Monday, August 12, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: Reading Kingdom

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Are you looking for an online reading program to supplement your reading curriculum? I was lucky enough to be chosen as a reviewer for Reading Kingdom as part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew. This was not my first time using and reviewing this product. You can read my initial Reading Kingdom review detailing the program components and benefits here. My daughter has been using the patented program off and on for about a year. I can tell you that it has been a delightful experience. Reading Kingdom is an award-winning reading and writing program created by Dr. Marion Blank and Jonathan Blank. The web-based program is meant for children ages 4-10 in pre-K through third grade. It enables children to read and write at approximately a third grade level once they have completed the program. The innovative learning to read approach is systematic and logical covering six fundamental skills such as grammar, sequencing, meaning, sounds, comprehension, and motor skills. The program teaches the following language arts subjects including reading, writing, grammar, comprehension, and spelling.

How We Used It
Alyssa (Age 5) utilized the program independently at least 4-5 times per week for a minimum of 2-6 sessions. Each session lasted approximately 15-20 minutes. She would often "play" the Reading Kingdom games for over an hour in one sitting. My daughter sets a goal each day for the number of sessions she wants to complete. We decided to continue using the onscreen keyboard rather than the physical keyboard which means she clicks the letters on her screen when typing using her mouse. Occasionally, I would glance over her shoulders to see what she was learning in the higher levels. At the end of each session, she had the option to go back and review earlier sessions. She always decided to move forward to the next lesson.

Our Reading Kingdom subscription was used as Alyssa's core reading program over the summer. This online program was utilized as a way to review and maintain skills since Alyssa already reads fluently. I also want to fill in any learning gaps and solidify her learning, because I know that the program customizes to each child's needs or weaknesses. The initial placement test started her at Level 1 last year which means she still needed to work on particular skills possibly with regards to spelling or grammar. I knew that her reading level was much higher than the recommended level, but I thought it would be more beneficial to keep her at the placement level having her work through the entire program reaping the benefits in the end. We recently found out that Reading Kingdom can be used on an iPad with a flash player app enabled.

We tried several different browsers including Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. Reading Kingdom works best when using Firefox, however my computer system didn't meet the requirements. New updates indicate that my computer was missing a plug-in when I tried Chrome which I am unable to download due to the old age of my computer. I have a MAC 10.5.8. We are strictly using Safari at this point which is odd, because last year Safari was too slow. We were able to use Firefox at the beginning of the review period. However, due to more recent updates we can no longer access Firefox. My computer system also doesn't support the latest recommended flash player. Click on the link provided to read specific information on the computer requirements.

Our Experiences
Our online subscription was extended a year for this review. Alyssa completed 97% of Level 3 before the review period began. She was just about to start the progress check for this level. She answered everything quickly and correctly, but for some reason she needed to complete the review section which only lasted a couple of days rather than weeks. I am not sure if it was due to the fact that I snapped a screenshot during the lesson. She didn't have to complete the review section for Level 4.

There are five levels in the program each containing 6 books giving her a total of 30 books to read. For this review, I will focus more on the last two levels of the program. Four formats are utilized to teach ALL of the words in each book before she is asked to read them. One or two words are taught each session. Words can be skipped if mastered.

I noticed that the words became more complex including past tense, word endings, and plural form variants. The book lengths also became longer. The game formats taught comprehension, spelling, grammar, word recognition, and sentence formation. The vocabulary word meanings and spellings were more difficult and the sentence structure became more complex. I was surprised when they asked her to spell the word "tongue." Level 4 taught 63 new words with a total of 243 words if you include the variants for the words. She was reading non-story formatted books including science-related topics. Topics such as space flight to the moon and animal habits were read. Level 5 taught 62 new words with a total of 213 new words when counting all the new word variants. This level offered fantasy-based stories with more complex characters. She read more for enjoyment and entertainment at this point while practicing skills.

I wanted to share a few screenshots from the activities she completed during this review. Please click on the screenshots to enlarge them. In this exercise, Alyssa was asked to type the word "opening." The word "open" was taught along with its variants "opening" and "opened."

Here is an example of the the Savvy Sounds game format teaching the word "open." The first part of the word was revealed and stated aloud for Alyssa. Her job was to think about the final sound and select the correct word when given two choices. Occasionally three word choices were given. This aspect of the program focuses on word recognition and also assists the child with blending the sounds together. This is the sixth word taught in Book 25. She enjoyed this activity and thought that the animated characters were funny.
Find and Fill Format
Find the one that can become the word "open."
Fill In the Incomplete Word "open"
Check out one of the passages Alyssa read. Gleaning Meaning is a main idea component of the program that checks for comprehension. She was given a highlighted sentence to read in Book 28 of Level 5. My daughter would read the sentence and hear it read aloud. Then, she chose the correct word to complete the sentence from the four given choices at the bottom of the screen. The sentence was no longer highlighted once the correct word was chosen. This exercise continues until the entire paragraph was complete. She read the paragraph again after filling in all of the missing words. This activity occurs after she has learned all the words for the book which means that each time she reads a book she can be successful.
Fill-in-the-Blank Book
Completed Paragraph from Book 28
Another Passage
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Type Individual Words of a Sentence Using Dictation 
Type the Dictated Word "Another"
Type the Entire Dictated Passage
 with Correct Punctuation and Capitalization
Replace the Space Format
Fill-In Missing Letters
In the Play and Stay format, the computer stated a word aloud and Alyssa needed to select the correct word. The text color of the correctly chosen word turns black. For example, she had to discriminate and choose between the words "No" and "None" and "opener" and "opening." A complete sentence in black text was shown and read at the end of the activity with an appropriate graphic to show the meaning. Many times the game required her to choose the correct punctuation mark. This was one of her favorite activities!

