Storybook Weaver Deluxe
An ESL Software Evaluation

Saint Michael’s College
Colchester, Vermont, USA
GSL520 Computer Assisted Language Learning
Instructor: Christine Bauer-Ramazani
Graduate Student: Paul Seefeldt

Title: Storybook Weaver Deluxe

Version: 2.0, 1994-1996

Subject: Language arts (particularly writing).

Publisher: The Learning Company, Inc.
                  6160 Summit Drive North
                  Minneapolis, Minnesota 55430-4003
                  (612) 569-1500

Customer Services:
World Wide Web:
Automated support and Fax-back

Recorded fax –back technical and product information, available 24 hour a day, 7 days a week.

Telephone: Mon.-Fri. 9:00am-9:00pm
                   Sat. 10:00am – 7:00pm
                   Eastern Time
                   (800) 723-6322

ESL level(s): Beginner to Intermediate with support (especially younger students)
                      High intermediate to Advanced without support.

Adult Interest
: The product has been specifically designed for non-ESL learners grades 1-6, but it could be sucessfully adapted for use with adult and ESL learners.

Hardware Needed: IBM or MAC Cost: $19.95

System Requirements:
68030 processor or better.
8MB of RAM, 16MB for PowerPC.
System 7.1 (or later).
13" or larger color display with 256 colors.
Double-speed CD-ROM drive.
Macintosh-compatible printer (optional).
Macintosh-compatible microphone (optional).

Windows and Windows 95
50 Mhz 486 or faster processor.
Microsoft Windows 3.1 (or higher), or Windows 95.
8MB RAM, 16MB recommended.
256-color display.
Double-speed CD-ROM drive.
Windows-compatible mouse.
Windows-compatible printer (optional).
Window-compatible microphone (optional).

Time Needed: Depending on discretion of teacher.

User friendliness: High.

Prerequisite skills or activities
: Easy to use. General word-processing skills required. Instruction in process writing.                                                        Relevant grammar.

Program Description: The Storybook Weaver Deluxe software program is an open-ended writing tool designed to engage                                       students actively in the writing process. Students can use it to author and illustrate stories using a
                             simple word processor and a variety of graphic features.  

The installation program of Storybook Weaver Deluxe is loaded automatically after insertion of the program disk into the CD-ROM. The user is guided through a short series of steps to install the program on the computer. The beginning screen is colorful and simple in design, so that even a child can easily understand and use it. There are only 6 choices at this point. (1) Getting Started is an automated visual overview of the operation of the program. It is the logical place to start for a new user of the program. (2) Next the user may want to select Story Starters for ideas to get started with stories. (3) Or a user who is already familiar with the operation of the program may wish to go directly to Create a Story in order to start a new story. (4) One may choose Read a Story to view a previously written story; but it should be noted that with the selection of this option changes may not be made to the story. (5) Another option on the initial screen is Load a Story. Using this students can open and finish a story that they have earlier started and saved.

When a student creates a story he/she is guided first to the Title Page screen where a title for the story may be typed in along with the name of the author(s) and any additional comments. At this point opportunity is given for selection from a variety of colorful borders. This page may be edited at a later time if desired.

The next screen in the progression of creating a new story is the Story Page. Using the Background Button on a panel along the left edge of the screen the user can select from a variety of backgrounds for the story in three basic categories: scenery, patterns and colors. Both background and foreground can be added. After this the Object Button can be used to select from a variety of objects in a number of categories and sub-categories. These objects can be placed against the background and manipulated in various ways to illustrate the story. The Object Editor Button allows the user of the program to create or edit graphics found in the program, thus adding a personal touch. Music and sound effects can be creatively introduced into the program with the Music Button and the Sound Effects Button. By using the Record Voice Button students can record for up to 30 seconds on any page interacting with it through speech.

Young writers can proceed at any point in the process to work with words in the word processor. It has many of the features of more advanced programs including a Spell-checker and Thesaurus. Text is entered in a Story Window and can be edited, deleted, sized and moved in ways that are common to many word processors. The Spell-checker is fast and easy to use. It cannot, of course, help the student where he/she has spelled a word correctly but misused it in the specific context. The Thesaurus is simply designed and easy for children to use. A good feature of Thesaurus is the clarity and simplicity with which it treats the shades of meaning of a word. Included is a list of definitions of the selected word, a list of its synonyms and a full definition of the word. There is no grammar checking function in this package as there is in more advanced word processors, but one wonders if this would really be appropriate and of use at this age level.

Aspects of English:
Writing is a cognitive process. Children begin learning to read and write early in life and it is an on-going process throughout their education. Storybook Weaver Deluxe is an open-ended writing tool which has been specifically designed for children. It is flexible enough to be adapted to individual students as they discover their own writing styles. It encourages a process approach to writing, actively involving students in writing whole and meaningful texts. The children who use this tool are given the opportunity to choose their own topics, formulate ideas, compose drafts, interact with their peers, revise, edit and publish their work for real audiences. They may return to any one of these steps at different times in the process.

