Wednesday, June 8, 2016

MaxScholar (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

I had a science teacher in high school who every day I wished would retire before noon. "Sister Chemistry" had earned her nickname - she was a science genius long before it was cool to be a girl in the STEM field. Unless there was a test the next day, every night's homework was to read and outline the next section of the textbook. At the time, I thought it was a waste of time to outline the book -- I read it, wasn't that enough? Two years later, when I was in college with an apathetic professor, I was grateful for those notebooks. Twenty-some years later, as a teacher, I realize there was a method to what I once called madness.

I'm tempted to think that the founders of MaxScholar were sitting in the back of my chemistry classes. Their program was created to help special needs students (dyslexia, ADHD, general learning issues, etc.) who have Dyslexia, learning disabilities, ADHD, processing problems, and uses the Orton-Gillingham approach and the Lindamood-Bell Process as its base. (Note: MaxScholar's program is not specifically one of these programs; it combines other reading/comprehension techniques with these as well.) There are two individual programs within MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs: MaxPhonics, a phonics-only program for students in Kindergarten through 2nd grade, and MaxGuru, a program that combines reading and writing for students in grades K through 12. Both Jude and Matthew worked with the MaxGuru program.

After taking a placement test, each was assigned to their reading level. When they began working within the program, the process looked like this:

1. Read a passage twice. The first time, clickable highlighted vocabulary words are shown.  The second time, it was plain reading.

2. Highlight important points of the passage.

3. Create an outline based on what you highlighted.

 4. Use that outline to re-write what your read "in your own words."

5. Take a short review quiz.

As a comprehension program, I think it worked fairly well for Jude. Re-reading and highlighting made him focus on the content, outlining helped him put the thoughts together, and then he had enough working knowledge of the idea to re-formulate it in his sentences.

The first three steps were pretty good for Matthew, but his writing was not as great. At first, I thought it was because of an "I just want to be done" attitude, which did not necessarily include thoughts of "I want to do a good job." (He's the kind of kid where I have to specify "a 'short essay' answer is three to five sentences, not a four-word phrase.") However, I also think part of it was because got overwhelmed by the outlining process.

I went to Catholic school for twelve years. Unless it was a consumable workbook and a student was given explicit permission to write in it, you wrote nothing in a textbook except your name. (Well, unless you didn't have a healthy sense of self-preservation and wanted to become good friends with the principal.) Even that high school chemistry outlining got completed by reading the text and parsing the information in my head. When I got to college, I continued to do this, but it got harder and harder (those high school books had nothing on these). My advisor asked me why I wasn't using highlighters with my books and marking the critical information that would help me create good study notes. I looked at her and said, "Because they're textbooks, and you don't write in textbooks!" She gently reminded me that since I paid for them, they were mine to do as I wished and if highlighting helped, then highlight away! She pointed out that if I highlighted what I thought were the main ideas, it would be easier to recall them (the idea of reading and touching/highlighting would involve at least two senses), but I could also highlight the words that made sense to me.

The idea of highlighting "what helps me remember the points" was a huge struggle here. When I highlight, I generally tend to highlight nouns and verbs, skipping over articles, linking verbs, etc. (Note: This passage is from Matthew's history text, not MaxScholar.)

Matthew is still in the "but what if I forget about..." stage and highlights more.

I'm not concerned about the early over-zealousness because it wasn't until someone said to me "Hey, you don't always need to highlight the word 'the,'" and I got more practice that I learned what "keywords for me" were. I think this was a major sticking point for both boys. When highlighting, you were given a specific number of "points" to highlight: one topic, one main idea, and a pre-determined number of details. Each would try to highlight what made sense for him, and it didn't always agree with the program. Jude found what he wanted didn't match -- and was despondent over getting only an 84 on this exercise. Matthew was annoyed that he was constantly going back and un/re-marking things, because either he had leftover points, or he ran out too soon.

Here, Jude highlighted what he felt was important.  He's nearly done marking the text, but still has a third of his alloted marks to go.

Matthew got frustrated by how many times "Seoul" was marked.  The topic of the passage was "Seoul" so he was thinking "I don't need to mark that it's Seoul over and over!"

By the time they got done highlighting, they couldn't remember what they were working on in the first place. It became less "highlight the information I need" and more "highlight the information the program wants me to." They got back on track with the outlining -- that is relatively free-form, and ungraded, so they could arrange that as they wished to help them write their paragraphs. Given the information to work with, Jude did well at writing.  This was a summary of the people who lived in an apartment building.

 This source passage was about a bakery, and asked Jude if he had a favorite bakery.

Despite doing well with reading passages and writing, by Day 5 the boys were both ready to throw in the towel over the highlighting. Honestly, if we hadn't been committed to using this for a bit over a month, we would have quit there. I let Jude stop, but required Matthew to continue.

Matthew liked that there were a wide variety of themes. For his level, the standard MaxReading had three topics: Cool Places, Media, and Technology. MaxBios had a broad range of people from both the past and present and all some of the best people in their categories. (Yes, I will argue that Bob Hope was not just a great comedian to civilians, but deserves recognition for his commitment to the USO.) There was also MaxPlaces, with passages on different cities in the world. Jude's options were the same for MaxBios and MaxPlaces, but level-appropriate. His basic reading choices were: Ethnic Foods, Useful Facts, Travels, Household Chores, and My Neighborhood. There certainly is plenty to work with!

Ultimately, we just couldn't get past the struggle with the outlining. Matthew got to where he'd just highlight whatever to get past the exercise, but then it didn't help him with writing the outline, and in turn, his paragraphs suffered. Jude tried his best, and did what I felt were appropriate attempts, but couldn't get past having so much "wrong" when he was graded. MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs has a brilliant idea, but just couldn't be equaled with the execution.

For more about MaxScholar and their programs, follow them on social media, or click the banner below to read more reviews.







MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs Review

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