Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: Wordy Qwerty

Last fall, Schnickelfritz and I reviewed a program called Talking Fingers.  Fritz had a great time "playing" and I was impressed that he learned a skill I hadn't even thought to teach him yet.  When we learned we were going to review the follow up program, Wordy Qwerty, we were both eager with anticipation.  The software is geared towards 7-10 year olds that already have keyboarding skills. 

Find the Pattern:  Qwerty and MIDI  explain that the student will need to type a series of ten words based on the pictures displayed.  After typing the word the student assigns it to the left or right column--one side might contain words where the letter c makes the /s/ sound and the other has c making the /k/ sound.  After all the words are in place the characters describe the pattern that has emerged and define the spelling rule.    If the student makes an error typing the program will give an auditory command which letter to type next and a small graphic will show which finger should be used to strike the key.  If the error comes in assigning the word to a column, there is a short buzz and the student can try again.  Sometimes one column fills up quickly and the student will know that all the remaining words must go under the other column.  Fritz was familiar with most of the spelling rules before this exercise, but I wonder if someone unfamiliar with the words would find the guessing before learning the rule frustrating.

Karaoke: The spelling rule from the first activity is enforced in a song.  You can read the lyrics while you listen.   Fritz has a strong auditory learning style and we've been able to memorize many facts put to music: the books of the Bible, multiplication tables, and parts of speech.  These songs had a more jazzy, funky feel to them and didn't appeal to him at all.  After hearing the song once there is an invitation to replay the music karaoke style--my son't answer was always an emphatic "No!"

The Recycler:  Another word game with two columns, both headed with the ending parts of words that sound identical but are spelled differently ( "ANE" and "AIN" for example). The wheel spins and different word beginnings are put in place.  The student must decide if the left or right  spelling is correct, putting a star by that word and leaving the other in shambles.   Fritz could usually pick one correct spelling but but on rare occasions both were correct (like "VANE" and "VAIN")  and he use usually unfamiliar with one of those words.   After filling the columns a vacuum sucks away the debris and the correct words receive a star (showing you what you may have missed).  Fritz declared this his favorite activity.

Pop-A-Word:  The student hears and sees a four-word sentence.  When the sentence disappears, the individual words that made it up are displayed on colorful balloons for random times and positions across the screen.  You must pop the balloons by clicking on them in the right order.  Be careful though because not all the words are correct.  Some words may be missing their apostrophe ("isnt" instead of "isn't").  Others are homophones for the word you seek ( "there" or "their").  Sometimes the words start with the same letters ("June" or "juice").  Click on the wrong word and you'll hear a buzz, and in the mean time the word you needed has disappeared and you must wait for it to cycle around again.  I credit this game with helping to improve Fritz's  reading by leaps and bounds.  In the past he often just read the beginning of the word and then would guess, often choosing the wrong suffix.  Now he's learned he must read the complete word  (and quickly) to get the best score.  I would have thought this was his favorite activity because it was the only one he'd repeat to try and get a better score, but he didn't like that it was a timed game.

Write Stories:  The screen displays two lines of rhyming text.  While listening to them being read, the student should also study the bottom line for spelling, capital letters and punctuation because it will disappear.  Then the student must type to recreate the second line.  When he's successful a picture will appear illustrating the story.   It is possible to see and hear the sentence again if necessary and the program will prompt which letter to type next if there is an error.

This is where I realized my biggest error.  After completing Talking Fingers for our review last fall, I did not schedule any typing practice for Fritz.  He was much slower and often picked up his hands rather than just moving his fingers to reach for letters.  I guess I just take the muscle memory of typing for granted but he still needs exercises to make this skill automatic.  Wordy Qwerty is not really about typing instruction.  The suggestion on the website is to repeat Talking Fingers but don't allow the student to look at their hands while they type.

Read Stories: The student reads about four screens worth of a short story.  Sporadically throughout the text he will be asked to select one of three words that best completes the sentence.   There isn't any trickery involved or the use of homophones to trick the reader about which word to choose.   A typical choice might be "Jack [jumped/swam/crawled] over the candle stick."   I had Fritz read the stories to me out loud and this is when I could see the Pop-A-Word exercises had really started paying off.

Spelling revisited:  The last activity is to retype the words from the pattern exercise.  This time you will only see the picture and hear the word and its up to you to remember the spelling rule.

The reward at the completion of each level is the opportunity to see a music machine that MIDI is building.   There's a short video showing drums, strings, and pvc pipe being put in place as you listen to drilling and hammering sounds.  Each machine takes three lessons to build and then you can watch it being played after the fourth lesson. 

Wordy Qwerty is available as an online subscription (5 years) or on a CD.  We used the online supscription with our dial up service.  We might have to wait a minute or two for the activity to download but it ran smoothly once that was done.  The subscription is $35 for one user and another 4 seats are available for additional fees.  The CD version is $35 but is NOT compatible with Windows 7.  There is a free demo available on the Talking Fingers website. 

I'd advise sitting with your child and watching them complete the exercises if you truly want to judge their progress.  You can set the number of correct answers for passing a level, but after forcing the student to repeat one level it will allow the student to continue progress even with a failing grade.  The online teacher's report only shows the percent correct for each lesson but doesn't give any details.  There is a more detailed assessment tool available on the CD.

I highly recommend Wordy Qwerty and Talking fingers.  My son sees it as a game, I see it as a painless way to learn  valuable and necessary language arts skills.  You can see what others on the Homeschool Crew think of Wordy Qwerty by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free one-year online subscription to Wordy Qwerty for the purposes of completing this review. 

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