Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Reading Kingdom (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Two years ago, Jude reviewed Reading Kingdom Online, and over the course of the review, I found that I liked the premise of the program.  However, after a few more months, we found it didn't fit us as well as we thought.  We put it aside and let our subscription lapse.  We had the opportunity to try the Reading Kingdom's  program again this fall, and this time both Jude and Damien both got to work with it.  I'm glad to have had the chance to simultaneously compare the different sections of Reading Kingdom.

As opposed to most phonics-based programs, Reading Kingdom is a patented program created by developmental psychologist Marion Blank.  Dr. Blanks's program uses six reading skills to teach reading: 

By integrating these, Reading Kingdom allows a student to reach fluency more easily.  The program's goal is to teach words in context so that a student realizes how to say, spell, and understand a word.

According to Reading Kingdom, the program will work with any web browser, but we discovered that the loading was slow and often riddled with bugs when using Firefox and/or Safari.  We found out that the "preferred" browser is Google Chrome.  We wound up downloading it and our performance issues went away, but I have to admit I was a little annoyed.  I don't particularly care for Chrome, so it's a little irksome that I have to use space on my laptop for it to use with just one website.  It also means that unless I download it to other machines, the only computer that the boys can use is my laptop.


As I said, Jude used reading Kingdom before.  In our initial 8 weeks with the program, we found it was a novel program for him, and in my review, I said that it was one of my favorite programs for him.  I think I had spoken too soon.  After a bit more time - perhaps after the new and shiny had worn off - it became incredibly frustrating for him.  It no longer was working.  He would wait out the program when it was too hard for him, because instead of moving on with blanks, the program will model the correct answer.  He had figured out that if he just waited, he wouldn't have to try.  Not long after, we actually jettisoned trying to read altogether.  I think he just wasn't ready.

Fast forward two years and about three other language programs.  About a year ago, things began to click for him, and now he's a fairly competent reader.   I was curious to see how Reading Kingdom might fit back into his school day.  One of the program's claims is that it will quickly bring a student to a third grade reading level.  I think that while he's not quite at that level, he has definitely rapidly increased his skills.  He has easily read Sam the Minuteman, and successfully completed a literary study, something I would not have imagined him being able to do just a month or two ago.

Jude likes the graphics of the program.  There are two characters - birds, turtles, or even pirates - that let your student know if he is right (the green one) or wrong (the red one).  I like that he's working on so many skills at one time -at a minimum, discriminating and context, but he also reads the sentences aloud.  By taking the time to read them out loud, he is also able to "hear" that the last word in the sentence should be "big" and doesn't read too quickly and mistakenly choose "bug."

I have to say that this time, things are going much better.  He is doing much better with the program - actually answering questions rather than waiting out the timer.  His confidence level is much better, because he can read the words on the screen.  However, that doesn't mean he isn't learning new things.  Because the program integrates spelling/writing as well as context and comprehension, it has helped his spelling and grammar.  Be being exposed to words often, spelling of a word gets reinforced.  He's consistently looking for where capital letters and punctuation belong. 

Here I will say I have a couple of issues with the program.  First, it is inconsistent with comma use.  This is probably not a huge deal for an early reader, because he doesn't yet realize where a comma belongs or doesn't belong. 

 However, I would prefer to see more consistency in presentation.  Jude didn't grasp that there should be a comma at the end of a phrase/before a conjunction, it is expected to be included when writing.

I also don't care for it's auditory presentation.  It has a "click the word to hear it" feature, which is a good feature, but it provides a pragmatically poor reading experience.  It sounds as if someone recorded every word used in the program, the sounds loaded in, and then retrieved on a 1:1 click.  I think it would help fluency if the student could hear a passage read as a complete text, rather than a word-by-word rendition.  We've taken to just reading passages aloud, rather than having them "read" to him by the program.


Damien began with the program's placement test.  It determined that it was best to start with the sequencing and letter recognition sections. This didn't surprise me, because as a new kindergartener, Damien has had very little formal reading instruction.

Generally speaking, he did well with this part of the program.  Often his difficulty was coordinating what he saw with the keyboard; he'd have to look at a lowercase letter, and comprehend it, then search for the uppercase counterpart on the computer's keyboard.  Often this took him more time than he was alloted.  However, I was hesitant to increase the time interval, because then other sections, such as the "find the letter sequence" took longer, and his attention would wander.  Here he's stuck because he didn't see the word "baby" before it disappeared - he was too busy being excited over the prior word.  Because the program adjusts to the student's performance, I felt like it was slightly inaccurate for his ability.  His reading skills were far better than his attention span.

I will say that he is retaining what he's learned.  (1-2 words are introduced with each lesson, but prior words are reinforced/repeated in the reading/writing sentences.) For example, one day he was working with the word "girl."  The next day, a new word was introduced and he did recall how to write the word.  A few days later, another sentence using the word "girl" was shown, and he was expected to fill it in, and he did.  He sometimes gets frustrated with using a single word in every application, but it's obvious the idea of frequent and high volume repetition does make a difference in retention.

However, we are finding it difficult for the same reasons Jude struggled: attention span and the idea of "if I mess up or wait, it will give me the answer."  The program is for students ages 4 though 10, but I think it's a mistake to assume "My child is 5, so he's within the age range."  I think your student needs to be able to *developmentally* focus - or be able to quickly refocus - on the screen.  He also needs to remain calm when he gets the correct answer.  Sometimes, Damien would be so excited that he remembered what he was shown that he wasn't looking when the next word appeared. He enjoys the program and always asks when is it his turn, can he do Reading Kingdom, but he definitely needs 1:1 guidance. Though the program asks that parents not provide an excess of support, because then the program can't properly gauge progress, Damien does need extra supervision.   Jude can start in on the program and I can let him work independently while I do another task or work with one of his brothers, but for Damien, I have to stop everything so I can constantly refocus him to the program.

Overall, I still like Reading Kingdom.  We found that, for us, it works better when the student has the ability to focus longer/independently.  For our family, it works better as an "increase your skills" program, rather than a pure "learn to read" exercise.  To find out what other Crew families thought of the program, click the banner below. You can also follow Reading Kingdom on social media:

Reading Kingdom Review

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