3/7/11

TOS Review: Reading Kingdom

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I am so excited today to tell you about this online reading program, Reading Kingdom, created by Dr. Marion Blank.

First let me share a little bit of background about Supergirl.  She is 13 years old but doesn’t look it and is certainly not 13 in her emotional, cognitive or social skills.   Generally she looks about 6-7 years old and her academic skills fall in the K-2nd grade range.  She is developmentally delayed both physically and mentally.

We had reached a wall of sorts when it came to reading.  Perhaps I wasn’t consistent enough or perhaps the learning issues associated with DiGeorge were emerging but whatever the reason we were still struggling with reading 2 and 3 letter short vowel words fluently.  She might read them fluently on the flashcard or in isolation but be unable to recognize them when reading a book and would slowly and painfully try sounding out even those words she had previously mastered.

We began using Reading Kingdom in mid-January.  She went from struggling to read ONE phonics reader (the controlled kind with generally 1 sentence of 4-6 words per page) to pulling books off the shelf to scan for words she now knows.  Several times a day I hear “look mom!  I found ’some’.”  Or “Look ‘bird’.”   And just this week she and sat on the couch and she read 3 of those little readers.  3!!  Her confidence has increased 1000% and words that she struggled to sound out are nearly fluent and through Reading Kingdom she has learned to read words such as boy, girl, bird, here, rest, some, are, is, the, plane, jump, swim and many more.

Though I mention phonics in my previous paragraph I need to stop and emphasize that Reading Kingdom is NOT a phonics program.  It uses more of a whole word/sight word approach.  If you are looking for phonics based reading instruction where phonograms and their associated phonemes (sounds) are formally and overtly taught, you will be disappointed. This program does subtly teach some phonogram/phoneme association through various activities but it is not a phonics based program.  (Please read this article and this article  for an explanation of Reading Kingdom’s approach to reading instruction.)

Reading Kingdom is organized into 6 levels of instruction.  It includes skills surveys, progress checks and reviews if necessary.  The six levels are:

  • Pre-Reading (sequencing and keyboard skills that lay the foundation)
  • Level 1 through Level 5

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Levels 1-5 follow the same basic format.   Each level has 6 books.  Reading Kingdom teaches all the words necessary to read the first book, then the child is rewarded with reading the book and then moves to the next set of words.   SuperGirl began Level 1 on Feb 1st.   Just a few days ago completed all the words for book 4.  

You can read more about the organization of the levels by clicking here.   After completing each level, the program administers a progress check.  If the child has mastered the level, he will move to the next level.  If, however, the child has not mastered the level, the child will continue to do review activities.

The program customizes itself to meet the needs of the student so each student will have a unique experience with Reading Kingdom. Because the program adapts to the child it is imperative that parents do not help or complete the exercises for the child.   If the child is very young, he may require hand support or assistance and Reading Kingdom gives suggestions here on how to provide that type of help. This article explains how the customization works.

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Perhaps now is a good time to give a summary of what a typical session looks like.   The student is greeted by the cute owl on the left at the beginning of every session. If a child requires both “Seeing Sequences” and “Letter Land” (the two sections of the Pre-Reading level) a session would involve the program telling the child to find the 2 or 3 letters in the correct order.   After several of those, it would move to teaching the child where the letters (and some punctuation) are on the keyboard.   The child is first encouraged to use the mouse to click on the keyboard on the screen and then will be instructed to use the keyboard to type the letter.  Only a few letters are taught each session and a session only lasts 10-15 minutes.

In Level 1 the student begins to learn words.  But what if the child already knows the word?  No problem.  For nouns and verbs the child is told “if you can spell bug (for example) then type it here now”.  If the child correctly spells the word, a new word will be given.   If the child does not know the word, they will go through several different activities that teach them the word.   Small words or “sight words” such as a, here, the, some, most are taught in a slightly different way and the student is not asked if he knows this word.  In other words, though students can test out of most nouns and verbs, they cannot test out of these helping or “little” words.   For more details on the types of activities used including screen shots, please click here.

Overall, I am impressed with this program.  I was concerned because the program mentions “typing”.   SuperGirl is unable to fully use her left hand and I was afraid her physical disabilities would prevent her from using this program.  I am happy to share that touch typing is NOT a requirement and she is able to successfully type using just one finger. 

Next I was concerned that we’d be in Letter Land for the entire review period.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that she learned the keyboard very quickly.   She enjoys the program and we often do “post sessions”.   When the daily session is completed the cute owl comes out and tells you that you can click on the door to exit or you may click on the balloon to do more activities.

