Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 37 / JUNE 1983 / PAGE 160

Learning With Computers
Glenn M. Kleiman

In the March 1982 Learning with Computers column, we explored several projects which demonstrated the potential of word processing as an educational tool. This month, let's take another look at word processing for classrooms and homes - some of the practical difficulties. We'll also review a word processing program suitable for children.
    Writing requires both the mental process of composing sentences to express the intended meanings and the physical process of putting words onto paper. Many children find the physical process to be slow and tedious, leading them to dislike writing and to be unwilling to edit and revise what they have written.
    The advantage of computerized word processing is that it makes the physical process easier, so it becomes simple to create and alter written text. Each time changes are made, the computer can print a new copy, so the writer doesn't have the tedious chore of rewriting or retyping the entire text just to make a few changes. This ease of revision encourages students to write more, edit more, produce better essays, and take greater pride in their written work.

Word Processing In Schools
However, the use of word processing in schools has been limited for several reasons: children's lack of typing ability; the lack of word processing programs suitable for children; and an insufficient number of computers available.
    The first problem can be overcome by some instruction and practice in typing. Typing is a valuable skill and is becoming even more valuable as computers become more prevalent. The time and effort spent mastering typing is worthwhile at any grade level.
    Computers can be used to help children learn to type. In March we looked at the benefits of computer-directed typing drill and practice. A variety of typing-teacher programs are available. With some practice, most children are able to type as quickly as they write, and typing with a word processor means errors can be corrected easily and the writing always looks neat. Typing is particularly advantageous for those children who have difficulties with the fine motor control required to write neatly.
    The second problem, lack of suitable software, may come as a surprise to those of you who are aware of the large number of word processing programs available for small computers. It is true - there are some excellent programs. But these programs are designed for business and professional applications, not for classrooms and homes.
    Professional word processing programs contain many features beyond the fundamental insert, delete, rearrange, and print capabilities. There may be options for arranging numbers in columns, producing form letters, creating indexes, and other advanced functions. There may also be different ways of performing similar functions; so, for example, three different procedures may be used to delete single words, sentences, and paragraphs. This can be most efficient for an experienced user who writes a great deal. But the time required to learn the system, the complexity of using it, and the cost of the programs make most professional word processors poorly suited for classroom and home applications.
    Giving a child a professional word processing program to write a 500 word essay is like giving someone a sledgehammer to tack a poster to the wall. Fortunately, word processing programs designed specifically for different users and uses are becoming available. One new program, called the Bank Street Writer, is advertised as "the first word processor for the entire family."

Bank Street Writer
The Bank Street Writer is an easy-to-learn and easyto-use word processor that is sufficiently powerful for most of the writing done in homes and schools. Its designers, intending the program to be used by children, have kept the number of commands down to the minimum necessary. They also provide clear prompts on the computer screen for each step in entering, erasing, rearranging, or printing text. The children are protected from accidentally erasing or losing their writing - a real problem with some sophisticated word processors.
    The Bank Street Writer divides the screen into two areas, a text area and a prompt area. The text area shows what you have written. The prompt area displays all the commands, so you don't have to remember them.
    The program has three modes: write, edit, and transfer. Entering text in the write mode is similar to using a typewriter with an erase key which makes it easier to correct typing mistakes. From write mode, you can press ESC to enter edit mode.
    Edit mode is for altering the text. The prompt area tells you which four keys move the cursor. To insert text, you simply move the cursor to where you want the text to appear and then press ESC to go back to write mode. Then, as you type, the words in the existing text move over to make space for the new ones.
Word processing is potentially
one of the most valuable
educational uses of computers.
It puts children in charge of
the computer and provides
them with a powerful tool
they can appreciate.

