Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Vantage Learning's "My Access! Home Edition" Writing Program Review

According to the Vantage website, "MY Access!® Home Edition is an online writing application which fits neatly into any curriculum! Whether you're homeschooling, tutoring students after school, or just trying to help a child improve his or her academic confidence, you'll enjoy the time-saving technologies, valuable self-paced instruction, and motivating feedback in MY Access!®."

Having examined the product, I can attest that those statements are pretty accurate!

 We're still in "summer mode" as the time has come to write this review, but we have taken the opportunity to do a little bit of easing into academics with some My Access! writing assignments. And I have to say, I'm really excited about the fact that my family will have the opportunity to use this on-line program all year! I believe it will give our writing lessons the direction and support we need.

Here are some of the cool features I have observed in my examination of the program:
  • Account set-up is easy, and you are encouraged to use pseudonyms for identity safety and security. As you can tell by my use of a pseudonym and unidentifying labels for my children on my blog, I like that.
  • Parent and Student User Guides give a good overview of how the program works. Personally, I find it easier to just learn by using the program-- but those who need to read before doing will find these guides helpful.
  • The program offers a good list of writing assignments, categorized by age, but it is easy to customize assignments by entering your own writing tasks. For example, before we went on vacation, I entered an assignment asking my students to write about what they looked forward to most about our up-coming trip. Entering the assignment was just like using a word processing program -- very simple.
  • Students can create their own writing tasks by using "topic wheels" that generate creative beginnings, middles, and ends. Students can click on these wheels until the computer has generated a topic that inspires them as a writer.
  • Regular updates about student progress are sent to whatever email addresses are provided to the program. That means both parents -- and even grandparents, if you wish -- can be kept abreast of writing assignments and assessments. I like the fact that my husband can have automatic access to our children's work and progress reports without me having to remember to show him! ;)
  • If desired, student work can be "published" in the form of a newspaper that is sent to the inboxes of people you specify. This is an easy and fun way of creating a finished product that can be shared with interested people.
  • Writing tasks are divided according to different purposes, including narrative, persuasive, and informative.
  • External movitators and timelines can be established. Students earn points by participating in learning activities and achieving writing goals, so parents can establish external rewards to be earned when students accumulate a specified number of points within a pre-determined time frame. For example, DS11 and I decided that if he earned 250 points on My Access! by the end of August, he could get a small Lego set. For reluctant writers, sometimes it takes an external movitator to get the engine revved enough to get somewhere with a difficult task.
  • Writing assignments are accompanied by a "Writer's Course." This I love. Prior to doing any writing, students can learn or review the features of a well-constructed and composed essay. Detailed instructions AND illustrative examples are offered so that the student can get a good grasp of what is expected of them in their own piece of writing. At the end of the course, students are provided with the opportunity to plan their essay by creating an outline, which is then accessible to them at all times while they are writing. As a former high school English teacher, I appreciate the thorough yet concise instruction that is available to students as they undertake their writing assignments in the My Access! program.

  • As you can tell from the screenshot above, numerous resources are at the fingertips -- or cursor tip -- of the writer. Within the frame of the writing window, students may click on any of the following helps: My Tutor, My Editor, My Checklist, My Outline, Writer's Toolbox, and Writer's Course (described above). My Tutor provides revision strategies, challenging the writer to think about specific aspects of their work. My Editor offers specific suggestions for changing the grammar and construction of sentences. My Checklist is a checkable list of criteria for the writer to evaluate their work in the following categories: focus and meaning, content and development, organization, language use and style, grammar and conventions. My Outline reveals the writer's pre-planned essay for easy reference. Writer's Toolbox gives access to the rubric (evaluation criteria), writer's  models, writer's guide, word bank, genre outline, focus checklist, and a word count. Wow! How awesome is that?!?!? A student who is independent and self-directed will be good-to-go with this program; a student who needs lots of support and direction will have everything they need right in front of them and can easily be directed to the appropriate resources.
  • In addition to the writing courses and assignments, students may engage in writing activities designed to build their skills even further. Points are earned by doing these activities, which are geared toward selected proficiency levels, from "below proficient" to "advanced proficient." So there are lots of opportunities to develop skills while enabling the student to achieve those motivational point goals described above.
  • Once a student has submitted an assignment, My Access! evaluates it, then outlines a set of revision goals. Each goal is specific and offers examples to illustrate what should be done. In addition, the program offers activities designed to help the writer better understand the revisions that are necessary. The thoroughness of learning opportunities for students is truly impressive!
  • Vantage Learning hosts a blog and a community forum to provide additional support to parents and students. It's always comforting to know that we are not alone in this teaching endeavour, and that help is available when we need it!
To date, there are few faults that I find with My Access! Home Edition. Both DD12 and DS 11 described the lessons in the Writing Course as "weird" -- I think because they thought the editor character of the "Daily Access News Team" was a bit hokey -- but that's not such a big deal, since they're used to real, alive ME being their teacher!  :) But speaking of me as the teacher -- I confess that I was a little put-off when one of the quizzes suggested I, the English teacher, had given wrong or incomplete answers when I assisted my frustrated daughter!!!! Perhaps it was just a problem with our computer, but some of the quiz pages skipped so that some questions were unknowingly left unanswered, which skewed the results. I suppose further use will determine whether it's a glitch in the program, or a glitch with our computer -- cuz you know it ain't me! ;)

I can't say that my non-lovers-of-learning-directed-writing children are excited about using the program this year, but as a busy homeschooling mom, I am genuinely excited about how My Access! will assist our family. If we are consistent in using it, I am confident that my children will learn lots and develop skill and confidence in their writing through the use of this innovative program.


My Access! Home Edition supports 6 students at a cost of $99.95 for a year's use.

Visit the Vantage Online Store for other products.

Note: I received this product for free in return for an honest review. I have not received financial reimbursement for my review of My Access! Home Edition.


  1. I wish I could have reviewed this product! My daughter would have loved it! Great review! Oh, and I'm following now!

  2. Thank you, One Mom! I feel blessed to have the opportunity to use it:) And thanks for following -- be sure to comment on my 100th post to have an opportunity to win a book :)

  3. Very informative review. I too am thrilled that we get to use this program for the whole year.

  4. Your review was very good - highlighting the many positive aspects of the program. I reviewed the program as well for TOS and am trying to work my way through the reviews to see what other reviewers thought about My Access.

    This is the first time I've visited your blog - nice to meet you!

    Samantha from To Be Busy at Home

  5. Thank you for stopping by, Tess and Samantha -- I enjoyed visiting your blogs as well :)


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