Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Software Evaluations 1 and 2: Merit Software

Title of Software: Merit Software, Basic English Fitness and Process Writing: Paragraph Punch units

Producer:Merit Software

Target students: It varies, but Basic English Fitness is really geared towards specific levels of proficiency (high beginner to intermediate), Process Writing: Paragraph Punch and is targeted for students of 5 to 10 years old.

Proficiency levels: Basic English Fitness (BEF) is for intermediate language learners, but I think it would be appropriate for anyone from a high beginner's level on up. Process Writing: Paragraph Punch (PW:PP) is not exclusively for ELLs. ELLs using this software would likely have to be at high intermediate level to follow along, simply because there are many steps with a lot of language in this module.

Provide a brief description of:
What the program is: BEF is a grammar review and practice tool. PW:PP is a guide for writing paragraphs through Process Writing. It shows studenst, step-by-step, how to write a paragraph, and gives them the opportunity to do so.

What it does: In 4 steps from Tryout to Evaluation, BEF gives students different opportunities to select the correct response for grammar (articles, subject-verb agreement, etc.), spelling, and other usage items. The Workout section, the meat of the software, is basically multiple choice questions with one of two tasks: either to choose the incorrect part of the sentence or to choose the correct sentence. So, it could get boring pretty quickly to many students. But, the best part is the feedback it gives for a correct or incorrect answer on the first part of the Workout: it explains WHY that is/isn't the right answer--very helpful for ELLs.

PW:PP takes students through five elaborate steps to build a paragraph. It provides topics, and offers over 1500 prompts loosely based on 15 different topics. Each student can choose one topic to write on from 3 different topics given, so that can be good at lowering students' affective filters to some degree. It gives examples and sentence starters for students to practice with, leads them through a detailed brainstorming session (to jot down just words and ideas), and takes them through the whole experience. There is a button for a "Tip" that gives examples and one for "help" that offers tech advice. It offers several reminders and writing tips along the way, a chance to order, then reorder the sentences in the paragraph, and it gives chances to add or delete or edit content along the way. It offers advice on what to look for in proofreading, for style and structure, and it helps by suggesting specific connectors that will help the flow of the writing.

How it looks: Egads, look out, Merit--you need an editor. This is the trial software I was using, and on the COVER screen of BEF Unit 5, it says Eavaluation. Be careful when you are selling and publishing this stuff--especially before we buy it!! Everyone makes mistakes, but your clients are paying a lot of money for this software.

Otherwise, BEF looks fine. The user earns happy sounds for a right answer, and there are some happy graphics (like confetti and colored spinning wheels) throughout. However, there is not a great use of the "real estate"---oooh lala, a new online publishing word I just learned--on the screen. There is one item presented at the time, just typed at the top of the screen. There are a few colors, but it could be more dazzling for sure.

PW:PP populates the top half of the screen and a little more, with very clear cursors and navigational aids. It is well-designed.

How the user interacts with it: Now this I like, for both programs. They are easy to use and have very clear instructions, examples, help screens, and easy navigational tools. This software really is user-friendly, and the language is genrally clear. It also loads super fast; I did not encounter any long waits or technological glitches.

Language skills targeted: BEF targets grammar skills such as article use, subject-verb agreement, spelling, etc. PW:PP is a writing tool.

What are the program’s strengths or weaknesses? Do you feel it would be effective for helping ELLs learn English? Why or why not? Would you use it in your classroom? Why or why not? What method or approach to language teaching does this program appear to represent? I have gone into a good deal of detail above, but generally I am not too impressed with BEF. I do like the feedback on why the answers are right or wrong, though. The PW:PP is a well thought out program, and a true desire to help the students practice and learn step by step is obvious. In PW:PP, there is a lot more language and may be rather complicated for some ELLs, even though at this age group in school, it is very appropriate to the real life content they will be seeing. It also scaffolds the writing experience through a lot of examples and tips, so it is useful and helpful overall. This isn't the time to discuss how useful the standard five-sentence paragraph is, but it is something we all learn to do in school. This program can help ELLs through that process. In a nutshell, I like Process Writing: Paragraph Punch and think it can help ELLs improve their writing, and I think the Basic English Fitness falls way short of the mark.

1 comment:

Dr. Wayne E. Wright said...

Great reviews Joleen! And nice catch on the typo.

I haven't been all that impressed with this products, but do see how they can be useful in the hands of a capable teacher. The PW:PP seems like a great scaffold. Still, my impression is that these programs weren't designed for ELLs specifically, but nonetheless can be appropriate for them, as you mentioned.

-Dr. Wright