Stories that tell themselves

8th November 1996 at 00:00
Nicola Jones tries out software that helps children learn to read.

OXFORD READING TREE SOFTWARE By Roderick Hunt and Alex Brychta Stage 3 More Talking Stories A Wrens Stage 2 Talking Stories Oxford University press. Both available for AcornMacWindowsNimbus. Pounds 40.

LETTERLAND SOFTWARE 1 Consultant Lyn Weldon Collins Educational Available for AcornMacWindowsNimbus. Pounds 40.

THE LONGMAN BOOK PROJECT-SOFTWARE FICTION 1 By Linda Spear, Ruth French and Howard Taylor Longman. Available for Acorn only. Pounds 70.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then the computer will begin. This may be the scenario in infant classrooms as software versions of reading scheme books and games which support them increase.

Oxford University Press has produced a range of Talking Stories to supplement the Oxford Reading Tree scheme, and earlier this year extended the repertoire by releasing two more packs by Roderick Hunt and Alex Brychta in association with Sherston software.

Each pack contains six discs and an instruction booklet. Stage 3 More Talking Stories A includes Kipper the Clown, Strawberry Jam, The Jumble Sale, At the Seaside, Kipper's Idea and The Snowman, while The Wrens Stage 2 Talking Stories features At the park, Push!, Good Old Mum, Fancy Dress, The Headache and Pet Shop.

The discs are essentially an exact copy of the original books, but with bells and whistles. The text can be read aloud to thechildren, or children can read it themselves, "asking" the computer to read words they are unable to read.

The illustrations can be animated with sound effects. These are gentle and unobtrusive and support an understanding of the text. This is evident in The Headache, a Wrens Stage 2 Talking Story. Dad is playing the trumpet, and the animation plays the unmelodious sounds as he is joined by the rest of the family on various instruments, culminating in a jam session that sounds like it might be Yankee Doodle. No wonder Mum has a headache! The animations offer support to speakers of additional languages who benefit from the additional contextual clues of sound and movement.

Each of the discs has supplementary language activities. In the case of the Wrens Stage 2 Talking Stories, these activities allow children to structure their own sentences, while the Stage 3 Talking Stories activities concentrate on key words.

The Longman Book Project has three strands: Language, Non-Fiction and Fiction, each with supporting software and crossing the key stages. Fiction 1 aims to support language as well as meeting the strands at key stage 1 for IT progression. There is an excellent teacher's guide giving a detailed explanation of the activities on disc and how to use them in the classroom. The software is designed to be used with the Project books.

There are 11 activities in Fiction 1 increasing in difficulty, both in terms of the language skills and the ability to use the computer independently. Each activity screen includes a Text Tool, the Muncher, an endearing little icon that gobbles up unwanted files with a smack of the lips and Pop Up windows containing pictures and words. Children can also Print and Save their work. The activities are based on books in the Fiction 1 pack and include Freddy's Teddy, Lets go into a Jungle, Ben Biggin's Box and Dad, among others. The activities range from sequencing and language work through to creative writing. I enjoyed the The Monster pack which involves creating monsters using revolting bits of green and purple body and then writing about them.

Finally, Collins Educational have discs with five games for early literacy skills to be used with their Letterland publishing programme.

The Letterland Software 1 games involve letter shape, matching words and pictures, spelling and initial sound recognition. I felt the programme had a slightly old fashioned feel and the full capabilities of the computer hadn't been exploited. An example of this is in the letter formation, where children watch the letter being traced on the screen by the computer. It would have been a good idea if they could have then done this using the mouse, but I can't help thinking that finger paints might be better here.

All these packages are very useful as supplementary activities for reading and IT progression. However, I think most children will always prefer a lap to a lap-top when it comes to listening to stories.

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