Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Review: Homeschool Spanish Academy

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Last summer, Thomas (a rising 6th grader at the time) was able to review Homeschool Spanish Academy.  Although it wasn't a great fit for him, I really wanted to get Connor going on it for high school.  Then Connor had a chance to take a Koine Greek course, so he didn't do Spanish last year.

This year?  About a month ago, Connor started taking the High School Program at Homeschool Spanish Academy, and we simply love it.

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So how does this work?  The program is set up with a 4-year high school curriculum that you work through one-on-one by Skyping with a qualified teacher in Guatemala.  The teachers go through pretty rigorous training so they are able to teach their native language.  In addition to the high school level, they also teach students as young as 5, and recently they added programs for adults.

Before the actual lessons begin, you do a quick "practice" Skype call with a tech guy to be sure your equipment is working and that you know how to do everything.  That means your lesson time isn't used to address technical issues.  Or at least, it minimizes how often that happens.

On a practical level, once you have signed up for classes, you are able to log in and schedule your student to meet with a teacher at a specific time.  You can go ahead and schedule every Thursday at 4:00 with Rosa, or you can change up the times and days, depending on your schedule.  You can also change teachers -- they take extensive notes about each class session, and whichever teacher your student has next week will read through the notes before class.  And if you do something like schedule classes for Wednesday afternoons, and then you realize that starting in September Wednesdays will not work, you can cancel the class and reschedule it.  They ask for cancellations to happen 24 (or 48?  I've seen both) hours in advance, which is totally fair.

Connor had his sessions with Rosa throughout our 1/2 semester program, which is 7 weeks.  When we go on to purchase another semester, he is wanting to try out some of the other teachers too.  He liked Rosa at that first session, and it was most comfortable to stick with her to start with.  At this point, he is interested in hearing some different accents and seeing some slightly different approaches.

So what do you need to do this?  High speed internet is required.  It doesn't have to be super-fast, and you can check to see if you meet the requirements listed.  (Our speeds aren't fabulous, so I made it a rule that nobody else is allowed to be doing any bandwidth-intensive activities during Spanish class.)  You'll need to have a microphone so your student can talk to the instructor.  A webcam is definitely a good thing, so the instructor can see and better interact with your student.  A headset is great to have as well, though I don't think it is strictly required.  You don't want every noise in your household to get picked up on this, and unless your kids are quieter than mine, well...  it can be quite distracting.  

But how do the classes actually work?  Connor gets Skype open 10-15 minutes before his class is scheduled.  Once Rosa "calls" him, he answers the call, and they get started.  The class is 50 minutes long (at the high school level), and with the one-on-one, they get a lot accomplished in those 50 minutes.  There is a set curriculum, and they go over last week's material, take a quiz (every 2-3 lessons) or exam (every 4-5 lessons) if that is scheduled, and start chatting about new material.

The instructor puts the material up on the screen so Connor can see it, and mostly they "just talk."  In Spanish.  Rosa will quickly switch to English if Connor isn't grasping something, and for some of the little chit-chat get-to-know-you types of things.  There, a lot of the time, she'll ask a question in Spanish, then repeat it in English.  Connor will answer in English, and she'll tell him how to say that in Spanish, which he will repeat.  New words are typed in as well, so he can see the word, not just hear it.

Going through the lesson part of things, they repeat the material as much as necessary, and move quickly when he gets something easily, and move more slowly when he needs a bit more time.  In the five classes Connor has had so far, they have covered Lessons 1-6 (out of 14 lessons for Spanish 1A):
  • The Alphabet
  • Greetings and Goodbyes
  • The Class (words like "teacher," phrases like "please listen")
  • Pronouns and names
  • The verb "Ser," Origin and Nationality
  • The verb "Ser," Descriptive Adjectives and Colors
After class is over, the instructor will send homework.  I get that email, Connor gets that email, and it is available in your account on the Homeschool Spanish Academy website.

We did have a few hiccups with getting the homework submitted, so that was a bit frustrating early in the process.  And I have a hard time convincing Connor that he really needs to submit the homework before his next class day. I'm sure that frustrates his teacher.

Here is a shot of part of the homework that is due tomorrow:

In the top part, Parte A, they are to describe the characters.  In Parte B, they are to change the adjectives from masculine to feminine and to make them plural.

What did Connor think?  He loves his class time and feels like he is learning a lot.  He has tried to learn Spanish with some other programs before, so a bit of this is familiar to him.  But he feels that he is making real progress, and actually able to come up with things to say on his own, with this one-on-one instruction.

His only frustrations have been with the homework. The first assignment included a section where he was to match the picture to the sentence, only some of those pictures were really tough to figure out.  The two of us sat down with the English translations of the Spanish sentences and tried to figure out which picture meant what.  That took a significant amount of time, and I suspect we guessed wrong on some of them.  After that first homework assignment, though, he hasn't encountered anything that frustrating again.  There are a lot of pictures used (like in the example above) but for the most part, it is straight-forward to figure out what is going on, especially now that he has more words to work with.

Submitting homework took him awhile to get too.  The trick, basically, was to point out the little "print to pdf" checkbox... so he completes the homework, prints it to a pdf file, and submits that. 

What do I think?  The short answer is that we're buying a semester of lessons, to start in October, after we get back from my brother's wedding.  At $169.99 for a 15-week semester of once-per-week classes, this is a chunk of change.  But that is just over $11 per class, which is far less than one-on-one tutoring would be, and we don't have to drive anywhere, or buy anything.  And in his last two years of high school, he ought to be able to earn at least two Spanish credits.

I would like to have some sort of "progress report" but maybe that is there and I just haven't found it yet.  An idea as to what I can do to help him move along, or an idea as to how he did on the quiz or exam -- either would be nice. 

I highly recommend the program.

To see what other Crew members though about the Early, Middle School, High School and even the Adult programs, click the banner:


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