Overview of teaching with this title
This title supports the Literacy curriculum, in particular, the teaching of punctuation. It links to various punctuation teaching and learning objectives within the National Literacy Strategy. The positive elements that cannot be duplicated by other non-computer based resources are: instant feedback from answers and animated activities.
The strong features of this product are that it makes learning punctuation both fun, and dare I say it, 'cool'. I find that if you take the dullest thing and put it on the computer, it somehow brings it new life! This product would best be suited as a support activity, to be used both within the Literacy Hour, but also at other times throughout the day. The children requested to use the software during wet playtime, as it was a 'game'. In order to use this product effectively, I think the teacher should have a basic overview of the activities included, and the various levels/combinations of difficulty. The weaknesses of the product for classroom use are that it is not always 100% clear how to get things started, and why certain things happen when they do. Some of the sections are particularly tricky, although I guess this is not necessarily a bad thing! This title can be used either individually or in pairs. Personally, I think it is quite helpful for the children to have a chance to discuss the various questions. It could be used to introduce an element of punctuation to a whole class if you have the necessary equipment.
The software installed successfully on the first attempt, and there were no known conflicts with any other programs. It did not alter the machine configuration, and you can 'uninstall' the program.
The product did load quickly enough for classroom use, and responded quickly enough to input from the child. The data from the resource loaded fast enough. There are no Web links.
The title does not actually claim to support any specific curriculum topics, but I feel that it is fairly comprehensive in its coverage of the subject, and would offer valuable support in teaching punctuation.
I feel that the extent of the content is sufficient and appropriate for the target audience. The data is sufficiently detailed, and the exercises in the title present enough questions to make the task meaningful. Although similar sentences are used, the missing punctuation varies. There are also two levels of sentence vocabulary: basic and advanced.
A further feature of the title is the possibility to add your own material, maybe connected to your topic or current interest. Doing this is fairly straightforward if you follow the guidelines in the supporting document and if your grammar is up to it!
The information is structured to support learning, and the amount of questions linked to a specific punctuation mark ties in with its frequency of use e.g. there are more questions that require a full stop as the answer because full stops are a more common form of punctuation.
The quality of the content was acceptable. To the best of my knowledge, it was accurate and the quality of the images was appropriate to the tasks. The spellings were UK English, as they should be in a Literacy title.
This title supports the various punctuation sections of the National Literacy Strategy. The specific NLS references, from the grammatical awareness section are: Year 3, Term 1: 2, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12 and 13; Term 2: 1 and 6, Term 3: 1, 4 and 7; Year 4, Term 1: 5; Term 2: 2 and 4; Term 3: 2; Year 5, Term 1: 6 and 7; Term 2: 5, 6 and 9; Term 3: 4 and 5; Year 6, Term 1: 6; Term 2: 3.
Design and technology
On the whole, the design and navigation of the program support use in the classroom. The vocabulary in the menus is accessible to children, and the icons meaningful and easily selected by a mouse click. There is not an introductory sequence to speak of. It is clear how you move around the product. Unfortunately where there are tasks for learners, a record is not kept of their score, but I guess they could jot it down in their ICT Log Books.
The one criticism I do have is that, particularly in the Punctuation Quiz section, it is not immediately clear what to do. This is rectified by clicking on the '?' in the top right hand corner of the screen which brings up the instructions, but children don't naturally think to do this! Also, in the Shoot the Punctuation section, if the children click on the wrong punctuation mark then nothing happens. I suppose you could say that it is good that a big flashing 'wrong' does not appear, but as the children don't think they are wrong, they think the program is not working.
Ease of Use
Generally the title is for the learner, but there are useful ideas and suggestions for the teacher.
A child could use it alone or with a peer with relative ease. The software supports the learner by providing a fairly clear menu, and the exercises are straightforward once the children know what they are doing. (The help section is useful, and clear, but as I have mentioned before I am not convinced the children would naturally use it, and it is quite wordy.)
If children were asked to find a specific piece of information or activity, they would be able to do this, but might need a few prompts from the teacher as to what to do when they got there.
The teacher can set the level of activity for a child to work on, both basic skills level and vocabulary, or advanced skills level and vocabulary, and selecting one or more types of punctuation to focus on.
The supporting documentation is useful for the teacher to read, and gives a good overview of the purpose and facilities of the software. The loading and running instructions are clear, and sufficient information is given to enable the user to know what the software does and basically how it behaves, without having to run the software. The ideas presented are appropriate to good practice, but there are no teaching ideas provided for use with pupils.
Special Educational Needs
The text can be spoken, and different voices can also be selected. The size and colour of the text cannot be altered for the visually impaired, but as it is already fairly large within the exercise, I do not think this would be a particular problem. Children with language difficulties would benefit from the software, both written and spoken, as it is useful to be able to hear the text with and without punctuation. The process of launching the product is something that children could do independently
Three types of exercises are offered on screen: a punctuation quiz set against the clock, a 'shoot' the missing punctuation mark game, and exercises within the 'learn about punctuation' section. All are easily and reliably accessed. The exercises do not become progressively more difficult, but one of two basic levels can be selected. The exercises can also be varied, by selecting specific type or types of punctuation you want to look at. The user knows when the answer is right, but particularly in 'shoot the punctuation mark', it is not clear that they are wrong, as nothing happens when you click on the wrong mark. This also leads to the fact that the child does not actually have to work out the answer - they could just click on all the punctuation marks until they select the right one.
