MindPlay Virtual Reading Coaching: Assessment and Support for My Struggling Reader

Like any over-enthusiastic, planning-to-homeschool mom, I started reviewing letters and phonics with my oldest when he was three. He learned them quickly and was “reading” three-letter words just days before his fourth birthday. But even though we continued instruction and practice, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses from there. I wondered …

Maybe reading just isn’t his “thing”.

He can read, but he doesn’t choose to. Is that a bad thing, or just a facet of his personality?

He’s a boy, so it’s not unusual that he’s not as strong a reader as his younger sisters, right?

But recently, we began to wonder if there was something deeper going on.

We knew my son was struggling with reading. We needed some way to assess where the problems were and to support his learning. MindPlay did both!{I was given free access to this product and compensated for my time.
All opinions are my own honest assessment. See disclosure.}

What we really needed was a way to assess exactly where the problems were and then to support those weak areas with direct, regular instruction. I felt a little overwhelmed about adding in another time segment of one-on-one reading instruction when my hands were already pretty full. I was thrilled to find MindPlay Literacy, an online reading and literacy coaching program. I hoped that this format would facilitate consistent, regular practice for him.

Assessment-Driven Reading Education

When my son first logged into the program, he was given a multi-part assessment to determine where his strengths and weaknesses lay.

I was not surprised to find that he struggled with basic phonics sounds and grammar concepts. But we were both encouraged to find that his reading level was not significantly below grade level (he was assessed at a fifth grade reading level as an end-of-sixth-grade student).

We knew my son was struggling with reading. We needed some way to assess where the problems were and to support his learning. MindPlay did both!

We were also encouraged to find that his listening vocabulary was above average for his age. He adores listening to audiobooks and has spent countless hours listening to classic works that would be inaccessible to him if he had needed to read them to himself. It was encouraging to find that this habit, which I believe in my heart to be valuable, really had paid off!

Personalized Coaching Plan

In his initial assessment, MindPlay tested his understanding of 21 phonics concepts. Of those concepts, the program identified six areas where he needed work. His next sessions in phonics began directly to cover these topics.

I was impressed with the variety and quality of activities given to address each phonics concept. For example, as he was working on the phoneme “ck” here are some of the methods MindPlay used to engage him in learning:

The Find Activity

We knew my son was struggling with reading. We needed some way to assess where the problems were and to support his learning. MindPlay did both!

The Virtual Coach says a word and the student chooses that word from among four written options. I was impressed that the word was not only spoken audibly, but a small video window of the Virtual Coach was shown in the top left of the screen so that the student could actually see her say the word, as well as hear it.

When he answered a question incorrectly, the hints that were given were very focused and instructive. In one instance, he chose “hik” as the spelling of the word “hick” The program responded by highlighting the “k,” the Virtual Coach carefully enunciated each sound in the word and then said “spell this sound with two letters”.

The Read Activity

We knew my son was struggling with reading. We needed some way to assess where the problems were and to support his learning. MindPlay did both!

In this instance, one word was shown in print. Below it were three video windows with the Virtual Coach in them. In each window, the Virtual Coach pronounced a different word. The student was to click on the video in which the Coach spoke the word written above. He could click on each video as many times as needed to hear the word they each pronounced.

The words included were a combination of real and “nonsense” words. This was a great approach for my son, because he tends to tell me that he’s just writing what “looks right” instead of actually making use of the phonics concepts he has learned. Nonsense words force him to focus on the sounds and phonemes.

The Spell Activity

We knew my son was struggling with reading. We needed some way to assess where the problems were and to support his learning. MindPlay did both!

In this activity, the Virtual Coach says a word and then the student spells the word. The student can use his keyboard, however, an on-screen keyboard is also available, should the student be accessing this program on a tablet.

The Phonics Activity

This is the “lesson” portion of the phonics session. The Virtual Coach teaches a phonics concept. These lessons often involve pictures, visuals, and even a description of how to make sounds. For example, this is what the virtual coach said when describing the sound of “ck”:

When you say it, scrape the back of your tongue on the back of your mouth. Do not use your voice. We sometimes spell the sound k with a ck.

The Build Activity

We knew my son was struggling with reading. We needed some way to assess where the problems were and to support his learning. MindPlay did both!

This activity is similar to the Spell activity. The Virtual Coach pronounces a word for the student to spell. One unique difference, however, is that the student is given a number of boxes to fill not just with letters, but with phonemes.

In the example above, you can see that the student is given three spaces to fill in order to make the word “tack”. To spell it correctly, he needed to choose to fill the final box with the phoneme “ck” instead of a single “c” or “k”.

On Beyond Phonics

The activities listed above are only a preview of what is available in the Phonics portion of MindPlay. But Mindplay actually assesses and teaches six different areas of reading and literacy skill: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, grammar for meaning, comprehension and fluency.

Of these skill areas, I was surprised to see grammar on the list. But, as the subject heading suggests, the focus is on “grammar for meaning”. This isn’t simply a drill-and-kill grammar memorization approach. Rather, the focus is on helping students to understand the basic structure of a sentence in order to support reading comprehension. This is a unique approach that I haven’t seen before in reading and literacy programs.

Extensive Record Keeping

Even though the MindPlay Virtual Reading Coach automatically designs a lesson progression for students, this doesn’t limit parental access to records and assessments. A variety of different, very thorough reports are available to give parents full information not only about student progress, but even the actual errors that were made in activities.

Here you can see that I can view not only which words my son spelled incorrectly in his phonics activities, but also the actual misspellings he used. You can see that some of the errors occurred during a “Build” activity (where he was responsible to spell the words) and some during a “Find” activity (where he was choosing from four options).

We knew my son was struggling with reading. We needed some way to assess where the problems were and to support his learning. MindPlay did both!

And here’s a peek at the complete list of reports available to me in tracking his progress:

We knew my son was struggling with reading. We needed some way to assess where the problems were and to support his learning. MindPlay did both!

Proven Success

MindPlay has a successful track record of helping students to achieve measurable progress in reading level. You can read more about studies they have conducted to gauge student progress and achievement using their program. In fact, they are so confident of the effectiveness of this program that they expect students to increase a grade level in reading ability after only 20 hours of use.

In order to see this kind of growth and progress, however, they stress the importance of consistent, focused use of the program. They define 20 hours as 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, which should take 8 weeks. We have not had access to MindPlay for that length of time, so I can’t comment on our experience in that matter, but I look forward to seeing the results!

Now It’s Your Turn!

If this all sounds interesting to you, there’s no reason not to give it a try! You can access and use MindPlay for free for seven days. This will give your student plenty of time to complete the assessment and get started on the practice activities!

For more information, you can also find MindPlay on …

  • This sounds like it might be useful to us; thank you for your thorough review!

    I haven’t given my daughter any indication that she is “below grade level,” and wouldn’t want her to get that message. When you got the 5th-grade assessment, was that information shared only with the parent, or with the child, too?

    • Lise, that’s a great question. There isn’t anything within the activities themselves to indicate the grade level at which a child is working. I did notice that in the progress screen, there’s a button at the bottom that says “Reports” and when that is clicked, one of the general reports is available. My son never noticed it was there. But it is accessible from the student view. I suppose it depends on your child as to whether or not she’d be likely to access that. More detailed reports are available from the parent log-in.

  • Thank you; that’s helpful. We’re still early enough in reading that she wouldn’t go there. 🙂