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I.B.M. To Market 'Writing To Write' To Hone 2nd Graders' Literacy Skills

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Stepping up its bid to capture a larger share of the precollegiate computer market, the International Business Machines Corporation last week announced the release of a new elementary-school literacy program that uses a process-writing approach to develop composition skills.

The firm announced that it will begin marketing "Writing to Write"--a companion product to its popular "Writing to Read" computer laboratories--nationwide in April.

James Dezell, general manager of ibm's Atlanta-based educational systems division, called the new instructional package the company's "most significant" educational product since "Writing to Read" was introduced in 1984.

"Writing to Read," aimed at students in kindergarten through 1st grade, has since been purchased by 7,000 schools nationwide. In some states, notably Mississippi, programs are underway to install the laboratories in every elementary school. (See Education Week, Aug. 1, 1990.)

The new courseware, which has been under development for several years and continues to be tested in 31 sites around the country, is designed to "dovetail" with "Writing to Read," by continuing the development of literacy in 2nd-grade students, Mr. Dezell said.

"The development of writing proficiency at an early age will enhance thinking skills and enhance the whole learning process," he noted.

Developed by John Henry Martin, the education researcher who also devised the pedagogy that underpins "Writing to Read," the new program encourages students to improve their writing by planning, drafting, reviewing, editing, and eventually "publishing" their work.

They do so by working at "multi-sensory" workstations similar to those found in a 'Writing to Read" lab. The program is designed to be used on i.b.m.'s Ps/2 Model 25 personal computers.

Students follow the 10-unit curriculum by working cooperatively with partners to plan and draft compositions. To build their vocabularies, students first are encouraged to name people, places, and objects presented to them in various scenes, which they manipulate using a mouse in a manner similar to that of a video game.

They then create their stories on the computer, and print them on a networked printer.

A computer-based voice-synthesizer also "reads" stories back to students, allowing them to further analyze their writing.

The new program differs from "Writing to Read" in at least one significant respect, however, by incorporating the equipment into individual classrooms rather than laboratories.

In recent years, ibm has aggressively begun to compete with Apple Computer Inc. for a larger share of the K-12 market. But industry analysts said last week it was too early to assess what impact the new product might have on school computer purchases.

A clear indicator of the importance that i.b.m. attaches to the program is a confidential briefing about the prod4uct for educational media that the normally secretive company held in two Detroit schools late last year.

It is also clear that while the product, now dubbed "Form I," has undergone extensive development and testing, it is likely to be further refined.

During the Detroit briefing, for example, the speech synthesizer was inconsistent in its pronunciation, correctly enunciating the word "visit," yet clearly rendering the word "visited" as "visighted."

An ibm spokesman said that children would be unikely to notice the discrepancy, adding that, if they did, teachers could highlight the mistake as a "learning experience."

Despite the flaws, users were enthusiastic about the program.
Willhelmina Quick, the principal of Newberry Elementary School, located in a poor, and predominantly minority Detroit neighborhood, said that it boosted her student's self-esteem and writing skills.

Similar results were reported at the predominately white John Monteith School in the affluent suburb of Grosse Pointe Woods.

Ibm announced that a classroom set of the courseware--sufficient to teach 30 students--would cost $4,610, exclusive of the necessary hardware, with discounts available for bulk purchases.

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