eLive 07 : Jamie Munro : Supporting Literacy In Secondary Schools
Presented by Jamie Munro – Managing Director of Don Johnston Software. The resources are targeted (primarily) at struggling readers and writers because Don Johnston had difficulties in learning to read himself.
Jamie started by looking at the Alphasmart – a portable word-processor. It’s not a replacement for a computer, but it is ideal for helping with word-processing. It also has the benefit of being rugged, enjoys long battery life, and is very light.
Co-writer software is loaded onto the Alphasmart. This software is an intelligent predictive text writer which has the benefit of having a built in grammar checker. This gives it the advantage of helping with two of the main problems that struggling writers experience. One clever feature that I really liked was the “Topic Dictionary”. This rather neat solution gets around the limitations of the Alphasmart’s RAM by loading topic-specific dictionarys for particular tasks. There is a wealth of these available as free downloads from the Don Johnston website. In essence, they are downloadable ‘word banks’ which fit in rather nicely with 5-14 writing. As a final plus point, it is possible to create your own wordbank’s/topic dictionaries using the PC version of the software.
Jamie then introduced the line of books they have: Start To Finish books are designed to be accessible, but do not have anything on them to indicate this. They have evidently gone to some length to ensure that there is nothing to stigmatize the readers. The books also have a teachers version and a CD-ROM version complete with audio and appropriate graphics designed to aid comprehension of what is being read. I must admit to seeing these as having great potential, but why do they look so dated? DJ have obviously gone to great lengths to produce useful resources which do have a place to play in the school, but they look old… and I can’t help but think that a lot of what they are doing could be put online which would give them even more kudos in the eyes of the target audience…
Jamie told us that the covers are designed to be neutral, but if you look at the books that the readers in your class are reading, they are anything but neutral… Artemis Fowl, Harry Potter, Trainspotting (seniors!)… are all books I’ve seen readers of all levels carrying around, and none of them have neutral covers… having sadi that… they look like very good resources, especially in light of the extra materials available for them!
All in all, an interesting presentation, and worth following up…