Writing across the Curriculum with New Composition Tools; One Part Kid Pix, Two Parts Collaboration Tools, and a Healthy Dose of Word Processing-The New Breed of Multimedia Writing Tools Turn Composing into an Art Form. (Picks of the Month)
Kennedy, Kristen, Technology & Learning
It's always a treat to review tools that introduce students to the craft of writing and its measured practice of invention, drafting, and revision. So when we started seeing a trend in writing programs for elementary and middle school students that combine a balanced emphasis of structured writing activity, creative freedom, and collaborative features, we decided to take them for a test drive. Both of the programs we review here, LCSI's Journal Zone and Sunburst's MediaWeaver, blend visual thinking, illustration and writing tools, and interactivity into robust cross-curricular applications.
Teachers looking for grammar exercises won't find them in these offerings. Rather, the emphasis is on composition and reflection. Kids struggling to put their thoughts into print will welcome each program's sentence starters, diction resources, and built-in peer review features to jump-start the writing process, while multimedia tools let budding authors illustrate their thoughts and ideas in colorful, animated ways.
Journal Zone (LCSI)
With its multimedia-enhanced writing tools and collaborative features, Journal Zone is an ideal tool for journaling and invention exercises. Installation of the program's single CD is quick and easy, and once connected to the Internet, students can build and save complete journals of up to 100 pages on LCSI's server. A journal page includes three components: one large box for illustration and multimedia and two smaller areas for text entry and comments from visitors. Individual pages can then be added to a larger personal or class journal.
While students can build scenes to accompany their writing by using drawing tools, ready-made backgrounds, sound, and even flip-card style animation, multimedia creation isn't the main focus here, so you won't find dozens of design templates as you would in a full-featured multimedia tool. Invention is the emphasis, so helpful journal starters like "I want to know more about," action verb lists, and cause-and-effect expressions populate the writing palette and kick off the process of inquiry. Writers have the option of working offline and then importing their journal pages to an online file, a handy feature in the event of an interruption of Internet service and the best way to save work in progress. Once connected to Journal Zone's live hub, kids can invite fellow journalists to visit their pages and make comments in the Comments box or export a favorite page to a classmate's journal. Best of all, Journal Zone's applications extend across the disciplines--for example, into a science class where kids create a multimedia journal on mammals in North America, or to the social studies classroom where students each build a personalized journal page to record their responses to an online field trip, and then export them as pieces of a larger group project.
While teachers will appreciate the administrative tools that let them add their own journal starters, creating groups and organizing projects is a time-consuming, multistep process. Students will also want to consider their comments carefully, since text added to the Comments box can't be edited, only deleted. Despite the few kinks of its maiden version, Journal Zone is a promising critical thinking and prewriting tool.
MediaWeaver 3.5 (Sunburst)
Don't let the title of this feature-rich writing package deceive you: While kids can illustrate their work with painting tools or audio and video clips from the program's extensive multimedia library, MediaWeaver's built-in writing activities, peer assessment templates, and writing reviewer tools are what define this writing application. Unlike Journal Zone, which favors an exploratory, collaborative method, MediaWeaver takes a more structured, genre-based approach to the writing process by introducing students to narrative, poetry, and short fiction, as well as biography and report writing--mainstays of writing in most disciplines. …