Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Vantage Learning

Everyone has spell check these days and many programs also have a grammar check.  But Vantage Learning's My Access Writing Home Edition takes these ideas a bit further.

My Access Writing is a web based program that can be purchased for 1-3 students ($99.95/yr) or for 4-6 students ($129.95/yr)  Its purpose is to help kids from 8 to 18 learn how to become better writers. My Access Writing Home Edition

Once you sign up, you create custom accounts for each of your children by:
  • Choosing which levels of writing exercises they can have access to (any combination of ages 8-10, 11-14, and 14-18).
  • Picking which topics they can try, which are arranged by style of writing (informative, narrative, and persuasive).  This is customizable at any time.  You can also add your own topics.
  • Assigning a point value to strive for, a deadline, and rewards for reaching the goal.
  • Picking up to 7 email addresses to automatically send weekly progress reports to (think Grandma)
Once you get the accounts set up the way you like them, you can turn your kids loose.  There are two ways they can approach this program.

1. Be methodical and go through the tutorial on how to use the program. This includes:
  • Course Overview - Explanation of the writing style 
  • Chief Reporter Training - Multi step explanation of writing, its vocabulary, and a quiz Rubric Training - Introduction to using a rubric with another quiz
  • Pre-writing - An interactive graphic organizer 
  • Once you work through the modules (earning points for doing it), you are ready to start writing.
    2. Just jump right in, pick a topic, and start writing. You have:
    • Access to basic word processing tools, such as bold and align left. 
    • "My Outline" provides a place to write an outline or refer to the one you have already made. 
    • "My Checklist" provides a list of things to look for in your writing. 
    • "Writer's Toolbox" includes writing vocabulary and definitions (protagonist, for example) and a cool thesaurus that you can use to bump up the complexity of the words you use. 
    • "Writer's Course" is available if you get stuck and need a quick tutorial.

    We started out taking the methodical route.  My 13 yo, Dragonette, breezed through the explanations and was off and writing within an hour.  My 10 yo, Flower, did not enjoy such an easy leap into the program.

    I guess I should back up a little here.  At our house, I have not taught a lot of writing, but my kids love to write.  They know about paragraphs and good grammar and whenever I see an issue in their writing, I point it out and use those as our teaching moments.  Dragonette breathes writing and has multiple writing projects always going on.  Flower also writes, but not with the single minded focus that Dragonette has.  So I was honestly curious as to what this program would tell me about their writings.

    Flower got bogged down in the explanations.  So I helped her skip out of them and got her started on her first choice, "My Favorite Pet."  Having never used the 5 paragraph system, she was soon in over her head again.  She said all she felt she needed to say in the first paragraph!  So I backed her up into the outline feature.  Together, we created an outline as prompted by the program and it could be pulled up while she was writing.  Now that she was organized,  it took her very little time to prepare five paragraphs to be edited by the program.

    Now here is the curious part about this program.
    • It grades your writing (below, proficient, advanced) in 6 categories    
                - holistic
                - focus
                - content development
                - organization
                - language style
                - conventions
    • A "Revision Plan" is set up for you with examples and suggestions, like highlighting the main ideas and supporting sentences. This allows you to see how organized your writing is.
    • Once the revision is started, click on  "My Editor" and all the places the program feels you can improve spelling and grammar are highlighted.  You can chose to have these errors pointed out to you in English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Simplified Chinese, or British English.  This is a great tool for those that are writing in American English as a second language!

    With Dragonette, this did not work well.  There were a lot of false errors in her writing, as she tends to use complicated sentence structure.  Software always has trouble with the English language and its exceptions to the rules, and Dragonette's writing brought out the worst of these false errors.  The program developers do admit this can be a problem, and I concluded that her grammar is beyond what this program can offer.

    But that still leaves Flower.  And despite her trouble with the initial explanations, I found that this program did a good job organizing her to write and finding her errors.  And better yet, surprisingly, I became her ally.  Together, we went through the errors the program found, and schemed how we could outsmart the editor by reworking things.  In the end, her score came up, I was not the bad guy for once, and she learned some new writing skills.

    So overall, if your child is a good writer, you may not be able to use this program to its full potential, other than to use the topics and keep writing assignments organized.  But if you have a child that needs some organizing and loves to fight you, this program may be exactly what you need.


    1. I reviewed My Access as well. I really liked the way you explained how the program worked with your two different daughters. My teenage daughter is an excellent writer and I noted some of the same issues. I enjoyed reading your review.

      I'm visiting your blog for the first time. Hello!

      Samantha from To Be Busy at Home