Educational Computing and Technology February 92
Frankie Fisher on a book-based simulation which successfully stimulated children to read
I work with special needs children in years 6 and 7, and towards the end of last summer term I received a copy of Selladore Tales: Zorin the Curse of Selladore from Sherston Software, which is intended for use with children who have reading problems and a reading age of about 8.0.
I tried this computer game with a group of year 6 pupils with a chronological age of 10+ and Salford reading ages ranging from 7.3 to 9.0, all of whom had been having regular support for reading, language or spelling difficulties, and I was immediately impressed by their reaction to it.
The instructions were simple but not 'babyish', the vocabulary had been carefully controlled, there was a vocabulary sheet in alphabetical order for the less able or confident to use and the map was easy to follow. The fantasy theme obviously attracted them and the children all managed to complete the game successfully and with a high level of enjoyment.
They worked on the program in random groups of three. I was in the vicinity, watching, but I did not need to interfere. There was a lot of discussion between themselves about the problems they encountered but they made the necessary decisions co-operatively.
As they finished the adventure, I gave them copies of one of the activity sheets based on the program which comes with the pack. This was a three paragraph cloze procedure, a précis of the adventure. I expected the usual negative reaction to any writing after a 'fun' activity but their enthusiasm carried them on to copy and complete the passage. They enjoyed the word search.
This experience made me decide to use the package for a reading progress group I was planning to start in the autumn term with year 7 pupils. This time we began at the beginning of the book. There are seven in the group, reading ages 8.1, 8.2 and 8.3, which meets twice a week for 45 minutes, once with a support assistant, once with me. These children are all able to read simple material but need to gain in confidence and enjoy reading in order to reach a level which will enable them to cope with the secondary curriculum. I felt that they needed a different format from reading schemes, group reading, paired reading and so on, all of which they had experienced lower down the school. Selladore is working better for them than I ever imagined.
Each week we read a chapter of the book together, taking turns. We then begin one of the activity sheets covering cloze, word search, crosswords or sequencing. As we read we add to the character studies we have been writing on the main characters - Soolin, Tem, Darvid and Sneck. I have been most impressed by the sophistication of the characterisation in the story, which makes this kind of work possible.
The book has 13 chapters of about 200 words in large print with many beautiful black and white line drawings as illustration. These and the mature story line, coupled with the simple vocabulary, make the book unique in my experience.
In the second of the weekly sessions were read a chapter and read a new one. The children have been inspired to illustrate their own work and after six weeks we are over half-way through and interest has been maintained. The book sets the scene for the adventure program which I feel will be an exciting culmination of work for them.
Use of a Concept Keyboard, which is unnecessary for this particular group, would make the whole experience available for less able readers. The pack contains photocopiable picture sheets which can be used for creative writing. On the Archimedes it is also possible to rewrite the program, using Search and Replace to put the pupils' own names in the text.
My enthusiasm for this package is obvious. Well planned and carefully written, it has a well chosen vocabulary, yet the story line is sophisticated and appealing. The teacher's book is a great resource and the program generates extension work of all kinds, including maths. I shall continue to use it and recommend it to others.
Frankie Fisher is a part-time special teacher at Bradwell Village Middle School, Milton Keynes.