    The prompt area in edit mode also contains a menu with erase, move, find, unerase, move-back, replace, and transfer menu options. You select an option by moving a marker on the menu. The prompt area then tells you exactly how to proceed. For example, if you select erase, the computer tells you to move the cursor to the beginning of the text to be erased. When you press the RETURN key to signal that this has been done, you are prompted to move the cursor to the end of the text to be erased. As you do so, the words to be erased are highlighted. Next you are asked whether you are sure you want to erase the highlighted words. If you type Y, the words disappear, and the remaining words close up the space. If you type N, the words remain, and the program goes back to the edit mode menu.
    The unerase and move-back options can be used after an erase or move operation. The erased or moved words reappear, and you are then asked if they should, in fact, be put back into their original position. These options are valuable for two reasons. First, they allow children to recover easily from mistakes. Nothing is more frustrating than accidentally erasing or misarranging your essay just because you pressed the RETURN key by accident.
    Second, these options encourage children to try different arrangements of words and sentences and to evaluate which is best. The facility for testing different ways of expressing their ideas encourages children to improve their writing. It is also excellent for children working together - they can actually see how each other's suggestions will look without having to do a great deal of rewriting.
    Transfer mode, which can be selected from edit mode, is used to save the writing on a disk, retrieve prior writing from disk, merge two files into one, and get the computer to print copies. Before printing, you are prompted to enter (or accept the default settings for) the number of characters per line and the amount of spacing between lines, and to indicate whether pages should be numbered and whether you want a heading on each page. You can also specify to have a file printed as a continuation of the previous file, so that long documents can be divided into individual files and then printed contiguously.
    There is also a utility program which lets you set the word processor for different hardware configurations and set the defaults for spacing, page size, and so on. And a tutorial program is on the back of the disk to help you learn to use the word processor.
    The Bank Street Writer does have certain limitations. You cannot change the spacing within a file - once you have chosen double-spaced printing, the entire file must be double-spaced. It has centering capability, but lacks underlining. The erase and move commands are limited to 15 lines of text (530 characters) at a time. To erase or move more, you have to repeat the command. Find and replace are limited to a maximum of 29 characters in a string. Also, if you divide a single document into separate files, you will have to apply the replace command to each one separately. These limitations make the Bank Street Writer unsuitable for large amounts of text. It is designed for such things as letters and school essays, not books or extensive business correspondence.
    The Bank Street Writer is the best word processing program I have seen for children. I am delighted that it is available because I regard word processing as potentially one of the most valuable educational uses of computers. Word processing puts children in charge of the computer and provides them with a powerful tool they can appreciate. It encourages them to write and helps them improve their writing - something that is sometimes neglected in the classroom. Of course, word processing is also a valuable tool for teachers, and the Bank Street Writer is suitable for them.
    The Bank Street Writer is available for Apple II and Atari computers, and a Commodore 64 version is being prepared. Two packages are available. The home package, available from Brøderbund Software (1938 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA 94901), includes two copies of the program/ tutorial disk and a written manual. The school package, available from Scholastic Inc. (730 Broadway, New York, NY 10003), contains three copies of the program/tutorial disk, a student's manual, and a teacher's guide. The home package sells for about $70, the school package for about $95.

The Need For Many Computers
This brings us to the final problem in using word processing in classrooms: it is an equipment-intensive activity, and most schools do not have a sufficient number of computers. Writing requires time, and to take full advantage of word processing, much of that time has to be spent in front of a computer. There have been attempts to solve this traffic problem, including having children write the first draft of their essays on paper and then having adults type the text into the computer. The children mark their changes on paper and then edit their essays on the computer. This at least exposes children to word processing, and may be the best alternative, given inadequate computer time for each child.
    However, it does not let the children experience actually composing text on the computer, and this is what encourages them to analyze, evaluate, edit, and improve their writing. The simple fact is that taking full advantage of the potential of word processing requires more computers than are currently available in most schools. Still, whatever introduction to word processing can be provided is valuable, and with the continuing drop in hardware and software prices, computers and word processing may soon become more accessible.

Word Puzzle Programs
There are several excellent word puzzle programs available for teachers and children who do have access to one or two computers in their school for a few hours a week. These programs show children some of the potential of computers and require minimal computer time and children enjoy them. My favorite is Crossword Magic. This program has students enter their words and clues, and it creates a crossword puzzle for them. There are also programs which create word search and anagram puzzles from lists of words students enter. Here are some sources for word puzzle programs, each of which is easy to use and performs its intended function very well.

    Crossword Magic, for Apple II and Atari computers, is from L & S Computerware, 1589 Fraser Drive, Sunnyvale, CA 94087. This program requires a graphics printer, such as the Epson MX-80 with Graftrax or the C. Itoh Prowriter.

    Word search and anagram programs for the Apple II are available from Hi Tech, 126 Lighthouse Ave., Santa Cruz, CA 95060.

    A word search program for the PET is available on Cursor #14 from The Code Works, Box 550, Goleta, CA 93017.