Alyssa zipped through the last two levels this month at a faster pace than I expected. I assumed each level would take approximately 6-10 weeks to complete as indicated here. However, since Alyssa completed a greater number of sessions than suggested she completed the levels and the program at a much faster pace. She will most likely finish Level 5 in a few days. She is more familiar with how the program works which means she spent less time figuring out how to use it and more time working on essentials skills that will help her become a more successful reader and writer.

I appreciate having access to the progress reports. I loved that I could see which words would be taught in each book and what game formats would be used. Although I do wish the reports contained a little more specific information concerning the errors and any problems she had with lessons. The progress reports served as a great self-evaluation tool. After every session, we looked at her progress together. Alyssa easily understood the icons and percentage rates. She knew when she was getting closer to finishing a level. Please click to enlarge the following progress report sample screenshots.
Progressing Through Level 5
Excellent Performance (Sun Icon)
I was surprised that the levels in the passport didn't confuse her when discussing her progress through each of the five levels of the reading program. You can find out more information with regards to reporting and tracking on their website. Each passport book also contained five levels in which reward points are earned in order to receive animated surprises as seen below.

Parents and teachers have the option of increasing response time.
However, you can't "decrease" the response time for accelerated learners. Many times Alyssa would answer quickly, but would have to wait a long time before continuing with the lesson. Even though Alyssa waited patiently on most days, she was easily distracted from the program as she waited for the next screen to appear. Some children may not be able to refocus their attention on the lesson after waiting for such a long time. 

We also still dealt with a few minor computer glitches during the review and slow loading problems when logging in. We found out that when we paused the program for a short amount of time, the program rebooted itself most of the time so that she could move on to the next lesson. 

Possible Vendor Suggestions
Are there any plans to create additional levels? Have you considered creating a separate program for children working at the intermediate grade level focusing more on comprehension and higher-level thinking skills?

Overall Thoughts
We will continue using Reading Kingdom until my daughter has reached her goal of completing the entire program. She will read the last book and complete the progress check for Level 5 tomorrow. She did ask me if the company was going to create more levels, because she wanted to continue using the program. She said, "Mommy I am almost finished with Reading Kingdom what online reading program will I do after it if they don't have more levels?" We both wished the program included more game formats and variety. Even though I thought there might be a chance she'd get bored with the program her eagerness to complete the lessons and enthusiasm simply shocked me. Furthermore, she was completely engaged as she interacted with the game formats. I wondered if she would lose interest and motivation to complete the program over time because of her reading level. I was mistaken. Her interest level and motivation to use the program remained consistent. I noticed a dramatic improvement with her use of correct punctuation and capitalization in her actual writing samples. Her confidence has definitely improved over time. She is reading more complex words with accuracy and her fluency rate has grown substantially since last year. Her vocabulary is expanding too. Alyssa was already a fluent reader before using this program, but it helped her gain confidence when reading chapter books. There was a short time period not too long ago when she set aside chapter books I knew she was capable of reading. This summer she devoured chapter book after chapter book and her comprehension was out-of-this world. Yeah - my little bookworm is back! My daughter knows the ins and outs of how the program works better than I do. She constantly references concepts or words learned through the program in her daily life. She is adding word endings to base words and pluralizing words correctly thanks to Reading Kingdom. Overall, I am impressed with the effectiveness of this research-based program. Alyssa found the music, graphics, sound effects, and animations very appealing. This program is worth checking out even if you don't understand or agree with the approach. It works! Many thanks to the Schoolhouse Review Crew leaders and to Reading Kingdom for allowing us to review such an efficient program.  

Reading Kingdom 12-month subscription costs $19.99 per month or $199.99 for a year. You will need to add $9.99 a month for each additional child under the same subscription or $99.99 for additional yearly subscriptions. We can't afford to pay the price for this product, but your homeschool budget may differ. If a child is truly struggling with learning how to read, then I would say that it is definitely worth the price if you believe that literacy is the key to success. The Reading Kingdom Store offers additional products related to the program such as leveled books, a handwriting program, a phonics kit, and Dr. Marion's Reading remedy book. Don't forget to sign-up for a 30-Day Free Trial! You can actually try it before buying a subscription. The company also offers a Reading Kingdom Subscription Scholarship Here upon completion of the 30-Day trial for low-income families. Read any and all stipulations here before filling out the form. Not sure if Reading Kingdom is right for your child? Visit the "Is It Right For Your Child?" article on the website for more information. 

Reading Kingdom is a solid, comprehensive program that I highly recommend using as a supplemental program to any core reading curriculum or as a core summer reading program. I recommend this program for all children no matter their reading level. I would suggest using the program with children that have some basic keyboarding skills or knowledge of how to use a computer mouse. I believe reluctant readers or early emergent readers as young as 4 will benefit most from using this program. Classroom teachers, title teachers, and homeschool families will find the features of this program beneficial. Accelerated learners can use the program for review or to maintain skills. There's a very good chance there will be something new for them to learn or that they may need to practice a particular skill where weaknesses are found. 

Social Media
Reading Kingdom has several social media pages as seen below. Be sure to like and follow them. 
Reading Kingdom Blog
Newsletter Subscriber

Take a few moments to visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog to read more Reading Kingdom reviews. I am sure that the experiences will differ widely since the program adapts to the needs and abilities of each child. 
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