The help feature of this program is comprehensive and simple, although not extensive. It is well illustrated which would be helpful especially for younger learners. However, the text has been written for adult learners familiar with computers, not for children. Because of the user friendliness of the program, this might not be that important.

Type of Program
   Demonstration              Problem Solving       Drill           Simulation      Informational     Tutorial Game Student Tool
Teacher Tool                 ESL-specific           Non-ESL Specific     Word Processing     Testing

English Language Areas Covered
Reading. Speaking. Writing.    Vocabulary.    Grammar.   Listening.  
    Cultural competence. Conversational practice.

Pedagogical Considerations:
Program Operation:
Easy to follow.                       Not clear.
    Causes frustration.             Students can control program.
Student can exit anytime.        Has record keeping.
    Requires correct spelling.   Has authoring function.
Easy to fit in curriculum.      Easy to explain to class.
Requires instructional support.
    This product would definitely require the support of an instructor to guide and assist students  in the process of writing.

Comments:  The program is easy to use. It would not be at all difficult for its young users manipulate. The Spell-checker and   Thesaurus have been well designed and are adequate to the task. With some instruction from the teacher both of these features can be utilized together to avoid the common error of using a rightly spelled word but totally out of context.

Well organized. Encourages students.     Not useful.
   Helpful responses to errors.

Well organized. Well sequenced.          Enjoyable.
Interesting.                 Factually correct.    Helps learning.
Provides effective practice.
Introduces new language understandably.
Provides meaningful interaction with computer.
Provides communicative interaction between students.
Creates challenge without anxiety.
Free of excessive violence.
Free of stereotypes.
Takes advantage of computer’s unique capability.

Comments: Storybook Weaver Deluxe has been carefully organized and well designed with the specific needs and limitations of young learners clearly in mind. It is an easy program to setup and use. I could envision it being very enjoyable and interesting for young learners to use. It would be a good stimulus in sparking the imagination of its users and leading them along into the process of writing. The human-computer interface has been carefully designed for its users and is not cumbersome to use. The graphical and word processing capabilities of the computer have been well utilized in this package to create a useful writing tool.

Program Output
Attractive screens.  Color.  Video.
Attractive graphics. Attractive sounds.

Example(s) for applying this program in the classroom:
Storybook Weaver Deluxe is accompanied by a fine manual which explains in detail using clear and simple language how to use this product (in other words computer "how to"). But this manual goes a step further than this by its inclusion of a very helpful section entitled Classroom Resources. This section contains materials to help the teacher put the software to use in the classroom. The subsection Classroom Ideas provides the prospective teacher with lesson plans and other material to help integrate Storybook Weaver Deluxe into the curriculum. There is also a comprehensive list of helpful References to which the teacher can refer for more information about reading and writing activities. Classroom Ideas contains specific ideas and advice for prewriting, drafting, composing, revising, sharing, and publishing. Further, there are ideas in this section for collaborative writing, storytelling, reading aloud, connecting reading and writing, and integrating literature.

Overall Opinion:
   Highly recommended program. Pretty good.                 Useful.
Modifications needed.                 Not useful.

Best Part of Program:
The program definitely stimulates creative expression in writing through arresting graphics that are easy to manipulate and combine in different ways. It motivates and stimulates students to think creatively, which is the first step and very important to each step after in the entire process of writing. Students using the program are encouraged to draw on the world about them as well as the fertile soil of tradition and folklore to create their own stories. The creative expression of the young user is not hampered by a cumbersome user-interface which is difficult to manipulate. The ease and simplicity of use this program is a big plus for its use in the classroom with young learners. It is not only "user-friendly" but "kid-friendly" as well, appropriate to the age group for which it has been designed. Provided the teacher is able to lend good support to its users, this program could be used to good advantage to stimulate learners, especially young ones, in the process of writing.

Worst Part of Program:
Storybook Weaver Deluxe is not a stand-alone product. It requires the active support of a teacher in order to be used effectively in the classroom to lead students through the process of writing. The manual accompanying this software provides the teacher with excellent support. Without the assistance of a teacher students might not get far beyond the first few steps in the process of actually writing (i.e. giving a title to the piece). There might be a tendency for students to pay more attention to manipulation of the versatile graphics of the program rather than the creation of words to accompany them. Although Storybook Weaver Deluxe can be used for collaborative writing as it stands, it might have benefited by the inclusion of a feature allowing for peer-commenting or editing.

Comments: I believe that this program could be used very successfully to encourage the creative involvement of young students especially (both ESL and non-ESL) in the process of writing. But its use definitely needs the support and accompaniment of a teacher to guide students in the process of writing. The manual that which goes along with the software is a valuable supplement to it. For the low price, this package would be a valuable addition to the writing classroom.