Write on;Hands on

15th October 1999 at 01:00
Graham Moores and Anthony Chapman of the National Literacy Association provide some useful suggestions for using word processors and desktop publishing for literacy.

At a time when schools are concentrating a lot of their ICT budget on new hardware, it's important not to neglect the software they will use.

The value of DTP in schools Word processors work by creating a series of lines of text (a new document begins with one empty line), which is fine for many uses, but for working with text and graphics flexibly, a desktop publisher (DTP) is the tool of choice. The fundamental difference is that text and other objects reside in boxes and can be positioned independently of other objects.

When using a normal DTP application, its main purpose is to arrange the various elements on your page, so the drafting of the text is best done on a word processor. In a similar way, you'll usually prepare photographs and drawings in another application. When you have all the elements ready, you use the DTP application to import them and bring them together. Textease 4 is both a desktop publisher and a word processor.

The NLA has worked with schools or observed children using Textease in primary and secondary schools in a variety of ways. In Sion Manning School, west London, for instance, it has been used as an integral part of humanities studies on World War Two. The pupils there have produced interactive multimedia documents that have been used as a summary of work and can be used for future work in the schools.

Textease 4 (Multimedia edition) is an award-winning desktop publisher and word processor. It is both a talking word processor and a desktop publisher. It comes on a triple format CD-Rom (MacPCAcorn) and is straightforward to install. A site licence will cost around pound;700 for a whole secondary school, and pound;250 for a primary school (for 10 machines). In this article, we will try to show you just a few of the things you can do with it, both at school and at home.

Ease of use The opening screen is very clear as well as being uncluttered. With just a few basic skills needed, it's easy to get started. Simply click anywhere on the page and start typing. The active spell-checker highlights misspelt words as you type; it can also beep as it identifies mistakes. The flexibility of being able to click anywhere is useful if used cautiously.

The main functions are accessed via a "button bar" at the top of the screen. Teachers can customise the functions available via the "options window". This means the program can be set to the level of the user.

Textease provides succinct instructions on "information line", and the "F1" key speaks these instructions.

Clipart can also be imported from any clipart folder.

For the more technically inclined, Textease can be linked across several computers in a school network. This would really come into its own for uses like combining the work of several pupils on a collaborative project such as a newspaper.

Textease 4 now sports multimedia features which make it even more appealing and versatile. It handles sounds and video clips and, although this is powerful computing, it's still easy to use. Just by clicking and dragging you can build an interactive presentation that works just like a web page. In fact, you can actually turn your presentations into real web pages. Several schools have already created a website using Textease alone.

Other software There is a range of software titles available which perform similar desktop publishing functions to those offered by Textease, such as Serif Page Plus 5, Microsoft Publisher (PC), Clarisworks (PCMac), Impression Publisher, Ovation Junior and Ovation Pro (Acorn).

Desktop publishers such as these offer powerful functions that are useful in secondary schools and colleges. A strength of Textease is its ease of use and adaptability. It can be customised for use with all ages.

Other packages aimed at the primary age group, such as Talking Write Away! and Talking First Word, do not have the range of desktop publishing capabilities offered by Textease.

There appears to be little desktop publishing software aimed at pupils in the lower secondary age range (Years 7-9). Often children are forced to use programs that are aimed for either older or younger age groups. Textease would not be out of place with these pupils. As a tool for creating educational resources, teachers will find the program easy to master.

Future versions of Textease will support a greater variety of formats, which means that objects from more sources (graphical, audio and video) will import directly into Textease files.

This is the first in a series exclusive to Online that will focus on affordable software and seek to make it more accessible by explaining some ways of getting the best out of it. The National Literacy Association works with schools to help them raise standards in literacy. It views ICT as a valuable tool forchildren's literacy and advises on policy development in both primary and secondary schools.


Textease 4 (Multimedia edition)

CD-Rom for MacPCAcorn

Price: pound;85 (exc VAT) for a single user

Softease Ltd, Market Place, Ashbourne, Derbyshire DE6 1ES

Tel: 01335 343421 or email sales@softease.co.uk


Year groupage range NLS Reference Suggested activity for children Suggested teacher-produced aidsage range

Y1 T1 T14 Make captions: add frame, resize text, choose colour, shadow etc Create sets of related words which children can click on to hear

Y1 T2 T22 Position labels on the relevant parts of a diagram Prepare page with diagram for children to drag labels to

Y3 T2 T17 Make lists and present attractively on screen (borders, frames, colours)

Y4 T1 W5-10 Create a spelling game activity for their peers

T3 T25 Create a multimedia advertising presentation (series of pages using links).

Y5 T1 T25 Produce an instructional diagram (eg flowchart) Produce a flowchart for children to complete

Y6 T1 T18 Children collaborate on a multi-page publication


Y7 up Use sound, pictures and video clips to produce interactive documents

Y9-Y10 up Produce summary of coursework showing understanding of subject material (eg humanities topics)

A-Level Produce an interactive presentation to describe a process, eg algebraic notation. Sets of revision activities

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