A computer program that teaches, evaluates and grades writing? An online writing curricula that teaches and guides students through the writing process, pre-writing and revisions? A hands-off approach to writing that works? My Access! makes these claims.
My Access! is an online writing program that gives your child step-by-step directions and takes them through the process of writing an informative, persuasive or narrative essay. The program has exercises and activities that the student can complete in order to earn points. Points are also earned for essay submissions and revisions. My Access! encourages parents to set point goals and give rewards when the students meet those goals.
My Access! allows parents to add their own assignments for their children in order to make the program compatible with any writing curriculum or program.
The student section has 30 different writing topics available for each of the three different age levels, 8-10, 11-14 and 15-18. The student selects a topic that they wish to write about and are then able to go through activities that aim to teach them the basics about that genre or they may choose to go directly to writing the paper.
The activities introduce and explain introductory, closing and supporting paragraphs, topic sentences, the “hook” and more. The children examine essays that are below proficient as well as some that are proficient in order to help them understand the difference in proficient and below proficient writing.
I found the screen for typing in the outline to be fairly useful. It gives you a section to write your introduction, each of three body paragraphs and a conclusion. The student is able to easily navigate between each of the sections by using a sidebar menu. Each section has a brief synopsis that describes the goal of that section of the outline.
As the student begins to compose their essay, they have several tools available to them. Above the composition area is listed goals, explaining again what each section of the essay should accomplish. There is also a section where children can receive feedback and suggestions on what they have written so far.
When the student submits his essay, My Access! evaluates it and gives it a score on a scale of proficiency, below proficient, proficient or above proficient and gives suggestions to improve the essay through revision.
When students and teachers are satisfied with the final essay, My Access! has a feature that allows the essay to be published in a newspaper format and sent to email addresses of friends and relatives as a fun way to share your child’s writing progress.
What we thought:
I was excited about the possibility of using our current writing program with My Access! and having some help with the evaluation and revision process. Although I was able to add the topic that I wished to assign the My Access! program seemed unable to adjust to the fact that the assignment was supposed to be a one paragraph description. Several of the revision suggestions seemed to be related to a much longer paper. For example one correction was, “Use more transitional words and statements like, ‘then’, ‘first’, ‘second’ and ‘next’.” Perhaps it is just my ignorance of writing, but I saw no need to use these or any other transitional words or phrases in a descriptive paragraph.
After I was unable to coordinate My Access! with our current writing program we decided to simply use it without adjustment. Our kids had a difficult time finding topics that were interesting to them. Assignments such as “write a persuasive paper about celebrity role models” do not appeal and many other topics were difficult for our children to have enough information to write the required length essay. For example, our eleven year old does not have enough information about her hobby (running cross country) to write an in depth five paragraph descriptive essay about it.
The directions in My Access! are basic and not specific to the level or skill of the writer. When an essay is submitted the corrections are also quite general. For example, “Write your sentences correctly. Check for run-on sentences. Separate run-on sentences into two separate sentences.” and “Use proper punctuation marks.” These corrections, but with no indication of where in the essay there might be a run-on sentence or improper use of punctuation. The program gives children an example from another paper of what they should be working toward, but it was difficult for our children to translate the salient points of someone else’s paper into what they should change or improve on their own.
After watching our children wade through more of the activities and exercises, putting below proficient student essays into the proper order (Am I missing something here? Aren’t the three supporting body paragraphs fairly interchangeable? I could not reliably guess the correct order.) and reading the theory behind how their paper would be graded. I decided that I would not require them to work with the program any longer and did the rest of the work and exploration for the review myself.
A comment on the point/reward system. The children are awarded points for each essay they submit and for each revision – no matter how much effort they put (or don’t put as the case may be) into that essay or revision. I wrote three paragraphs of two sentences each for what was supposed to be a five paragraph essay and received all 55 points for submitting an essay. When it came time for the revision, I added one unrelated sentence and was awarded the full 55 points for submitting a revision. If your kids are smart, and I’m sure that they are, they will be able to rack up a huge amount of points without doing any real work. The point system in My Access! has little to no relation to writing improvement or effort.
At several points in the program, there is no option to save the work and come back to it later. Our eleven year old had been working on her outline for over 30 minutes and was becoming frustrated, I thought it would be good to take a break. There was no option for that. She could submit her outline (which she wasn’t ready to do) or lose her current work. We ran into this over and over with the My Access! Program.
I asked a friend of mine, Heather, whose daughter has a passion for writing, if they would be wiling to submit an essay and share feedback. Her daughter received the highest scores in all areas for a well-written and thoughtful story. (You may read the essay she submitted here.) Heather’s feed back was that she didn’t feel that the program is able to effectively teach or instruct the children to help them improve their writing. She was also bothered by the fact that it doesn’t point out specific errors in the story or show exactly why it took off points. My Access! ranks spelling and grammar lowest on the rubric, so a child can receive excellent marks even with several obvious spelling and grammar errors.
I think that a family who has advanced writers may enjoy My Access! as a way to have work graded and critiqued in a general way without dictating the changes that must be made. They may also enjoy some of the publishing features.
You may purchase a years subscription to My Access for up to three children for $99.95.
You may read more of my curriculum reviews on my review page.
This post is included in the Homeschool Curriculum Review Roundup.