Homeschool Posts

Monday, October 11, 2010

Review: Read, Write & Type Learning System

RWTLS-new-box-shot

The idea behind the Read, Write & Type Learning System is simple really. Simply brilliant, that is. In the information age when everyone seems to be chained to their computers anyway (and kiddos are begging to play computer games), why not use the computer keyboard to reinforce phonics and spelling? You could teach the phonemes, spelling and typing all at the same time! Your child could be touch-typing by the time she’s 9, and a computer program will do it all for you.

It’s a brilliant idea. But does it work? Can it work? Do I really want it to work? Let’s take a closer look.

Disclosure: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received online access to the Read, Write & Type Learning System for a year. I received no other compensation. This software is also available on CD, but this review is on the online subscription version.

Read, Write & Type will take your child through a tour of the 40 English speech sounds in 40 lessons. In addition to Lefty (the left hand’s model), Rightway (the right hand’s model), and Vexor (the vexing quizmaster), she’ll meet the different “storytellers” on the keyboard who represent the different sounds. Emphasis is placed on the keeping the hands properly positioned on the home row keys (you’ll notice the embossed D below on the left, there’s also an embossed K on the right to remind your child where to put their middle fingers). The model hands demonstrate how to move the hands and type the proper keys.

step1

Each lesson starts with learning to recognize the new sound at the beginning of the word (and sometimes the end of the word), moves on to typing single letters, typing to blend the letters together into to words, and typing a short story. The lessons are organized in such a way that the beginning letters are easy to type, but also conducive to spelling simple words.

step2

step4

Each level has 4 lessons. After completing a level, your child will be sucked up into Vexor’s spaceship and given an assessment (the exception here is levels 1 & 2 are assessed together).

The program adjusts to your child’s responses, so if she’s typing it perfectly every time, she’ll get minimal practice (if she chooses to, she can revisit any of the activities she’s already completed for additional practice), because she doesn’t really need it. If she starts making mistakes, the program will give her more work to make it up. How long each level will take will depend upon your child and how many mistakes she makes, but Talking Fingers (the program developer), suggests that it will take a first grade class about 50-60 hours to complete the 40 lesson program. It may take less time in a homeschool setting, but we have still only completed the first few levels. You could easily do this in as little as 15-minutes a day, but a half-hour allotment might be more realistic.

As the teacher, you can set the percentage it is necessary for your child to get correct on the assessments in order to pass on to the next level.

This program is intended for ages 6-9 (though it could be useful for older and younger children---I’m currently using it with my 6-year-old and my 10-year-old. A younger child might have developmental difficulties with using the keyboard the right way, but might benefit from some of the beginning activities.

What do I like?

  • The systematic progression through the different phonemes.
  • This isn’t a game. No shooting letters out of the sky or typing letters before a frog eats them. While there is an element of challenge (saving the letters from the vexatious Vexor), there isn’t a truly competitive component to it, nor is there any attempt to hide the learning behind a game.
  • This is much more than just typing. Other typing programs might present a string of nonsense syllables to just copy off the screen, but with RWT, the letters are presented in a multisensory way. Each letter is sounded out and words are sounded out and then blended. When your child is asked to type the letter “f,” they aren’t just looking at a bunch of letters on the screen to type, they are instructed to type /f/, the letter sound, through an audio cue and are shown the letter. Other activities involve typing from dictation. The program will show a short line of words (for instance, the fat cat), and be told type “the fat cat”. The words disappear and the child must type from memory. If they make a mistake, the program cues them with the next letter to type. Very compatible with a CM or classical approach to education.
  • Did I say this really is much more than just typing? Assessment activities also test phonics, reading, spelling and comprehension skills.
  • Each child moves through the lessons at her own pace and the program will not allow her to progress if she hasn’t achieved the minimum percentage required to move on. She can’t go onto the next level until she gets it right. And the program offers plenty of opportunities for additional practice. She can practice all she wants or needs to.
  • The ability to archive a student who is done with the program or needs a break and use the license with another student. You can un-archive a student later if you find she needs more practice.

But this program does have some weaknesses.