I love the post sessions!  This is where she can practice or review past words and re-read books.   The student may pick up to three activities.  We often do two to three depending on time and her motivation.

The website talks about parents getting progress reports by email and being able to view the child’s progress on the website but I have been disappointed with this aspect.   For example, if I click on Level 1 to get more information all I see is that she started Level 1 on  Feb 1st. Every single day I check that and so far every single day it says her progress is “very good”.    But it doesn’t tell me what she has actually done.

I do get more information with the Post Sessions report but if we don’t do a Post Session, then there is nothing to report.  With the post Session I can see what book we are working on and what word she learned that day.  I wish that I didn’t have to have Supergirl complete a post session in order to see what book she is on and what new word(s) she learned.

I mentioned that I sit with Supergirl when she does her Reading Kingdom sessions.   Reading Kingdom suggests that you sit with your child for the first few weeks.  I wholeheartedly agree!  This is especially important when doing the Skills Assessment and when doing Letter Land and Seeing Sequence. Sitting with the child allows you to see what he is doing and how he is doing it so that you can assess any problems.  For example, frequently, during Letter Land, Supergirl would want to use the keyboard when she was supposed to use the mouse.  Sometimes, even now, she will start to type before the program is ready for her to begin.   By sitting with her I can give her reminders to wait.

In the “How to Use Reading Kingdom” Article,  it says that this program is ideal for children 4-10 years of age.  It also says “it is also
useful with older children who may be having difficulty in learning to read.”    The website also suggests that this program is ideal for young children who have not yet begun to read. Click here to read what they believe is necessary for a child to do to be ready to read.  I’m not sure that I agree with Reading Kingdom as I do believe that Supergirl’s current success and progress with the program is due in part to having some phonics foundation.  Perhaps it is more of an age/maturity issue?  I don’t know. I do know  that BooBear would not have had the maturity to do this program at age 4 even though she would have met the basic skills required.

Overall, I am very happy with this program.  Completing all the levels should bring a child to a 3rd grade reading level. I look forward to Supergirl completing the program.  If she doesn’t complete it by the end of our generous subscription, I will be considering purchasing a subscription so she can finish.

Reading Kingdom is available on a month to month basis with no minimum time length for $19.99.  You may also purchase a 12 month subscription for $199.00.   Additional children are $9.99 per month.

Visit the Reading Kingdom Store to read more about acquiring a subscription or to see the other products available such as the book on which Reading Kingdom is based: The Reading Remedy by Dr. Marion Blank. To contact Reading Kingdom click here.

This program has been an excellent fit for my daughter.  Click on the banner below to read how Reading Kingdom worked for my fellow Crew Mates: Photobucket

Disclaimer: As a TOS Crew member, I received this product free of charge to review. This review is my honest opinion with, hopefully, enough detail as to why I liked or did not like a product so that my readers can make an informed decision. I received no compensation.

Reading Kingdom generously provided me with a 12 month subscription added on to a 30 day free trail for a total of 13 months of Reading Kingdom. 

4 comments:

  1. I completely agree with your observation about the previous phonics instruction. My DD who is reading some, had a much easier time then my DS who has just started phonics. I don't know if it was the phonics instruction she has had, or just her maturity. Great review!

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  2. You know, I do wonder if Reading Kingdom is set up the way it is assuming that most kids are going to be getting mostly phonics instruction outside of RK? I know they don't do explicit phonics in RK that I've seen (levels 1-4) -- but Dr. Blank talks about how the instinctual response when a kid is struggling is to say something like, "sound it out."

    I hadn't really thought about that.

    Anyway, great review. I think it is so fabulous that Supergirl has been able to do so well. :)

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  3. I love your review! You explained it so well, and now Im seriously thinking about this for my seven year old.

    Amy B

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  4. Thanks so much for your great review of our Reading Kingdom program! I'm so glad it's helpful.

    Regarding your comment on the reporting, we are currently updating our reporting to provide more information to the parents, teachers and tutors who are using the program. This should be implemented within the next month.

    Also, I'd like to clarify that the Reading Kingdom program is not a "whole word" or "sight word" program. The Reading Kingdom teaches 6 skills that Dr. Marion Blank, the Director of the Light on Literacy program at Columbia University and the creator of the Reading Kingdom, has determined are required for reading and writing success. These skills are visual sequencing, motor skills for writing, phonics (sounds), syntax (grammar), semantics (meaning) and comprehension (text). So Reading Kingdom does teach the sounds of letters and letter blends, but it does so in the context of the other skills required for reading mastery.

    Thanks again! We'll be featuring your review on our Facebook page - http://www.facebook.com/readingkingdom

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