Seduced by a blank page
THERE are undoubtedly marriages less blissful (and more brief) than the relationships that some primary teachers establish with their favourite pieces of computer software. In my experience, this kind of bonding, though painfully slow to be established, is the very devil to break.
It is not often that sceptical teachers are seduced by the programmer's art but, when they are, the seduction can be total. If you try to entice the besotted with a new goodie, such as this excellent Pages word processor from SEMERC, the grip on their latest love tends to tighten. Any suggestion of change is seen as an indictment of their beloved.
To succeed in this endeavour is not easy - in this market the competition is tough - but I think that Pages has a good chance of success, not because it represents a revolutionary step forward (it doesn't) but because it does just about everything you will want a word processor to do in the primary school, and it does it with consummate ease and just enough innovative flair to make you sit up and take notice. No wonder the National Association for Special Educational Needs chose Pages for its software award.
Those afflicted with upgrade urge (a disease which destroys primary budgets as fast as BSE destroys one's appetite for goulash) will not need persuading to take a closer look, but Pages is for users as well as addicts.
One feature (the clue is in the name) is that it offers the writer a screen as a blank page to work on in a manner that is analogous to a real blank page, but unlike word processors which lead you to start writing in the top left-hand corner in regimented lines, this one encourages you to chose any spot you like. If you wish to twist your writing line diagonally, you may continue to edit no matter how your text is positioned.
Another attractive feature is the way in which you can customise the program to match the ages and abilities of those who are to use it, or perhaps, to meet a specific teaching purpose. Switching off the option buttons limits choices so that children will not be confused by amultitude of possibilities.
The way in which Pages handles text and pictures is first class - rotate, colour, shadow or zoom, there is no problem. There is also a useful facility to send pictures to the cursor so that they become embedded in the text. Although I have not tried using this option with a Concept Keyboard (see page 22), it does apparently work very well. Using the dictionary is straightforward (it also talks) and the wordbank facility makes good sense. The icons on the "buttonbar" are self-explanatory, although as you point at each icon a line of instruction appears below the button line which, if you press the F1 key, will give voice as well.
In Pages you can cut and paste, make document templates, get the machine to save automatically or doodle with a screen pencil. Adding shadows to text and borders can be done at a click; you can toggle between a magnified image and your original or swiftly reduce or enlarge a picture by holding down the select button. Graphs created in Draw can be dragged into Pages to have finishing touches added, and sophisticated proformas and logos can be devised.
Users of Phases will find that existing files and borders are readily accepted by Pages so that all the good work you have done need not be wasted. Because of its ease of operation, the program is well suited to the lower primary years (even infants). It is only in Year 6, where more sophisticated publishing facilities might be required, that Pages may reveal its limitations, but most children will work well within its capability.
Although it is one of the neatest of neat packages, its success may depend on whether or not teachers are prepared to cope with the sweet sorrows of parting from existing loves.
SEMERC stands SN1, SN42 Tel: 0161 627 4469
Pages talking word processor and desktop publisher for Acornand PC (RiscOS 3.1 or later and 2Mb of memory); Pounds 49 plus VAT for single user; Pounds 98 plus VAT for school site licence.
Paul Noble is head teacher ofSt Andrew's Church of EnglandPrimary School, Blunsdon, Wiltshire