Common Sense Review
Updated February 2013

Smartyants.com

Follow ants through inviting tunnels of literacy and adaptive learning
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Common Sense Rating 4
  • Initial placement test that asks kids to identify letters, then letter sounds, words, and so on.
  • The Activity Board gives kids options to navigate their learning experience.
  • Advanced reading activities include exploring narrative themes, reading chapter books, recording kids reading out loud, and answering comprehension questions.
  • The teacher dashboard offers a wide variety of progress data and teacher support.
  • Example progress report showing specific skills mastered, and how much scaffolding was needed.
Pros
The adaptive learning experience meets kids right at their level, adjusting based on kids' skills, pace, and behavior throughout the experience.
Cons
Though each activity presents a different setting, many follow a fundamentally similar setup -- choose the correct answer from multiple-choice options -- so the play experience may seem slow and repetitive to some.
Bottom Line
Overall, it's a great program for building early literacy skills with useful teacher tools and adaptive activities.
Michelle Warrence-Schreiber
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

Arcade-like games and cute ant characters draw kids in. Each drill has a different setting, but many retain the same basic mode of play. A slow pace could make play tiresome for some.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

Lots of repetition helps drive the learning message home. Lessons are carefully sequenced to follow a natural learning progression. Play adapts to meet kids' individual needs and learning styles, though could be clunky for faster learners.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 5

There are built-in tutorials, guidance, and lots of reinforcing activities. Kids earn rewards as they progress and can read short progress reports. The teacher's guide offers videos and printouts for extending lessons offline.

About our ratings and privacy evaluation.
How Can Teachers Use It?

This data-driven platform lets you track and monitor learning while also giving the freedom to adjust kids' programs as you see fit. Supplementary materials like story printouts, interactive videos, and fun songs help extend learning offline. Teachers will certainly want to supplement with related in-class activities to help give kids context, as well as inspiration for the magic of reading. For instance, you could have kids create their own stories in class using the new skills they've picked up while exploring in Reading World. Or, have your kids review skills, or teach each other new ones, in jigsaw-type learning groups. And since kids can sign in at home, help make the home-school connection by getting parents involved. Back at school, make space to acknowledge kids' accomplishments –- have them print out "The Daily Woof" and share their success with their peers.

It's possible to sign up for a 30-day free trial before committing to a paid subscription. Options are available for home, homeschool, or classroom settings. From the teacher dashboard, you can set up accounts for each student, monitor progress, and adjust students' learning levels if needed. Be sure to take advantage of the variety of tips and supplemental teaching materials that are available on the site.

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What's It Like?

Smarty Ants Reading World is a comprehensive online reading program that uses (Flash) game-based learning to help kids build their literacy muscles to become strong early readers. There are three levels to the program: PreK focuses on word sounds, blending, fluency, prosody, active listening, and comprehension; K-1 adds scaffolded story-building activities; and 2nd Grade includes decoding practice and chapter book reading in fiction and science. As they play, kids choose from among 10 or so games from the Activity Board, then travel to different parts of the Reading World, like the Ant Gym, to exercise their skills. Games are interspersed with mini-lessons, story-building activities, and other support or enrichment lessons.

An initial assessment places kids at the appropriate level to begin their program -- though teachers can override this. Then, data on kids' responses and behaviors in games, as well as throughout the site, are processed through an advanced adaptive system that constantly adjusts the learning material that comes next, as well as how much scaffolding the program provides.

Standout Games:

  • "Climbing Wall" -- Get a literacy workout as you reach for letters, letter sounds, words, and more. Be careful! Don't fall!
  • "Snowboard" -- Navigate a downhill course on a snowboard, jumping ramps to build words.
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Is It Good For Learning?

Smarty Ants' adaptability makes it a great choice for mixed-level classes or a schoolwide program (a version of Smarty Ants for English-language learners, where instruction is given in the student's primary language, is also available). Designed to address the needs of diverse learners-- particularly RTI Tiers 1 and 2 -- it has kids follow a sequence of lessons and activities that adapt as they go. New readers may start off with letter sounds, while more advanced readers might practice word families. Kids get lots of support from the ant "coach" and his friends. Kids can choose their own ant avatar (and a pet dog/sidekick) and read "The Daily Woof" newspaper, all of which provide bite-sized doses of motivation.

While fun overall, the games involve quite a bit of repetition and sometimes introduce explicit skills at a slow pace; for kids who want to move faster, interest may wane. Because of this, the program may be best suited to help beginning or struggling readers. In addition, wait time for loading activities, sometimes-sluggish game controls, and some off-track audio could make some kids impatient. Nevertheless, Smarty Ants offers teachers and students a rich literacy program based on sound educational research.

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