Reviewed by: Karyn Farrugia, UTS
Date Reviewed: 30/08/2004
Primary / Secondary - Key Stage: Stage 3 and Stage 4
KLA(s): English (Primarily Literacy)
Kit Contains: 4 stories in electronic (WIN/MAC CD) and paper
version, 1 teachers handbook with related activities, 1 set of cloze
passage and comprehension worksheets (reproducible as they are blackline
masters), 1 copy of the SpinWorks Utility included on the CD.
The teacher is in control of the setup of the program. The program can be modified to allow individual user logins and hence tracking of a student's progress. As an addition to this software, the SpinWorks facility is also included. SpinWorks is a utility program for teachers that allow them to produce worksheets to assess a student's ability level.
The assessment tasks available in this utility include:
The above activities can be modified to suit different skills levels whilst still achieving the same assessment results. A benefit of these activities is the way the activities can be viewed as games, thus increasing student interest in the task.
The software does not implicitly provide peer-learning activities in the stories component. Should a teacher wish to incorporate this skill into the stories, the following activity could be performed:
Some of the extension activities provide a medium for peer learning, including the Concentration game where more than one player is allowed and the Ladder game where two children may complete the activity quicker.
Role of Teacher
The teacher is able to take an observer role when this software is being used. By allowing a more constructivist approach to the lesson, the students are able to learn at their own pace and to ask for assistance as required. A Papert-style teacher who allows students to progress as they reach targets, rather than being constrained by the standard education levels would prefer this program over more conventional drill and practice software.
The software is extremely well designed and allows for students to interact with every part of the program. By providing topics that may interest their audience, and by including fiction and non-fiction into the books, the students are more likely to be engaged by the program. Within the stories, students are able to move through the pages at their own pace. This caters for all levels of student literacy. Students are also able to listen to the narrator speak the text, should the literacy level be too advanced for their position. To keep students on-task, hypertext has been included into the program. This means when students are moving quickly through the literacy aspects of the program, they are also able to extend their knowledge by clicking on hot spots to reveal factual information. This facility however could draw students interest away from the reading, so it is only available in the most difficult reading level (i.e. when students are able to read successfully). This factual information also may spawn further interest in a topic and promote subsequent reading on the subject matter.
The program comes with a computer disk as well as a book for each story available. By providing the stories in audio (i.e. through the narrator's voice), visual (i.e. through the software program interface) and physical states (i.e. the books) the program aims at capturing a wide audience attention whilst catering for different learning styles. The program does not cater for all intelligences recognised by Gardner, but in truthfulness, it would be difficult to increase literacy when adopting a naturalist or spatial intelligence. Individual students needs are well catered for, by the use of individual student logins. When this mechanism has been setup by the teacher, students are able to access the stories at the skill level that will assist them the most. This means that student progress needs to be monitored and the program skill levels altered accordingly to ensure they are being constantly challenged.
The topics covered in the Blue Pack make use of real world examples. By providing stories about reptile parks and Australia Zoo, students are able to learn about the subject matter whilst relating it to an Australian Icon. The graphics used also assist in promoting real life situations. By including photographs instead of drawings, the reader is able to associate the picture with the real world.
As the publisher is an Australian company the vocabulary / spelling used in the stories is Australian English. When the narrator or voice-over function is used, the speaker pronounces the text in an Australian accent. When a student clicks on a single word for it to be repeated, a different narrator pronounces the word. By using two narrators, both of which speak with an Australian accent, the students are more likely to identify the individual nuances of the word and hopefully be more confident when pronouncing it. Keeping in mind the target audience is upper primary and lower secondary most of the language used in the stories is commonly used words. As the reader progresses through the skill levels, the language becomes more challenge by the introduction of longer words. The sentences in the stories are short to encourage feelings of achievement when a reluctant reader has read a complete sentence.
Cultural and Ethical Notes
The publishers of the software promote the literacy facilities as being targeted towards a male audience. Their reason for this is the topics presented in the Blue Pack (i.e. Reptiles and Machinery) as well as the high proportion of reluctant male readers as opposed to their female counterparts. The software "maleness" is further identified by the use of MAINLY male human characters in the stories - female roles are reserved for some of the animals and a zookeeper. This may present problems with the reader's perceptions of the real world. There is no attempt to address multiculturalism in the stories - all pictures are of Caucasian humans. One ethical issue that should be noted is the fact that some of the pictures display handling of wild or dangerous animals. It would be worth following up these stories with a short session on the dangers of handling wild or unusual animals so that the students would develop a well-rounded outlook.
Nature of Information
The information presented appears a mix of fiction and nonfiction. Each story begins by crediting the writer as well as the illustrator. The information presented is factual however no mention is made of the source of the data. There is no evidence of bias.
Design and Navigation
The screen designs are consistent and the symbols used are easy to identify and understand. Consistency increases the feeling of comfort when moving through the different screens. There is no provision of a help menu anywhere in the program nor provision of cognitive tools such as a notepad.
There are no online resources to accompany the software however suggested activities form part of the teacher's manual. These activities look at ways to extend the student and ways to introduce the program to new users.
The most effective use of the program is to ensure that the teacher's computer has access to a printer. This allows the teacher to create worksheets and assessment tasks using the SpinWorks facility. A sound card is also important as it allows students to use the narrator feature of the program. Installation is straightforward and controlled by a wizard. The program runs on a Mac or PC platform.
This software is a great educational piece written to encourage and develop literacy skills for reluctant readers. By including topics that interest their audience, Spinout Stories immediately creates an exciting environment for the reader. Each story has 3 skill levels that allow students to progress as their reading skills increase. A narrator allows very poor readers to make use of the program at the simplest level, whilst the inclusion of hypertext draws the advanced reader into a web of further literacy. The extension facilities also promote literacy whilst engaging the students in achievable and fun game-like activities. At all times students can control the direction of their learning and are able to repeat stories or pages to cement their learning. Unfortunately the limited audience scope (i.e. males) reduces the programs overall appeal however the package is well designed and allows students to meet the required learning objectives without the pressures of formal tests.
Notes on Classroom use of Software
This software would be most effectively used as part of an ongoing literacy topic. Students showing reluctance to read would be able to make use of the program whilst other students followed another literacy path. The lesson should allow 30 minutes so that the reluctant readers can listen to the story, then attempt to read it to a partner, and then complete an extension activity or worksheet.
Rating out of 5: 4.5 Recommended to Highly Recommended.
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