Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Essential Skills Advantage-a review

In this house, there are two early readers who need to practice reading skills so I was delighted to have the opportunity to review Essential Skills Advantage.
Essential Skills Advantage Review
Essential Skills Advantage is an on-line reading curriculum
Essential Skills Advantage Review
for children from year one to year seven (K to 6 for those in the US).
Basic requirements are a computer with internet access, Java script enabled and flash player 10 or higher. Speakers need to be on and turned up. At present, it is not possible to use iPad or android tablets.
To access the programme, I was sent a user name and password both for myself and each of the children using Essential Skills Advantage (ESA). There was also a quick access student URL so that they could access the site quickly and not via the parent portal. 

Once on the site there are a range of choices divided into 
  • Complete reading for grades K to 3 (equivalent to years 1 to 4).
  • Fun with Spelling 1-3
  • Reading comprehension 4-6
  • Vocabulary builder 4-6
  • Spell Master grades 4-6
  • Grammar grades 3-5
  • Spelling stumpers 1-5 and 5-9

My children concentrated on Complete Reading for grade 1 (Youngest Son) and Complete Reading for Grade 2 (Younger Daughter). The Complete Reading sections come with an Activity guide for parents. The Complete Reading starts with practice on phonics. This work is around games, for example in grade 1 there is a section about the short vowel sounds with 84 games.

There are also sections for long vowel sounds, blends
 and digraphs. There are three other major sections in Complete Reading
  • sight words
  • grammar
  • reading
The sections are not of equal length. The grammar section for grade one is short and around capitalisation, ending sentences and commas in dates and lists. Younger Daughter did some work on capitalisation in the grammar section for grade 2. 
 The reading section has 75 short stories with questions. 

The parent portal has a "My students" section where marks can be seen as well as the date and time the activity was completed.

What did we think?
Youngest Son was enthusiastic about ESA. He enjoyed the activities and only needed minor help. We both struggled with accent when mat and man sounded similar but this was an isolated occurrence. It also took us both a while to understand the game Word Families. Were we meant to click on all the letters or just the first letter? 
Younger Daughter has reached the phase where she has had so much phonics practice that it is difficult to be full of enthusiasm. However, she was able to work on the grade two section independently.  
I found the programme easy to use. There is background noise of birds' tweeting which I found rather irritating. It wasn't really possible to turn this off as the sound is needed for the activities. Apart from this, it was useful for the children to re-enforce their skills. The programme is large and seems complete in terms of being able to practice many aspects of reading but it is for practice not initial teaching. That was fine for me and I like the idea of having something that can provide re-enforcement. 

I reviewed Premium Membership. This costs $9.99 ( at present about £6.03) per student per month. However, ESA are giving a generous discount of 50% to readers who subscribe until 1st October. To obtain the discount use the code TOS50. The 50% discount applies as long as anyone using this code remains a member.
Free membership is also available. This is sponsored so there are adverts visible and does not have the full range of features. In particular, it doesn't have individual child log in or the features which allow parents to track progress. To see a chart with the differences between the two types of membership, please go to this page.

 ESA is a large programme which provides helpful reading practice: recommended.

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