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Kaplan Writing and Vocabulary helps high-school students to improve their composition, English and standardized test skills. The program asks students to examine English from three perspectives: grammar, vocabulary and writing.
Kaplan Writing and Vocabulary opens with a main menu from which a student can choose the topic (grammar, writing and vocabulary) in which she is interested. Kaplan offers a diagnostic test in each of these three areas so a student can identify the topics that she needs to learn or review. Some of the questions on the diagnostic test are thought-provoking, but many answers are ridiculous -- one question offers a user the choice of "going shopping" if her thesis sentence does not match the content of her paper.
A moving exclamation mark at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen provides hints. Without crediting the source of the idea, Kaplan has created a helper almost identical to the helper that oscillates at the corner of a Microsoft Word or Excel screen.
In the vocabulary section, Kaplan presents the user with a bank of vocabulary words that include definition and pronunciation. Though Kaplan provides tips and strategies for deciphering the meaning of words, the program does not explain how one might use these strategies to figure out the meaning of each word in the word bank. Kaplan ignores a good opportunity for modeling how to apply skills.
In the writing section, Kaplan provides strategies and tools that students can use to write papers. The program explains how to outline, structure, edit and revise. The quizzes associated with this section then ask a user to identify the sequence of steps he would follow to write a paper. Once again, the program tests for memorization rather than application of knowledge.
The Kaplan program offers an "Idea Creator," which allows the user to map out her ideas for an essay. The software then generates an outline from the user's map. The program also provides a bibliography creator. This portion of the software prompts for the user for information -- author, title, publication date, etc. -- and then formats the information accurately depending on the style of bibliography the user prefers. This feature enables a user to expend his energy on the content of his paper and on identifying sources instead of his spending hours placing commas in the correct places.
The software is not engaging. Students must sift through numerous screens of information-laden pages that are not particularly interactive. The "Taking a Break" section of the software that involves word searches and crosswords will be a welcome and frequent respite for students. Students will take weeks to process all the lists of information stored in this software.
Families interested in preparing their children for standardized tests may choose this product because it provides vocabulary enrichment and multiple-choice experience. Teachers could use the software to introduce and reinforce writing strategies.
The program focuses too much on memorization and too little on application. In no way will the program replace or add to the value of a high-quality English teacher who instructs students on grammar, writing and vocabulary and then gives students well-designed opportunities to demonstrate their understanding.
Kaplan Writing and Vocabulary suggests that there is a specific formula for writing a paper. Though communicating in English requires understanding of many rules and concepts, any writing is creative and individualistic at heart. Ideally, the program would present multiple strategies to students and encourage them to experiment with writing and learning until they decided which strategies were most useful.
PC: Windows 95/98/ME/2000, Pentium 266 MHz or faster cpu, 5 MB hard drive space, 32 MB RAM, 800 x 600 16-bit high color monitor, 4X or faster CD-ROM, 100% Sound Blaster, compatible sound card .return to top of page
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