Granada Learning's new writing program for primary schools is rich in content, professional and stimulating, says Jack Kenny. In fact it's so good at teaching skills that are difficult to tackle in class that it's in a class of its own
There is some software that extends possibilities and pushes at the limits of what we can do in the classroom - and Granada Learning's Young Writers' Workshop is one such package. Why it has not even been shortlisted for a prize at this year's BETT educational technology show is a mystery to me. Good software for English is a rare commodity and when it does come along it should be acknowledged.
Young Writers' Workshop shows some of the ways in which ICT can enhance the teaching of English. The disk explores several of the new skills necessary in English in 2001 and a great many of the activities on the disk are ones that teachers will not have tried, not because they didn't think of them but because, technically, they would have been difficult to realise. The triumph is that it makes what would once have been daunting, child's play. Children are presented with a video and asked to write a commentary lasting the length of a film clip and then to record the accompanying words. They can look at the result, show it to others, scrap it if necessary and start again. It's not just motivating, but it teaches them to write concisely in a natural way. Pupils are also led to understand how words and pictures work together.
Aimed at key stage 2 and structured in two sections - Writer's Block and Newsgroup - navigation in Young Writers' Workshop is easy. Each task requires that pupils write for a specific purpose and audience.
The kind of activities opened up are: watching video clips in order to write and record commentaries; accepting commissions to research, write and record radio reports; and reading from a teleprompter.
In another section, pictures are pesented and the pupil is challenged to invent crisp captions. One task asks students to sequence a series of photographs and write a script to accompany them. Biographical work is encouraged and research skills are examined, with proof-reading presented as a key skill. Writing persuasively is also required.
Some of the activities may sound daunting to the uninitiated, but the disk works smoothly and intuitively. Help and study points are available throughout. Many of the instructions are spoken in order to increase the accessibility of the package.
The support materials include worksheets with helpful notes on structuring discussions and making notes on the ensuing ideas. There is a second disk with support including a curriculum matrix and further examples and detailed guidance in how to use the disk in literacy work.
One thing that you will notice is the choice of languages. That means the software can be used in French, German and Spanish. In this mode it could be immensely useful at key stage 3. Recently the whole product was translated into Gaelic for use in Irish schools.
The Internet is an important part of the package. Most of the work pupils save can be in Web format so they can choose to look at their own Web pages or visit the Young Writers' website where they will find stimulus materials, examples of good practice produced in class, useful links to other sites, and lesson plans using the literacy strategy.
Young Writers' Workshop is a rich, professional package that deserves a place in most primary schools and shows that UK software can equal and often surpass that produced in other countries.
Young Writers' WorkshopPrice: pound;49, Single user PC Granada Learning, Granada Television, Quay Street, Manchester M60 9EA Tel: 0161 827 2927 www.granada-learning.com
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