When we started this school year, my husband and I agreed that if both of our middle children could learn to read — and that is all they were able to accomplish — we could call this year a success. My nine-year-old has had an especially difficult time with reading. Since our traditional method was not working, we have been pulling out all of the stops with her and trying a variety of methods. One of the things we have discovered is that she needs to study and learn words as pictures instead of sounding words out. This does not mean we have stopped teaching her phonics. But instead of only teaching her phonics we have also started trying various ways to help her capture words on sight. And this multi-pronged approach seems to be working. Thankfully, each time we have reached a plateau with one product, God has provided a new product which seems to begin exactly where we need work. It has been an amazing year. The most recent blessing we have had the joy of working with is Samson’s Classroom.
Samson’s Classroom is an online learning software for young readers. Subscriptions are available for 1 student ($30 per year) or up to 4 students ($50 per year. The material covered is split into three parts. The first part is the Sight Words section. Here students learn and practice reading common sight words (also known as high frequency words). The words are broken down into sets of ten, and each set of ten is presented and practiced five different ways. The first time the student sees each word it is read aloud, spelled out, and used in a sentence for the student. After the words have been presented once, the remaining presentations require varying degrees of interaction from the student until in the last level the word is spoken and the student must spell the word correctly without any help. If even one word is chosen incorrectly during each exercise, the student has to start over. For each four sets of ten (forty words and 20 exercise sets) the student advances in level and earns a new belt color reminiscent of martial arts belts (white to black).
When we started Samson’s Classroom, I was surprised to discover that the sight words were review for my daughter. I went ahead and had her start working through each list, and we found that she enjoyed working at a level that was “easy” for her to complete. However, I quickly realized that the review of these easy words was very good for her. In almost every list, we have come across one or two words that she had learned incorrectly or misunderstood the meaning. I didn’t mention the correlation to martial arts belts and left that for Anna to discover on her own. She was very excited the first time she “earned a belt”, moved up a level and figured out how this award system worked. After that she started keeping track of how many sets she needed to complete to reach her next belt color.
The second part is the Spelling section, and includes games such as the infamous spider chase I have heard so much about. We have not used this section since we were so focused on the other two and Anna is not fast or even competent on the keyboard yet. We are hoping to be able to add this section in soon.
The third and final part is the Reading section. Here short stories are presented for the student to read and comprehension questions are presented for the student to answer. The questions have to be answered correctly before the student can move on. Each session is timed, though I am not sure why. This section had four levels, and again I started Anna at level one. The stories in level one have about four paragraphs and contain one or two more difficult words. I asked Anna to read a new story each day and answer the questions. For the first several weeks, I would sit with her and listen to her read. Then I would read her the questions and answers. Last week I had to be away from home, and she was able to do her work entirely without Grandma’s help. I still prefer to sit with her and listen whenever possible since she tends to guess at the harder words based on context and miss things. In the reading section, the student is allowed to choose which of the stories to read each time and Anna loved having some control over what she had to read. She will sit and read each title and choose with great care and excitement.
Our aim is for Anna to spend about thirty minutes each day using Samson’s classroom. Some days she will zoom through her new sight words list and finish reading a new story in record time. Other days, she will struggle through her sight words list (as they have gotten harder) and spend the entire time in that section.
I have also been using Samson’s Classroom for my six-year-old Caleb. He is a new reader, and none of the material is review for him. We started with the first sight word list and have been taking it very slowly. He is not ready for any of the spelling or reading sections. For Caleb, the repetition of the sight words section has been essential. Because the material is all new, Samson’s Classroom has been frustrating for him. We came to a point where we had to take a break and step back. I am hoping to reintroduce Samson’s Classroom in a few more weeks.
Besides using the online learning and games section of this program, you can also print out worksheets, lesson plans, and award certificates for your students.
My Bottom Line: I like Samson’s Classroom for several reasons. I love the fact that it has a section devoted to high-frequency words and that these words are taught in five different highly-visual ways with repetition. I love the fact that the stories are short but engaging and my daughter gets excited to read them. I love the fact that all directions are read aloud to the student. Basically it comes down to this. Samson’s Classroom has been a highly effective, practical way to get my daughter two things she needs — practice reading sight words and practice reading for comprehension. If we have not completed the material in Samson’s Classroom before our subscription ends we will be renewing our membership.
Disclaimer: I received a Samson’s Classroom Family subscription (up to 4 students) at no cost to me in exchange for an honest review on my blog as part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew. Here you have my honest review.