Learn To Read With Prof (Prisma) Review | Amstrad Action - Everygamegoing

Amstrad Action

Learn To Read With Prof
By Prisma
Amstrad CPC464

Published in Amstrad Action #63

James Leach dons his cap and examines a new approach to educational software...

Learn To Read With Prof Level 1: Prof Plays A New Game

Learn To Read With Prof is a new series of reading tutorials designed to help young children who are just starting - the language-learning process.

Its aim is to help children look at the construction of words in greater detail. They gain a phonic approach to reading, as well as help with spelling. Spellings or pronunciation are not drummed in or learnt by rote. Instead, a computer game is used to help the children identify and select letters.

The first thing the child does is listen to an audio cassette. A story, read by TV's famous Patricia Hayes, unfolds. The child is asked to press the space-bar and the cursor keys at certain points which prompts on-screen action. This interactivity holds the child's interest as well as teaching him/her several keywords such as I, book, and read. It also teaches the keys needed for the forthcoming game.

Once the child is aware of the keys used, the game itself is loaded. The audio tape does not continue during the game. It is solely an introductory device.

You can select a topic for the game to concentrate on.

  1. Part One teaches the vocabulary, and introduces the look of the words. No initial reading ability is required.
  2. Part Two introduces the beginnings of words, vowels or endings of words.
  3. Part Three teaches sequencing. The child learns to make sentences - this is done in gradual steps.
  4. Part Four lets children use their under-standing of the text to complete a passage. Only the words used in Part One are used.

There are 'choose a word' and 'find a word' games in this level.

Each Part has a number of ability levels, all selectable from a menu, thus enabling a more proficient child to enter at a later stage, or for a child returning to the program to continue where he/she left off.

In the game, the child controls a little red character of the sort that used to get chased around mazes by ghosts. He's called The Prof. He must travel to a letter (or letters on further levels), highlight them, and then travel to a word which has that (or those) letters missing. If the child completes this successfully, the little man jumps up and down with evident glee. This game format remains basically the same throughout the entire tutorial.

In Part One there are approximately four letters to place in four words. This value varies depending upon your current level. When you have completed all the words on one level, you are presented with a brightly-coloured graphics screen, such as a cat sitting in front of some shops. You then progress to the next level. When Part Four is completed, the child should be able to complete sentences, read them and change words within them.

Accompanying the games are a numbered series of books. These cover the same ground as the games, but in a more "traditional" words-and-pictures way. The books should not be followed when the game is in progress - instead, it's recommended that the books are read after playing the games. They have a useful index of words learnt, so you can monitor the child's progress, and tailor it to the spelling and substitutions being carried out in the game.

The words used in both the books and the computer game are typically those found in any childrens' pre-school reading material. They are all chosen from the Murray and McNally word list. Book One introduces nine words. These are I, play, school, at, and, home, can, you, and am, while Book Five incorporates such words as pleased, computer, spacebar, buttons, said, and lea;n. These are obviously more complex in structure, polysyllabic, and occasionally require pronunciation which differs from the phonetic 'look' of the word.

The subject matter of the tutor is centred on the child. The stories are about mum and dad, school, the computer, and, significantly, how pleased mum and dad are at the progress made by the child in learning to read.

The parent takes an important role in helping the child through all the books and levels. When the child moves Prof to a word, you (the parent) should read that word, and ask the child to do so too. If the spelling produced by the child is correct, the Prof jumps up and done, and a short tune is heard. The child should then say the word, without being told it again. In effect, he/she should be reading the word from the screen.

Overall, the components of the package are fine. The books are well written and produced, the computer program is bright and has nice arresting graphics and sound, and the audio tape is great. It's a pity that the this idea isn't carried further. It worked well with the screen display and the keypresses, and was popular with our guinea piglets.

However, the 'game' which is such an integral part of the package might not appeal to all kids.

Whether the Prof's antics will prove fascinating enough to retain a child's interest in the dismembered words appearing on the screen is debatable, but from our 'field trials', the approach will prove more successful (i.e. more interesting to the child) than traditional book-learning, especially when the adult in charge of the learning session takes an active role in guiding the child and retaining its interest.

The Ultimate Test

Of course, the strength of the idea of using a computer to help a child learn to read is because the process becomes interactive, and therefore interesting. The Play and Read' system employed by Prisma is meant to provide just this mix. But the acid test is always to let the kids have a go. This is just what we did. Several (hyperactive) five and six year-olds were temporarily recruited, and were helped through Prof plays a new game.

The audio-cassette-based introduction was a hit. It is interesting and requires the attention of the listener, who must press various keys when instructed by kindly old Pat Hayes.

The game itself must of course, be set up by an adult. The ability levels and game speed need selecting for a start. Game speed is important because it determines how rapidly the Prof responds to keypresses. This caused the first problem. The red Prof character must be moved accurately by the cursor keys. He has to climb a ladder, getting off a certain floors to access different letters. If the speed is set at fast, he moves too quickly if you're careless, overshooting his destination. This can get rather fiddly for young fingers.

If the speed is on slow, the character can take a little too long to get to his destination and boredom can set in. The game format stays the same for each part and level, and, whilst the children were able to understand and get to grips with it, they did tire of the sameness.

Prof seems to be researched, written and presented very thoroughly. A lot of its success depends on the accompanying adult, though. The child's enthusiasm must be gained and held, and he/she must not be made too aware of the learning process - we got on much better treating Prof as a game rather than a lesson.

The game sequence, unfortunately, doesn't vary enough to keep a child interested for long. All the letters and partial words can look a little for-bidding, and the fairly high degree of accuracy needed to guide the Prof to his destination can cause frustration.

Good News

P. Unique 'multi-media' approach to learning
P. Genuinely interactive

Bad News

N. The 'game' is a little basic

James Leach

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