The program can be set to keep track of what the child has done, and the sections achieved. The teacher can set levels of activity but they would either need to do it as and when each child went on the computer, or get the child to do it, as there is not a way of saving this information.
There is sufficient content so that children are not presented with the same question twice, but they might come across the same sentence more than once. The title gets round this by omitting different punctuation marks. Also, if you did feel that it was becoming too repetitive, then you could set your own questions. The questions are rather randomly presented, but the amount of questions linked to a specific punctuation mark ties in with the punctuation mark's frequency of use.
Personally I think this piece of software is a useful tool for any classroom, even if just as a fun way for children to practise and consolidate their understanding. The fact that it gets the children interested in punctuation is a big plus for me, and also helps me to get the children to see that punctuation is important. The title is comprehensive in its coverage, and has a good set of starting questions. I think if a teacher was going to use the software for an extended time, then they would need to enter some of their own material, but I do not see that as a huge issue.
I used the title during various 10-minute slots at the beginning of the day with my Year 4/5 class. My children are used to using various computer programs at this time in the day. The children worked in pairs, and were allowed to choose which section of the software they used. I had hoped to also use the title during the 20-minute group work time of the Literacy Hour, but unfortunately I wasn't covering any of the specific Literacy links this half term. I will use it in this capacity in the future however!
How I organised the classroom
The key teaching and learning objectives this case study refers to are those linked to revising punctuation. As I said, unfortunately I was not covering any of the specific Literacy links this half term, but I am always keen to keep punctuation ticking over. If I had to find specific links, then they would be: Year 4, Term 2, and grammar objective 4.
Both individuals and pairs used the software, although I thought it worked better with pairs, as the children had someone to discuss their ideas and findings with. I made sure that the children were in ability-matched pairs so one particular child did not take over.
The title enabled me to explore or explain aspects of punctuation more effectively as it inspired the children to be interested in the subject. It also gave them the all-important instant feedback and a reason to try - to win the quiz! It was good that in 'Shoot the Punctuation Mark' and 'Punctuation Tutor', the children were able to make mistakes without being penalised, although this was less effective in 'Shoot the Punctuation Mark', as they could just keep clicking on the marks until they got the right one!
The only preparatory work was that I spent some time looking at the title so that I knew how to use it, and how to combat any problems that might arise with the children using it. With regard to ICT skills, no preparatory work was needed.
Follow up work will come through expecting the children to use the information they have been practising in their general written work.
Use of ICT to achieve subject objects
As I have already mentioned, I organised the classroom by having pairs of children work on the computer. To ensure that each participant was engaged, I made sure that the children were of similar ability level, and also tried not to put very loud domineering children with shy quiet ones. I only intervened as and when necessary, and this was always to do with the workings of the program, rather than the actual content. If I were focusing on a specific element of punctuation and a specific NLS objective, then I would use a single screen with the whole class or a group for introducing, or reviewing the topic.
Although other children were distracted by the title to begin with, this was simply because they knew it was a new program, rather than it being noisy or particularly distracting, and they soon got used to it.
The ICT aspects of using this resource
The title was used to meet teaching and learning objectives in Literacy, as it specifically focused on the teaching and reinforcing of punctuation, therefore simply by letting the children engage in the various activities, reinforcement was happening. Examples of key questions I may have asked in order to stimulate and direct pupils' learning, were things like 'how did you decide which punctuation was missing?' and 'how did you decide where the various punctuation marks went?'
Using the title was a very effective way to achieve the teaching and learning objectives, as it was highly motivating and provided the children with instant responses.
As I have previously mentioned, this time I let the children choose which sections and which areas they wanted to focus on. However, if I had been focusing on a specific punctuation mark, I would have set the specifications before the children started, and would have asked them to complete a particular section.
I didn't require a specific outcome of the children's work, other than to reinforce and revitalise their interest in, and understanding of, punctuation.
Monitoring and assessment
I did not need to address the ICT aspects of using the resource - partly because the children are used to resources of this kind, but mostly because the ICT involved is not particularly difficult.
In this instance, I simply monitored the pupils' progress by recording the fact that they have been on the software, as well as getting them to record their own ideas and achievements in their ICT Log Book. I also used key questioning to informally monitor and assess what was going on. If I had been focusing on a more specific area, I would have used the reporting facility incorporated in the software to gain a more formal record, which could then lead to information on standards of attainment.
Special Educational Needs
The features of this title that make a specific contribution to teaching pupils with special educational needs in mainstream classrooms are the spoken text and the large typeface. Children can also request specific help and guidance where necessary.