Friday, October 30, 2009
TOS Review: My Access
I'm a writer. My husband is also a writer. It's what we do. So it's really no surprise at all that my kids have all shown an inclination towards writing as one of their creative outlets.
I've never taken a very hard and fast approach to teaching my kids how to write. We've written stories together, played with words, composed ditties, penned poetry. Really, it's been a "whatever, whenever" kind of approach. And the kids have excelled. I can say this without too much bias because I've done my fair share of teaching in writing camps, hosting writing groups, doing roundtables and the like for kids from teens to kindergarten. When you hold my not-so-structured approach to learning to write alongside the ore traditional, methodical approach, you come out pretty close. O.k., maybe there's a little more creativity that comes out in the kids who've never been told they can't write something. But I'm biased. There. I've admitted it.
Where my instruction falls short, though, is in the formal process of writing essays. It's true: there's a way to do it. You have to learn it. You have to have a game plan, put the bits into place, and then slog them out. There's no short-cut. And really, there's not that much in the way of creativity in the whole thing. Big bummer when most of your writing is fun.
One other drawback? Well, imagine that you're Jo. You're 12 years old, and you're working on your 4-H essay on the assigned topic of vent disease in rabbits (do not google that--is it too gross and I won't be held responsible for what you see!). You write and you write and you write and you write. Then you ask your dad--a former prize-winning investigative journalist-- to read it over. He spends three hours dissecting the thing with you, and uses terms like "ad hominem fallacy" and "literary device" and "live sources" before handing it back and telling you what a great job you've done.
It's daunting, in other words. Really, really daunting.
Which leads me to My Access ....
It's just what we needed.
Seriously! We are a family or writers. And we've got the fiction thing down. But the rest of it? We could use a little release of pressure, guys!
My Access is perfectly customizable, perfectly adaptable, and perfectly priced--just under $100 for three children for an entire year. I'm not exaggerating here, either--writing is assigned and assessed for ages 8-18. And you get 12 months of writing instruction. In the world of homeschool curriculum, $33 for one child's writing tools for a year is quite a steal.
I've used My Access for free with all of my kids. Logan is slightly under the age (he's still 7) but has nonetheless enjoyed the comprehension and pre-writing instruction activities included in his age group. Atticus loves the fact that it's web-based and has step-by-step instructions. And Jo admires the freedom that her level allows; she can pick topics (that I've pre-approved) from her list and work at her own pace. All three kids have liked the fact that their work is scored by an unbiased, nonjudgmental third-party that never, ever sounds personal in the editing process.
Which is, frankly, my favorite part as well. The outside support and grading has been a huge help in our family. Having My Access tell Jo that she didn't quite connect the dots in her persuasive essay on banning exotic animals as pets is a whole lot easier than me doing the same and then having to offer a hug of condolence. With this program, I get to dish out the hugs, without the kids feeling like they're being held to the standards of a professional writer.
They're just being held to standards. Period. And, from what I've seen, fairly stiff standards as well.
This program clearly isn't for everyone. Struggling writers who aren't motivated in the first place may have a difficult time connecting with a computer screen when it comes time to hash out the details of a project. Children easily distracted by busy screens may find the writing screen, in particular, difficult to focus on as they wade through a montage of buttons designed to offer as much help as possible. And I don't see a discount anywhere for people only enrolling 1 child; I could be wrong, but it looks like that $99.95 holds true for up to three kids. Clearly, that's not as big of a deal as it is when maxing out the enrollment per subscription.
For clear, concise instruction, hassle-free, non subjective grading, and comprehensive support, you can't beat My Access. It's a high quality product.