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Digital lessons with promise

Graphics, animation and sound effects are making learning fun and motivating pupils. Fiona Keating reports on a new ILS scheme

Longman claims it is redefining integrated learning systems with Tomorrow's Promise, its multimedia lesson scheme designed to develop the core numeracy and literacy skills.

"We are very strongly presenting Tomorrow's Promise as a step forward in integrated learning systems technology," says Gerry Daish, sales and marketing director at Longman. "It's important to shake off some of the negative connotations of ILS. We've been critics of ILS in the past, but when we saw this material, we feel it has moved on far enough to become a seminal educational tool."

Developed to improve learning in primary, secondary and special needs schools, it incorporates a pupil assessment system and management package to lighten the administrative tasks faced by teachers.

Tomorrow's Promise is an American product that is being "localised" by Longman for British schools. Maths 1 (for reception and Year 1) and Spelling 1 (for reception, Year 1 and part of Year 2) will be available from September and the rest of the lessons should be ready by late 1999.

Perhaps its most notable feature is the multimedia element, which includes graphics, animation and sound to motivate pupils working through the maths scheme. The aim is to improve cognitive skills required for tackling mental arithmetic, algebra, problem-solving, spacial concepts, shapes and measurements.

There are nine levels in numeracy and literacy, with more than 1,000 activities. Lessons include explanations and practice sessions for learning basic number skills and data handling. Developed to support classroom activities, it allows teachers to either work within the sequences provided or to arrange them to support an existing curriculum.

The maths is divided into units ad-dressing key concepts. Each is then split into lessons containing three activities. These include Let's Explore, which introduces and develops concepts; Let's Practice, which through a series of questions guides the student towards practical applications of the concepts; and Check-Up, questions designed to verify that the concepts have been understood.

In levels 4 to 8, each lesson comprises activities under the headings Diagnostic, which assesses the student's knowledge of a mathematical concept, Instructional Lesson, which introduces and develops a concept, and Independent Practice, a test used to determine each pupil's understanding of the concept, which the teacher can review.

Compass Curriculum Manager is a tool that records each student's progress and can be used by teachers to devise learning paths for pupils. Learning sequences can be aligned to national guidelines and standards, to support the school syllabus and specific schemes of mathematics, to complement textbooks and other print-based resources, as well as to support an individual educational plan for pupils with special educational needs.

A national curriculum assessment test facility assesses each student's level of achievement and identifies strengths and weaknesses. The system can prescribe activities for individuals to work on their problem areas and set high achievers more demanding work.

Supplementary learning materials for students at key stage 3 are provided by Compass Worldware, a resource which allows students to access the Internet and teachers to create a structured path through the Internet.

The literacy scheme covers important elements such as grammar, punctuation and spelling, so could be a useful resource for schools gearing up for the national literacy hour.

Elements of Tomorrow's Promise are already being tested in more than 40 schools in this country. At Speedwell School in Bristol, the deputy headteacher Chris Williams says: "We have identified numeracy and literacy to raise achievement and needed a programme that could help us establish our own baseline assessments."

The school plans to set up a literacy test with one group of children using Tomorrow's Promise and another set who will not have access to the system. Both groups will be monitored to assess any differences in progress.

Chris Williams says that Tomorrow's Promise was chosen for its flexibility, which allowed him to adapt and integrate the programme into the school's particular schemes of work. Children are not only using the system at lunch breaks and after school but can also look forward to online interactivity.

"Our vision for the future would ultimately be to have children logging on via the Internet from their homes to use Tomorrow's Promise."

Tight budgets usually restrict the amount schools can spend on information and communication technology. Tomorrow's Promise for 10 computers would cost around Pounds 12,000, although there is a stand-alone option. "We offer schools tailored solutions which they can afford," insists Gerry Daish. "It's not cheap but it is flexible."

Speedwell School has been designated a technology college. "That has enabled us to invest in Tomorrow's Promise. I think there is no question that without this, we would not have been able to do it," says Chris Williams.

At St Aidan's CE High School in Poulton le Fylde, Lancashire, a budget of Pounds 50,000 has gone towards creating a classroom with 30 computers. "Access to computers is not an issue in this school because we get extra funding from the DFEE as we are a specialist college," says deputy headteacher Steven Parsons.

He was disappointed by the British Educational and Communication Technology Agency's third ILS evaluation report (see overleaf) which suggests that exclusive reliance on ILS for preparation for key stage 3 may have a negative impact. But he says Tomorrow's Promise has had benefits at St Aidan's. "We have demonstrated with sound statistical methods that year 8 had clear learning gains over a 12-month period."

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