Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Schoolhouse Review Crew: VocabularySpellingCity

I have two children with (undiagnosed) dyslexia - and pretty extreme cases. Apparently one of the big indicators of dyslexia is a profound inability to spell well because of an inability to hear the individual sounds - called "Phonemic Awareness". While I wish I had known that years ago before I tried to teach them to read, it is good to be aware of it now - and to look for tools that might help with that. 

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In this case, we are using the online program VocabularySpellingCity to see if it will help increase their spelling ability, as well as to test out where Maestro is at with his spelling abilities, and to get Buttercup started on her journey to good spelling as well. In short: this Schoolhouse Review Crew program offers things to cover the entire family!
To run VocabularySpellingCity, the "teacher" (i.e.: parent, in our homeschooling sense here) has to have a login, and then each student has to have a separate account. So setting up can take a few minutes. In our case, I set up each of my children and then gave them all the same password to make things as simple for this busy mama as I could.

Once you have the teacher's account set up, you go in and decide on which spelling list you want your child to work with that week. You can assign more than one list, type in your own lists, or choose several of their theme-based lists. At first this can be tricky as you decide where your child is in spelling ability and if you have a specific topic that you might be working with in other school subjects like science, history, etc. As far as I could tell, you must assign a list before the student is able to use and work with it. 

Once you have the list assigned and authorized, your child can log in and use one of several methods to work on learning the list. With Maestro, as the oldest, I assigned him lists that were higher than his age level might suggest. Though he is "only" nearly 14, and primarily in the "8th" grade, I assigned him lists from the 10th- or 11th-grade lists. His reading and comprehension abilities are high enough that I thought he might be able to handle it, but there was a little bit of a leap of faith there because I wasn't certain. 

Chef and Bruiser are my two who struggled with reading so I was more conservative with the lists I made available to them. Chef has reached a level of reading and comprehension that is about grade-level, so that is where I assigned him (6th grade). Bruiser I assigned at a level slightly lower than his level because he is still really building his abilities and level, so I put him at about 2nd grade. Though it was an option, I did not assign my own lists - that is a great feature if you're working with a set curriculum or if your child is a brick-and-mortar student. Mine are neither, so I did not use that feature at all really.  

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For each list, the student has several options to try out. They can:

  •  print out the list, 
  • take a spelling test, 
  • follow a lesson that gives the word, spells the word, and uses it in a sentence
  • take a vocabulary test
  • or play a game that revolves around the assigned words.

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Maestro jumped right on his list, largely ignored the games, and went straight to the spelling tests. This does not surprise me - he reading has been so strong that spelling has been relatively easy for him. For him, the program worked pretty well. He did not use a lot of the "side" options offered - the games, lessons, etc. It was enough for him to write the list out a few times and then take the spelling test.

Chef only used the program a few times. He still struggles with his spelling, but he loves to write, and that is how he has largely corrected his trouble with spelling. Writing and writing and writing, followed by editing, asking "how do you spell" questions, and writing some more. 

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Bruiser was more of a challenge. He still struggles greatly with his reading and spelling. He went straight for the games. Given his age, I suppose that is understandable. I still required him to print out the list and write the words five to ten times each. Sometimes this helped, other times not so much. He does the games more than I like even with that, but it does seem to help him remember. He is a very hands-on learner, so being able to do things with his spelling words, helps him put it into his brain a little faster. 

So will we keep using VocabularySpellingCity? We will continue to use VocabularySpellingCity for Bruiser, and I might start Buttercup up with it - I haven't tried it on her yet, since she is not even quite five yet. Maestro and Chef I think are better for other programs and methods. Mostly because they have both found their own ways to work with their strengths and weaknesses, where Bruiser is still feeling his way out. 

VocabularySpellingCity is inexpensive, making it a great program to try. For a family using five accounts, the charge is $29.99 per year. The program is also available for larger classroom and whole-school use, up to 5,000+ students!


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