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Monday, March 7, 2016

Here To Help Learning (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)



If there's one thing my son hate more than anything, it's writing.   Simply asking him to write a sentence with 6 words in it elicits a response equal to if I had asked him to give up ice cream for an entire year.  Simply put, writing is NOT a fun subject in our house yet so many subjects require it.  Because of this reason, after watching the introduction video for Here to Help Learning, I figured this would be a great review for us to be on in the hopes that maybe he would come to enjoy writing.  (Miracles do happen, you know!)   For the purpose of this review, I received a one year membership to the Here to Help Learning website.  While there are various options, this review will concentrate on Flight 1 Paragraph Writing.

About Here to Help Learning:

Mrs Mora - Your Writing Guide
Here to Help Learning is a website for a video based writing
program for grades 1-6, hosted by Beth Mora (Mrs Mora) and her trusty pooch, Captain Knucklehead.  Using short segments of video that are engaging to students along with scripted worksheets for parents/teachers to follow, Here To Help Learning creates a systemic writing program to help teach students work through the building blocks of paragraph writing and then on to writing a 5 paragraph essay. Paragraph and Essay writing are both broken into three 32 week "Flights".   Flights 1, 2 and 3 for Paragraph Writing is aimed at grades 1-3 while Flights 1, 2 and 3 of Essey Writing are for grades 4-6. Membership includes access to all 6 "Flights" and can be used with multiple children in the same family.

Weekly lessons are divided up to 2 days a week with quick "writing warmups", interactive games, interesting video scenarios, and also a reward system to help students have a positive outlook on writing.

Also included with membership are literature lessons (currently focusing on the novel "Island of the Blue Dolphins"), resources about writing, a members forum, and events such as writing contests sponsored by the website.


Review:

Since Garrett is what one could call "reluctant writers", I decided to start at the very beginning with Flight 1 Paragraph Writing.  I went into this review with a very open mind but honestly, I knew that it would take something very special to get Garrett to write anything on his own.

As you can see from the above video, your host, Mrs Mora, is a complete cheese, hamming it up for the students in each video, all in the name of learning.  My kids LOVE her (yes, I meant to emphasize love).   Mrs Mora is completely engaging and relatable to my kids and they really have come to look forward to seeing the quick videos.   Mrs Mora has a very positive attitude that rubbed off quickly onto my kids and really helped to set the mood for what we were about to work on.  If they love Mrs Mora, well, they simply adore Knucklehead.  Rather than calling this program "Here to Help Learning" or even "writing class", my kids refer to this part of their day as "Doing Knucklehead".   Together, Mrs Mora and Knucklehead are the perfect combination, at least for my kids.

Twice a week, my kids and I sit down together with the video instructions and begin working on the flight work for the week we are on.   Some weeks we were playing a game called "Sentence - No Sentence" (which one more than one occasion I have caught the kids playing on their own outside of our school hours). another week we were working on brainstorming our writing assignment.   A couple of weeks, we actually worked on the same week twice in a row rather than moving on to the next week, which allowed the kids both extra time to work on the previous assignment.  This worked really well for us, especially for Garrett, as he did not feel rushed and knew that if he didn't finish the assignment, he would have more time later.  While writing normally results in a major emotional breakdown for poor Garrett, the combination of the slower pace and Mrs Mora/Knucklehead actually proved to be a positive experience for him.

Garrett's first assignment - Week 1.  No structure or full thoughts written. 
Week 3 - He's writing his own sentences.  "Play dog is skateboarding. He is white. He has big floppy ears"...   PROGRESS!
I really like that while the flights are broken down into the weekly lessons, I don't feel bad for extending them out for a 2nd week as needed, as the program states you can modify it as needed to your student.  Whether it's getting them to just copy what you dictate to them or they are actually writing their own ideas,  it's okay, so long as they are learning the building blocks of the hows and why of paragraph and essay writing.  I have noticed that as Garrett's confidence in his writing grows, we have gone from him writing words in no particular order, to him writing what I dictate, to him asking me how to write what he wants to say, all after only a few weeks of lessons.

Week 1 of Making a list. 
The one thing we've really taken some extra time on is the actual writing assignment.  We are still working on the first assignment entitled "All By Myself" which requires kids to brainstorm and then write about something that they once had to have help doing but have now learned how to do it on their own.  Garrett has decided he wanted to write about the fact that he can take care of his own personal hygiene, such as taking a bath, brushing his teeth and going to be bathroom by himself.    Here to Help Learning provides a very simple but specific process in how they teach paragraph writing which includes steps such as brainstorming, making a list, webbing (organizing the information), ect.  We are currently on the webbing step of our current writing assignment as we spent a bit of extra time on both brainstorming and making a list since we were working at Garrett's pace.    While it took Garrett a bit of extra time, he now has a full list of those things he wishes to write about and is ready to start the next step to organize so that he can writing his first paragraph, which for Garrett, is an AMAZING accomplishment.  Mrs Mora was able to help me (as parent involvement is VERY important with Here to Help Learning) to help him progress to this step and for him, this is a major achievement.

Overall, I am very happy with Here to Help Learning and I can see us using this, at least for the next few years, as our primary writing curriculum.  The kids love it and it seems to work perfectly for the learning method that relates best to Garrett when it comes to writing.


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