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Review CornerSoftware
Read, Write, & Type! Learning System: Home Edition
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The Bottom Line
This comprehensive system emphasizes the importance of both reading and writing. Children learn not only to decode words using phonics, but also to write their own words by sounding them out. Valuable typing skills are taught at the same time — and taught very well. Supplemental materials are provided, and support for teaching Spanish-speaking children English as a second language is available. The exercises are repetitive due to the nature of the skills being taught, but the story line is rather engaging.
 
Ages: 6-up   Subject: Reading/Pre-Reading/Spelling  Brand: Talking Fingers
Review Sections: Product Overview  Technically Speaking  Skills Covered  Educational Value  Entertainment Value  Design  Replayability  Dollar Value
 
 
Read Write Type Product Overview
With versions for both school and home use, this innovative phonics-based, systematic program immerses children in a world of phonics learning and typing practice. It links reading with "writing" and teaches keyboarding skills at the same time.

The Learning Company originally published version 1 of the Read, Write, & Type! CD-ROM many years ago. Read, Write, & Type! Learning System includes Version 3 and is sold with a new assessment CD-ROM as well as a number of supplemental materials. That the core product has been around for so many years works very much to this package's advantage — the developers have had the opportunity to consider feedback from users, including parents and teachers, and the result is a more mature product. This package was developed in part through a grant from the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development.

At the heart of this program is a 40-lesson adventure with a plot that revolves around the 40 phonemes of the English language. Kids associate phonemes with keyboard strokes, and stickers are provided as part of a reward system with colorful and pictorial representations of each letter. Kids will receive both encoding and decoding practice, as they are encouraged to not only sound out and "read" words, but also to "write" their own words, again by sounding out. At the same time, they learn correct finger placement on the keyboard — a valuable skill in this text-intensive, computerized world.

Each letter is associated with a character (a Storyteller that "lives" in the keyboard) — for example, A is for Ann the Ant. Later in the program, letter combinations are introduced, and Otto the Octopus O becomes Octopus Girl twins when two O's team up to create the oo sound in moon, or Octopus Boy twins when they team up to create the oo sound in book.

Lessons begin with an introduction to a new phoneme by Vexor the Virus. This story-hating villain likes to steal letters, and children must lend a hand — or two! — to help win them back. This takes the form of various games that have children identifying letter sounds at the beginning, middle, and end of words, practicing typing, and creating their own stories. Animated Helping Hands demonstrate correct finger placement on the keyboard and provide key instructions.

The second CD-ROM, entitled Spaceship Challenge, is intended for use between each level of the Read, Write, & Type CD. It consists of assessment activities in phonemic awareness and phonics, reading comprehension, and spelling. Basically, children do a series of tests, the results of which help provide feedback on a child's progress for parents or teachers.

This program is systematic with each lesson building upon the previous one. The sounds are introduced in a special sequence, and the words presented are mostly regularly spelled words. Capitalization and punctuation are introduced later in the program. This system is probably ideally suited to a typical child in first grade. But, as not every child is "typical", it can service advanced kindergartners (though the keyboarding component may be too difficult even for advanced 5 year-olds) as well as second-graders in need of reinforcement of phonics skills and typing practice. For children learning English as a second language, the age group can extend even higher. We even had a 10-year-old tester who actually found the typing practice in this program very valuable! He preferred the slower pace of this title to the lessons found in Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.

The included Activity Book is exceptional. It is not only presented in a sturdy, easel-like fashion, it is chock-full of helpful tips and information that can benefit both parents and teachers. New in Version 3 of the Read Write & Type! CD-ROM is extensive English as a Second Language help. Currently, the program supports Spanish-speaking students looking to learn English, with more languages planned to be supported in the future. As well, a password-protected demo mode was added to allow users to preview the course.

Repetition is a necessary evil of any good reading or typing program, and it's definitely found here. The villain of the program adds a competitive element to the plot, as children work toward reclaiming the letters he has stolen. His mild taunts are intended to motivate children to want to do well. This concept may not be for everyone, though our 7-year-old tester loved the idea of playing "against" the bad guy, and watching Vexor fume when she was successful. When children make mistakes, the program definitely lets them know. For example, Vexor blows the character back to where he/she started when too many mistakes have been made in the park activity. Players are required to repeat lessons before proceeding in the game.

The approach used here is an interesting one — it is multi-sensory and gets children actively involved in the learning process. Children are encouraged to say the sounds of the letters out loud, and writing words (through typing, of course) is emphasized throughout. We liked the pace of the program and the gradual introduction of new letter sounds and typing practice in a linear fashion. Though the exercises quickly become repetitive, new items that help to break the monotony are introduced as children progress. For example, after a few lessons, an "e-mail tower" starts to be constructed. When it is complete, this becomes home to an optional activity that acts essentially as a simulated e-mail program with a simple word processor and talking keyboard. At another point in the game, a blimp appears offering "bonus" activities. Approximately midway through the lessons, the Power Fountain activity becomes available, offering children a chance to practice and develop their typing speed and accuracy at 3 levels of difficulty.

Home users will get the most benefit from the program if they are dedicated to following the course as it is laid out. However, even casual use of the program will reap some rewards. Children can move through the program rather independently simply by following the clear audio instructions. In the absence of someone to guide them, however, they may not follow through to the end.

We reviewed the Home Edition of the product that includes the two CD-ROMs described above, an Activity Book, 9 small reading books, a laminated Keyboard for practice away from the computer, stickers, and a plastic keyboard overlay for touch-typing practice. A Deluxe Home Edition and School Packs are also available.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are Windows 95/98, 486 or better, 16 MB available RAM, 2X CD-ROM. Mac users require a 68040/33 MHz processor or better with 8 MB available RAM, 2X CD-ROM, and System 7.5. The program requires 2 MB of hard drive space, and a printer is optional.

Skills Covered
phonics, typing skills, writing practice, following directions.

Educational Value
Those looking for a systematic program that will help children strengthen phonics skills will find this package valuable. Lots of repetition is required in order for children to pick up typing skills, and if younger children are not monitored, they might be tempted to avoid using correct finger placement. The program can also be used with older children who no longer require phonics practice, but who want to learn to type correctly.

Entertainment Value
In a home setting, children might need encouragement to follow through to the end of the program. Though the story line is engaging at first, the exercises are rather repetitive (and quite necessarily so).

Design
The graphics of the program are a little dated, though our testers were not bothered. Certainly, an excellent instruction and tips book supports the system, and children should be able to use the program without too much help simply by following the clear audio instructions. The program is laid out so that children are required to move between the set's two CDs frequently, which is a little awkward. However, the second CD-ROM acts as an assessment or "test" program, and doesn't necessarily need to be used in a home setting.

Replayability
The system is very complete in terms of content. However, many children will need encouragement to finish it through to the end. As such, having an adult on hand who is dedicated to the system might be necessary for long-term use. The nature of the skills taught in the program means repetitive exercises, but the developers did a good job of adding surprise elements that helped to motivate testers a little.

Dollar Value
This Home Edition sells for $79.95 US. A deluxe home edition and school curriculum packs are also available.

Released: 2000
Reviewed: February 2001