details in a passage. Similarly, the outlining and writing exercises aren't explained, just assigned. Lauren tries to complete the activities, but I don't stress over them (and usually don't go into the teacher area to see what she has written). I just consider it to be extra exposure to the materials.

After Lauren finished working through a MaxReading passage each day, I told her to explore some of the other areas available with our MaxGuru license. She deemed the MaxWords and MaxVocab areas to be too similar to the reading activities she had already done. In other words, they are too academic to pick for her free-choice activity. In the future, I'll alternate assignments so that she works in those areas on days when she does not complete a MaxReading passage.

MaxBios and MaxPlaces both offer the student opportunities to apply their emerging reading skills by providing passages, an opportunity to practice highlighting, and then a series of comprehension questions. MaxPlaces has passages about various cities throughout the world, and MaxBios has passages about famous people. I especially noticed the way that the biographies were chosen to appeal to a wide variety of children. There is a heavy emphasis on musicians and sports stars, but I also found plenty of other famous people that many children would recognize (Martin Luther King, Jr, Albert Einstein, Sam Walton, Oprah Winfrey, Helen Keller, Mark Zuckerberg, and more). Again, these areas might be better done on a day when I haven't already assigned a passage in MaxReading.

Lauren chose to spend most of her free time on MaxScholar using the MaxMusic area. Instead of reading a passage about the artist, she read and completed short activities using song lyrics. This area also has a repeat after me game using a keyboard and the notes from the song. She was thrilled to see a song that she recognized from chorale and used the piano game to teach herself how to play "Let it Be." (Learning the notes/music isn't the point of this part of the program, but she enjoyed using the game to teach herself to play the melody to familiar songs.)

All of the components of the MaxScholar program combine to give solid practice in reading comprehension using a variety of high-interest stories and effective strategies to help them remember what they read. It is now a big part of our plan to help Lauren strengthen her reading comprehension skills.

A one-year license for one student to use MaxGuru (including MaxReading and six other programs) normally costs $330 and is currently on sale for $279 year.

MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs Review

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