Friday, May 20, 2011

Talking Fingers - Wordy Qwerty - Product Review

I had read good things about Talking Fingers' (originally a subsidiary of California Neuropsychology Services) software, Read, Write, & Type!  -- so when I had the opportunity to review their Wordy Qwerty: Foundations for Reading and Writing Fluency, I was pleased to try it out with DD9, who struggles with reading and writing. Before I elaborate on how things went in our use of it, let me tell you a bit more about the company and the program, the use of which I have received in exchange for my honest opinion expressed here.


According to their website, neuropsychologist Dr. Jeannine Herron developed the program with this rationale:
The Talking Fingers approach is unique and is based on a simple idea: text is speech made visible! We use our mouths to talk, to make the sounds of words. We use our fingers (with a pencil or keyboard) to represent those sounds on paper. When children learn to link speech sounds with letters, they can use the alphabet code to write any word they can say. Their fingers are "talking". This approach is aimed at maximizing the activation of the left side of the brain where skilled reading and writing are processed.

The Read, Write & Type! Learning System (see here for reviews of this product) includes spelling, phonics, keyboarding, and word processing, and is designed for children ages 6-9. Wordy Qwerty was designed as a sequel, geared for children in grades 2 and 3. There is an assumption that the child has a pretty good grasp of keyboarding skills based on their use of Read, Write & Type! (which is a bit problematic if the student does not have this foundation) -- as evidenced by the fact that a voice will chime in and announce, "To type properly, place your fingers . . ." when the student is search-and-pecking. DD9 found this a bit exasperating, so I would strongly recommend using R,W &T first. 


Here's an outline of how the Wordy Qwerty program works:

Wordy Qwerty's  20 lessons are based on games and activities that address the following: spelling rules, word families, "outlaw" words (or words that don't fit the rules), writing (type and spell), and reading (fill in the blank). A full scope and sequence is available for the program, but here is a screen shot of the areas my daughter covered in her month and a half of using the program fairly regularly:

DD9 had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Wordy Qwerty, partially because of her personality, and partially because of the program. Some days she was all fired up to do her work, and kept wanting to do more and more Talking Fingers; other days she would be exasperated and throw up her hands in frustration.   "Pattern" (spelling rules) and "Recycler" (word families) seemed the easiest for her, though I have to say that some of the activities were very hard, in my opinion. For example, students are presented with two words that sound the same phonetically, and they have to decide which one, or if both, are spelled correctly.  Since DD9 had to guess most of the time, I found myself wondering if she was really learning anything in the process. But when I asked her what she liked about the program, that's one of the things she liked! Personally, I think some of the sorting challenges are waaaay too hard -- such as the ones that require the child to sort and spell words like gypsy, genie, and giraffe -- though the program does tell what letters to type if the child is obviously stuck.

Certainly DD9 LOVES the songs that teach the spelling rules! (These are available on CD for die-hard fans!) She plays them repeatedly, and dances with a microphone as she does so :) And I will say that I, the English teacher of old, learned a few things through the songs and games! Sorting long and short vowel sounds revealed some patterns I've never noticed before, and the songs reinforced those patterns with a "cool rule," such as "g says 'g' but not before e, i, or y" and "g says 'j' when followed by e, i, or y."

DD9 says she also liked the balloon pop game in which students have to pop floating balloons with certain words in them -- but I think it moves waaaay too fast for children like her with visual challenges. Some days it would be this game that sent her over the edge in frustration, so while it was enjoyable on one level, it was also very difficult to follow visually.


Most challenging, in my opinion is the "story writing" which requires students to type from dictation. A sentence is read to the child, with the first half appearing in text, and the student must type the rest of the sentence from memory. While I see the value of dictation, and students are offered lots of help along the way, I question the need for such difficult sentences at this level. At our house, it usually resulted in frustration because the student can't move on until the section is complete. However, having said that, DD9 announced one day, "I'm good at this now because I've memorized it!" So -- I guess it worked on some level! :)

Finally, in the "reading" section, students are challenged to read a passage and periodically click on the word that makes the most sense in a blank. Theoretically this is a good assessment of comprehension -- but I found that DD9 was just skipping ahead to the blanks and trying to figure out what should go there by only reading the words that came before the blanks. So, to ensure she was actually reading, I had to sit with her and have her read it aloud to me. This was a bit labour-intensive for both of us, but it worked.

So, will I continue to use Talking Fingers' Wordy Qwerty? Well, it's not something I feel convicted enough about to enforce, but DD9 says, "I want to keep doing Talking Fingers!" -- so I certainly won't deny her the pleasure :)

 A free demo download is available if you'd like to try the program before purchasing, and a school version is also an option.

If you'd like to read other Crew members' opinions of Wordy Qwerty, visit the TOS Review Crew.

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