Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Access Home Edition -- Because Writing Matters




 


Many homeschool parents struggle with how to teach writing skills to their children.  Perhaps they aren't sure how to break the writing process down for the children, or they find it difficult to grade such a subjective assignment.  Thankfully, there are many curriculum options available to help parents.

One of those options is Vantage Learning's My Access: Home Edition online writing course.    We were given a free subscription to My Access' Home Edition online course in order to write this review.  Although I signed up my oldest four children, I didn't end up using it with all four of them.  My 7th and 9th grade daughters have been using it, but I have not started the 3rd and 5th grade students on it yet.  That is partly because of the difficulty of balancing online time with one computer and 4 children.  I chose to test it out with my oldest two, because improving their writing was one of my primary goals for them this year.

My Access has interactive lessons about writing, as well as actual writing assignments for students to work through.  The writing assignments include informative, persuasive, and narrative essays on a variety of topics.   The My Topics option allows you to assign writing assignments that coordinate with your other curricula:  history, science, literature, etc.  Once a child begins a writing assignment, they are walked through the steps of pre-writing, drafting, revising, and finishing their writing project.

I began this school year knowing I needed to help my 7th grader and 9th grader improve their writing skills, and become more comfortable with the writing process.  Writing has not been a strong focus of our homeschool thus far.  With high school looming and college entrance exams imminent, I knew we had some catch-up work to do.  I was thrilled to receive this subscription to My Access, because it seemed like the perfect solution to allow my daughters to become comfortable with the writing process. 

One of my daughters seemed to suffer from performance anxiety, often stalling in the early stages of the writing process, taking forever to complete assignments,  and producing work that I felt was below her ability.  Her perfectionist tendencies were causing her to perform poorly.   Writing is an important communication skill.  I want my children to be able to express themselves clearly, so helping her overcome this problem is important to me.

My Access is helping her to get through the early steps of writing, and having her work graded by a third party is helping, as well.  She wants to see her work improve, and she works to reach the goals set for her.   It is frustrating when she is graded below her proficiency level because the character in the book report she has written has a name the spell-check can't recognize, but otherwise it is proving to be a valuable resource for her.   Writing for an aritificial intelligence program first, with the ability to edit before it is read by any people, has helped her overcome some of the performance anxiety.

I usually prefer curriculum that is not computer based.  It's easier to have each child working in their own books than to try to have them share the computer for a subject.   But I think My Access is a great way to help students begin writing, or bring low proficiency students UP to an average or advanced proficiency level.  While it is designed to work for students in 2nd through 12th grade, I think it works best for upper elementary and junior high students.  Although it can likely teach writing adequately for 10-12th grade students, I feel that  the artificial intelligence software is somewhat limiting for upper-level high school writing.

PROS

  • Self-taught

  • Self-paced

  • Teaches the writing process

  • Walks the student through the writing process step-by-step

  • Edits writing, pointing out grammatical and spelling errors

  • Children can earn points and reach goals set by the parents

  • Parents can choose age-appropriate assignments for the student from a pre-set list

  • Parents can create their own writing assignments

  • Finished writing is graded as Proficient, Below Proficient, or Advanced Proficient in multiple areas

  • Progress report emailed to parents

  • Can choose frequency of project reports

  • Online learning can motivate students

  • Students practice their keyboarding and computer skills as they write

  • No hand-writing necessary, unless you choose to pre-write on paper first

  • Immediate Feedback and Grading

  • Helpful Student User Guide and Parent User Guide

  • Print finished assignments for Student Portfolio

  • Print progress reports for record keeping (graph prints in IE but not Firefox)

  • Subscription prices include up to 3 or 6 students

  • Completely web-based curriculum can be accessed anywhere, without specific software

  • Can publish their writing by sending it to family, friends, or teachers via email



CONS

  • Some children may wander away from My Access to the internet during school time

  • Sometimes the grammar check or spell check marks things wrong, when they aren't

  • Artificial Intelligence doesn't allow for variations of the norm

  • Can be limiting for advanced writers

  • Very rule-based

  • May be difficult for those with low-speed internet connections

  • Can be expensive for smaller families

  • Not re-usable -- an online subscription is a consumable product

  • Computer or internet problems can delay access to the website



What's the ElCloud Opinion?
My daughters have enjoyed their My Access subscription.  They've requested that I add more topics that relate to their studies, and they've reminded me when I need to set a new goal and award for them. 

We initially were frustrated with learning the system, and confused about when the points would be awarded.  We also were uncertain how to access the pre-writing once we had moved on to the first step of writing.  We sent an email to the technical support, and received a quick reply to both of our problems.  After that, the writing process went much better.  There were a few days when My Access was having problems and we could not access the website, but that will occasionally happen with any on-line curriculum.

Overall, we like My Access.  As I stated earlier, I feel that artificial intelligence can only take a child so far.  For upper-level writing, I prefer having a human give instruction, input, and grading.   A human can guide a student through different stylistic issues better than a computer can.  I'm sure it can provide an adequate writing education for the upper levels, but I'm not confident it can provide excellent writing instruction for older students. 

Would I buy it myself?
I'd have to answer with a qualified yes.  I would, IF we had the available money in our budget, and IF I felt I wasn't going to be able to focus on their writing adequately myself.  If my daughter continues to struggle with the writing process, then it would be worthwhile just to see her improve.

You can learn more about My Access at their website -- viewing a demo video, and reading about subscription benefits.  You can also buy a subscription:  $99.95 for up to 3 students, or $129.95 for up to 6 students. 

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, we received a one year subscription to My Access from Vantage Learning.  We did not receive any other compensation for our review.  Click the TOS Homeschool Crew banner at the top to read more reviews on this product by other Homeschool Crew members.

Trusting in Him,
April

1 comment:

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