In plain English

Jack Kenny

The Millennium did produce something useful after all. The Everyman Millennium Library, a product of the Millennium Commission and funded by the National Lottery, has gone into every secondary school - 250 books by authors ranging from Salman Rushdie to Chaucer. In addition, there is a box of eight CDs: The Age of Chaucer; Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Period; Restoration to Revolution; The Romantics; The Victorian Age; Modernism and the Great War; and The Late Twentieth Century. It is all backed by a website that contains additional information. The aim of the CD box is to create a fully interactive resource that provides material for teaching or learning about English Literature. You might not like everything in the box, but you are bound to find something to suit. Make sure that you locate these disks; they are just for secondary schools.

Primary teachers might find Intel's Sound Morpher useful. This is a mini recording studio that you can plug into your computer, to record, edit and distort sounds, as well as adding sound effects. The device will store sounds recorded away from the computer that can be brought back to school for processing. You can even type in words and hear them read back. Tag Learning distributes the product.

Also for primary is the Sound Start Red Level CD-Rom, a reading resource for early readers from Granada Learning. It has six talking books, six linked activities plus the freedom for pupils to record their own sounds. The software will keep track of individual responses and the teacher can control the level at which each pupil is working. Each story has an activity and they are attractively presented. The software can be used in conjunction with other reading schemes and, of course, it does use some basic ICT skills. This is a sophisticated product that is also simple to use.

Secrets, aimed squarely at English, is also simple to use. It is difficult to think about how this disk could be improved. Developed in the Isle of Man by the Manx Multimedia Centre, for Anglia and Granada, it is both innovative and imaginative. A teenager goes missing and the user adopts the role of a reporter who investigates. You can move around the town and listen to pick up clues. It is interactivity writ large. There are tasks to do as you move forward, the production values are high, and it will certainly intrigue even blase students. It is the most interesting disk I've seen this year. The main problem will be working out how best to use it.

Great Expectations is what many people have about the bandwidth (network capacity) that will go into their school... however, Bleak House is probably more appropriate. What most schools will get (2mb) sounds fine, but when it is shared across a network it will soon reduce things to sloth speed. Espresso Productions, which uses satellite, can get the kind of full screen, full-motion video that people dream about into any school in the UK regardless of location. Espresso staff, mostly gifted teachers, repackage contemporary broadcast materials from the BBCand ITN into classroom materials. Briefly, Espresso broadcasts curriculum focused content once every week and that is stored on the school's server and used when appropriate. It is well worth considering if you want the present generation to have top flight technology.

It is always interesting when a new version of Word is issued. The new version of Microsoft Office, Office XP is here (review page 19). English teachers will be interested in Word 2002. Collaborative document review is new and helps with collaborative writing. Word gives the right tools to the other writers for marking up a document and to the original writer for merging all the revised versions back into a final draft. In recent versions of Office, Word recognises Web and email addresses, and makes them active. This now includes names, dates, addresses, phone numbers, and other types of information links that you can define. You can click on a name in Word and have that person's full name and address entered from Outlook. The imaginative will work out all kinds of ways of using these "smart tags".

Many schools have started to use PowerPoint and are encouraging children to use it too. The new features are fresh slide transition effects and it is now easier to apply effects across a whole presentation. Do you need the new version of Office? If you already have Word 2000, think twice about it. If you have an earlier version of Word then you should consider this.

The introduction of the Literacy Strategy to secondary schools will probably increase the success of the Skills Factory that was very successful with primary schools. There is new material in preparation.

Jack Kenny is a freelance writer, and chair of examiners for English for one of the major GCSE examining boards.

* Top 10 software

Twenty Things To Do With A Word Processor by Trevor Millum and Chris Warren is a pragmatic approach useful, stimulating and classroom focused. It is the kind of book that if you leave it lying around someone will steal it. ISBN 0 9540000 0 5 Price: pound;12.50

Sound Morpher from Tag Learning. Price: pound;49.95

Sound Start from Granada Learning Price: pound;49

Secrets from Granada Learning Price: pound;49

Young Writer's Workshop from Granada Learning Price: pound;49.

Clicker 4 from Crick Software Price: pound;90

Microsoft Office Prices on website

Textease 2000 Price: pound;85 Henry V DVD from Carlton Home Entertainment Price: pound;9.99

Skills Factory: Literacy and Numercay Complete Price: pound;49

* Top 10 websites


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Jack Kenny

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