All we've used is a word processor," teachers often say. Don't apologise. Of all the tools that ICT has brought into the classroom, nothing is more powerful for both writing and reading.
It is a mistake to focus just on spelling programs, vocabulary programs and integrated learning systems. They will give the illusion that something is being achieved but they are essentially decontextualised. Language works in a context, emerges from a need.
The word processor allows us to look at work in progress, language for a purpose, language to communicate. It lets us look at what we have written andto refine, edit, revise and elaborate.
Writing on paper for many children is intimidating and little different from writing in stone - the writing being just as fixed. Just look at all the things that a child has to consider: the overall structure, sequence, theme, description, paragraphing, structure of paragraph, structure of sentence, relationship of a sentence to others in the paragraph, grammar, choice of vocabulary, place of word in sentence, spelling, presentation and punctuation. No wonder they forget the more important concerns such as editing and, instead, focus on handwriting, spelling and punctuation.
The word processor can be used to reduce the many demands within the writing process so that young writers can adopt the strategies used by good writers. Writing on-screen is as malleable as plasticine. You can move text round within a document until you are completely satisfied with the ideas, sequence of thoughts and layout. Deletion is easy and does not leave a nasty hole in the text. Inserting text is just as easy. Merging documents is simple. Altering the position of both words and sentences is uncomplicated. It is possible to change the size and shape of the print and to format paragraphs in many different ways. It is easy to achieve a high standard of presentation. It is simple to save a copy of a document, make alterations and then save a copy of the new document without having to re-type the contents. Text can be used again and again, a series of alterations can be made and each version printed out.
So which word processor should you use? Often it is not a matter of choice. If you buy one of the Window Box-style machines then you will be presented with a couple of programs. Often you will have Word or Works. These are not designed for young children and can be intimidating. Attempts have been made by some to simplify the way they look on-screen but you are probably better looking at a program that has been designed for children, in other words, a program for someone who is learning to write rather than one for people who can already write. The argument that children should be using the programs that they will use at work is flawed. Today's programs will be not be around when young children leave school for work. The fact is that good educational word processors have features that even Word does not have.
Some people have had some success with entering text through a microphone rather than a keyboard. That technology has some way to go before it can be used in the majority of classrooms. If you have some spare money and lots of patience then it is fun to try. When it is perfected it will have a profound impact on literacy in the early years.
A new program with extensive image support. It is easy to use, but with enough features to satisfy most writing needs. It has on-screen grids and word lists. The spell-check also has picture support. pound;80 (single user); pound;120 (five users); and pound;220 (10 users). From Inclusive Technology.
01457 819790) www.inclusive.co.uk
A program from Logotron which people associate with Acorn machines, but also works on Windows. It has been around for some time and many teachers have found it useful. There is a talking upgrade (pound;15). pound;45 (single user), pound;54 (five users), pound;95 (10 users) and pound;158 (20 users). From Logotron.
01223 425558 www.logo.com
A splendid program from Softease, also included in RM's Window Box. It reads text back to users and gives them complete control over text effects. Children are able to check as they write unrecognised words will be highlighted. Unlike most others, this word processor gives users complete freedom about where they place text. Web-page construction is also enabled. pound;65 (single user), pound;130 (five users), pound;195 (10 users) and pound;325 (20 users). From AVP.
01291 625439. www.avp.co.uk
From the same stable as Textease but with slightly fewer features. pound;49 (single user), site licence available. From Granada Learning 0161 827 2927 www.granadalearning.com Talking Write Away!
Black Cat's program has on-screen word banks and in-built games to encourage correct spelling. Teachers can also set levels of difficulties for pupils to work at. Cost: pound;105 (five users); pound;195 (10 users); and pound;260 (15 users). From AVP (as above).
This program from Spa has four levels of options that can be configured so that the program will grow with pupils. It has 20 different voices. The spell-check speaks words so that children can judge correctness by sound as well as appearance. Cost: pound;49 (single user), pound;108 (16 users) and pound;162 (site licence). From AVP(as above).
Handwriting for Windows
A tool for teachers. The program enables worksheets to be constructed with handwriting type fonts. The idea is that pupils will see from those worksheets the handwriting style they are expected to produce. pound;25 (single user) and pound;42 (site licence). From Inclusive Technology (as above).
All prices above exclude VAT