Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Learning to Write Persuasively {Review}

Rhetoric.  It's not a word one hears often anymore, particularly in a positive light.  However, being trained in classical rhetoric is a rather valuable skill when writing persuasively or in thinking critically when reading. 

What exactly is rhetoric?  Silverdale Press LLC defines it as "skillful and artistic communication that aims to persuade an audience."   Geared toward high school students, Persuasive Writing & Classical Rhetoric: Practicing the Habits of Great Writers, aims to teach the skills necessary to be a proficient persuasive writer through introduction to great writers and rhetoricians of the past.

Persuasive Writing and Classical Rhetoric

The 36-week curriculum is broken into five segments: introduction, invention, arrangement, style, and conclusion.  Each section focuses on a different aspect needed for a well written persuasive essay. 

For the parent, this is pretty much a hands-off curriculum.  They do provide a grading rubric for the essays that are due each week and an answer key to the workbook pages, but it is laid out so that the student can work independently. 

For the student, there are three books: the lesson book, the workbook, and the reader.  In the lesson book, at the beginning of each lesson is listed the learning outcomes, the schedule for the week, and the rhetorician profile.

classical rhetoric

The workbook also includes the schedule for the week along with review questions, exercises, and that weeks writing prompt.  

classical rhetoric

 The reader contains a short essay by whichever writer is being profiled that week, or on rare occasions, directions as to where to find it online.

Classical rhetoric

Raena appreciated that the lessons felt like a conversation the authors were having with their intended audience, as opposed to reading like a textbook.  I agree that the lessons were written and laid out very well.  Personally, I found the lessons quite interesting and as I was skimming through to see how it was laid out often found myself stopping to read an entire lesson that had caught my eye.

The profiles in the lessons also add interest and give some background to the articles in the reader.  Raena appreciated that none of the articles appeared "long-winded."  Most were between 2-8 columns in length, and while not long, some of the articles may require more than one read-through. 

The area Raena struggled with was the 500 word essay that was due each week.  The prompt is intentionally designed to "give students a good deal of leeway in directing their own writing" because they want students to think about and write on their own interests and what is important to them.  Since she is used to a more structured writing curriculum, she felt a little lost and would spend most of her time anguishing over what she thought they wanted her to write as opposed to what she wanted to write.  However, I feel that as she continues to write and gets a better feel for the curriculum that will improve. 

From start to finish, students are learning key elements to writing a persuasive essay.  I found the layout of the lessons progressed nicely from topic to topic and felt that by the end of the lessons a student's skills and knowledge would have increased.  I really liked that the last lessons talk about how to pitch your writing to publishers and that they encourage the students to do so.  After studying in depth the art of writing a persuasive essay, pitching the final essay to a publisher, regardless of outcome, would be an exciting culmination to the class.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Help Build Reading Skills with MaxScholar {A Crew Review}

Olivia has been using MaxScholar to work on her phonics and reading comprehension skills using their Reading Intervention Programs.  Their approach to teaching phonics adds an element of fun to what is normally a rather boring and repetitive subject.

reading intervention

The Set-Up

Both the parent and student have their own MaxScholar login.

When your child first logs in they will take two placement tests to gauge where they should be in the program.  Depending on where they place will determine what aspects of the program they have access to. 

reading intervention

From the parents Dashboard you have access to your child's progress reports.  You can also adjust their level if you feel where they are at is not a good fit.  It also allows you to give or take away access to programs, such as MaxMusic, MaxBios, etc.  From your Dashboard you also have access to all the same programs.  I found this beneficial because it allowed me to preview lessons and explore the programs without interfering with my daughters progress.  My daughter was really interested in MaxMusic, however, through my access I was able to determine that she was not yet ready for the activities in this program.

reading intervention

The Lessons

reading intervention

Olivia spent all of her time in either MaxPhonics or MaxReading.  I did peruse the others just to see what the options were like later, but most of my review and our experience were from these two.  

In MaxPhonics, there are four different levels: Pre-K, Alphabet, Blends and Digraphs.  Olivia was in Alphabet, where one letter sound out of a group of five is learned at a time.  The focus for each letter is on letter identification, phonemic awareness, and phoneme recognition.  These are done through different activities.  For example, one of the activities shows picture tiles and the goal is to pick the pictures that begin with the sound being learned.  There is also a writing and tactile aspect.  This is done by having the child use the mouse to write the letter.  I thought this particular aspect would have been best done on a tablet where your child could use their finger to do the tracing.  It was a bit more difficult with the mouse, although she did manage it.  The program will also say the sound of the target letter and then ask the child to repeat it. This means you will need to sit with them to ensure they are doing it properly, so this part of the program is not one that can be done independently if you are wanting to make sure they are making the correct sounds.  I did really like that they had videos that just showed the person making the sound and the focus was on the mouth.  Olivia still has trouble making certain letter sounds and it was helpful to be able to point out the shape their mouth made or the position of their tongue to her so she could better imitate it to get the correct sound.  

reading intervention

After they have mastered the group of five letters, then there is a blending exercise learning words with those letters and recognizing them. 

MaxReading has different stories that you can pick.  At Olivia's level, the story is based around a picture.  A picture will be shown and then questions surrounding the picture are asked.  The program will read both the question and the possible answers.

reading intervention
reading intervention

For Olivia, this helped me to see where I need to work more closely with her in comprehension.  I also learned that she is a happy clicker and would sometimes get it wrong simply because she was impatient and just started clicking on things, so I tried to sit with her and remind her to listen to everything first.

The Other Programs

In addition to the two aspects we used, there is also MaxWords, MaxMusic, MaxVocab, MaxPlaces, and MaxBios.

MaxWords helps with rules regarding syllables, spellings, roots, etc. 

reading intervention
For example in Clover, each letter in the word Clover stands for a different rule that you learn. 

reading intervention
In MaxMusic, you get to pick from a list of artists and a snippet of one their songs is shown.  Your child is then asked to highlight parts of speech from the lyrics.

reading intervention
In MaxVocab, the focus is on helping to teach the definitions of words learned.

reading intervention

In MaxPlaces you can choose different locations from all over the world.  An article is then presented and instructions given for highlighting different aspects of it.  

reading intervention

MaxBios is similar to MaxPlaces only you are choosing from a list on individuals to learn about.

reading intervention
In both MaxPlaces and MaxBios I was impressed by the selection from which to choose.  It would be really easy to tie these into other areas of study for older children.


I felt that Olivia really benefited from using MaxScholar's phonics program.  She has struggled to put sounds to letters and keep them straight and this has helped her to not only learned the sounds, but to start listening and picking out the sounds at the beginning of words.

If you have older children or children with a learning disability, such as dyslexia, be sure to check out the other reviews by members of the Crew.