There’s a lack of usable reports. The online subscription gives you access to 2 types of reports for each student:

  • The Students Report which shows the overall percentage of each student in phonics, reading, and spelling and their average. I can’t actually figure out what these numbers mean: are they total correct for the whole program, for the lesson they are working on at the moment? Or the percentage of the lesson that has been completed? The user manual simply states it is the “overall percentage,” whatever that means.
  • RWT Lesson Progress which shows you the results of their assessments. The report only shows the most recent assessment for each level (so if they took an assessment more than once after not passing the first time, it will only show the last results).

There is no break down to show you precisely what your child is having difficulty in (if there are any difficulties). A more usable report would show me what the questions were, and what her answers were. Now, in an ideal world, I would be sitting next to her for every lesson and assessment and taking careful notes of any problems or spelling rules we need to review…but this isn’t an ideal world. I have 3 other children to care for and instruct. And part of the reason for using a computer program at all would be to help me with the “book-keeping.” I should be able to access a report that shows me precisely what she is having difficulty with. There is also no ability to access previous reports. The manual instructs you to print reports frequently to check progress over time.

There could also be clearer instruction in some places. When your child is introduced to a new activity, she is automatically given instructions on how to complete the activity. But if it is an activity she has done before, she may not be automatically given instructions. This varies depending on the activity and how it is set up. In the theatre, for example, your child is shown pictures of objects. If the object starts with the lesson’s letter sound (the letter is shown in the upper left-hand corner of the screen), she types that letter. If it doesn’t, she types the spacebar. The first time she does this activity, she gets full instructions. On subsequent times, with different letters, the instructions are not automatically repeated. If it’s been a few days since your child last did this activity, she may have forgotten what she needs to do. While she can click on the hands for instructions, it seems like it would make more sense to just give the short instructions each time you start the activity.

There are other places where the program could be a bit more polished and user friendly.

Typing is slow going. If your child types a little too quickly after the cue, the program doesn’t recognize what they typed. There’s a little bit of a pause.

One of the pictures used is a floppy disk (for the word disk)…something that I think you’ll agree most 6-9 year olds have never seen in their lives. Iguana is also used, though the average child will probably think it is a lizard. While the program will tell you the correct word if you click on the picture, if the child thinks she knows the word already, she isn’t going to click on it. These are just a couple of examples, there are others. Less ambiguous pictures would be a definite improvement.

In the assessments, if your child makes a mistake in the spelling section, the program says something like (and I’m paraphrasing) “Say the word and listen to how it sounds.” So when Mary was trying to spell “stick” and spelled it “stic,” the program essentially told her to sound it out. So she spelled it “stik.” And the program gave her the same response. It might have been more helpful to have a more customized response, like “the k makes the right sound, but it needs a helper here.” Just an idea.

Overall, though, I like the program, I see a lot of potential in using this as a supplement to your regular reading and spelling curriculum. There’s not enough emphasis on reinforcing the phonics and spelling rules for it to really work on its own, but it is definitely a good tool to have for extra practice and I’m already seeing some improvement in Mary’s typing. So, yes, I do think a 6-year-old can learn to touch type. And I do think that’s a good thing---typing can make it so much easier to get the ideas out at top speed. My 10-year-old has been through those kids’ typing programs and still hunts and pecks. He is enjoying RWT (no, he doesn’t even think it’s dumb) and I can already see some improvement in his typing skills. Only time will tell and frequent practice. We will definitely continue to use our subscription.

I also like the price. At $35 for 1 student for a 5 year subscription, it’s a good buy (keep in mind that when your first student finishes the program, you can archive them and have another student use the same license, so you could get all your kiddos in during those 5 years). Have multiple students who need to use it at the same time? Discounts are available for multiple students. And it can be accessed from any computer with internet access…use it at Grandma’s or the library, or even on vacation.

The program is also available as a cd-rom bundle for $79.

For more reviews of this program, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog.

4 comments:

  1. For a zillion reasons I appreciate this review. Thanks Midwest Mama! ;-))

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  2. Nice review! Maybe I will link your review to my own since mine seems a bit lacking after reading this.

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  3. Well, thank you ladies! I have to say, this one was a bear for me to write. And when I was done, I felt it was entirely toooo long. I need to learn to write shorter reviews.

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  4. I thought it was very nicely done. I really like it, and I have trouble with long reviews, too. I didn't think yours was too long to comfortably read though. :)

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