Monday, October 11, 2010

Read, Write and Type - TOS Review

Talking Fingers' Read, Write and Type learning system is computer software for children ages 6-9 that teaches reading (phonics), writing (spelling) and typing (keyboarding skills) in one combined program.  The program is research-based and classroom tested, showing "significant reading improvement" in the 10 years of testing in elementary school classrooms.

The program introduces children to keyboarding skills using two animated hands, Rightway and Lefty.  The animated villian, Vexor, steals the letters, also known as the "storytellers" to keep them from writing down their stories.  The child's goal is to foil Vexor as they play the different games, eventually going through the programs 40 different levels.  Read, Write and Type claims that the child will not move onto new levels until they've demonstrated mastery of each one, yet it does not ever tell the child "you've failed" - the child simply keeps on playing until they finish the level.

The program also provides feedback for parents, showing progress charts to help identify the child's strengths and weaknesses.

Read, Write and Type is available for $35 for one student, or additional licenses can be purchased for more students, in a variety of configurations.  You can choose to use the program online (which is what we did), or purchase a CD home edition, which comes with additional products, like a laminated keyboard, stickers and an activity book.

What we thought:  I made the mistake of being the first one to try out the program when all my children were in the room.  My first thought was that this program, even though it's technically geared for 6-9 year olds, would be a good fit for my 10 year old son, who loves computer learning, and could desperately use some computer skills.  Well, as I started up the program, as soon as the sound came on, all the kids gathered around to see what I was doing.  Oldest child said "That's kind of dumb." (Okay, I'll be blunt here - I thought so too!)  As soon as the words were out, I knew there was no way my 10 year old would go near it.

I instead set up the program for my 7 year old (barely a beginning reader at this point) daughter, Kaitlyn.  After all, the point is to learn to READ, write and type, and right now I'm much more concerned with the reading aspect of her education than the writing or typing.  She tried out the program once, but balked every time after that when I asked her to do a lesson.  "It's booooriiiing." She'd say.  I was really surprised.  Most of my kids will watch a 40 minute video showing water going from ice-cold to simmering, just to be able to have computer time - they don't even need sound!  For her to forgo computer time, DURING THE SCHOOL WEEK, is unheard of.  I sat down with her and tried it out, and she reluctantly went through the program, but not without quite a bit of pouting.  At first, I thought that maybe my oldest child's remark about the program being dumb had also turned her against it.  But after only a few minutes, I quickly realized that she had somehow, in her first time playing, gotten herself to a level that was above her skills.

There were a few problems.  First, once the child goes through the initial start-up, there is very little direction.  She wasn't quite sure where she was supposed to go, or what she was supposed to do.  I had to help her start randomly clicking areas of the screen to even find an activity to work on.  No wonder she was bored!   Second, I was startled, and disappointed, to see that unless the child types the WRONG letter for some of the games, the "Helping Hands" do NOT show the correct hand position at all.  Unless I sat right there next to her showing her where and how to place her hands, and which fingers to use for which keys, she would only hunt and peck with her index fingers.  Third, I don't agree with the fingering they DO use, when they use it.  Mavis Beacon taught me, and the fingering for keyboarding that she teaches is fairly standard.  RWT was having the child use, for instance, the INDEX finger to type a "C", even though correct hand position has the middle finger very naturally "fallling" down to hit the "C" key.  Finally, despite the RWT materials saying that the child cannot progress beyond what he/she has mastered, Kaitlyn did manage to get way beyond what she knew, in both reading and typing.

This could be a good program for younger kids, especially those who enjoy a lot of silly in their learning.  It was not a good fit for us.  Partially because I like the computer only when it can teach something that I am unable to do myself; it seems pointless to put a child on the computer only to have to sit next to them and supervise the whole time to make sure they're learning what the program is supposed to teach.  And partially because even at 7, Kaitlyn found the entire storyline of RWT to be silly and boring (and not just because she was already ahead of what she could easily do well).

Want to hear what other TOS Crew Members had to say about Read, Write and Type?  Check out more reviews here.


Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary subscription to Talking Fingers' Read, Write and Type online program in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

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