1998 Conference Proceedings

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Rena B. Lewis
Project Director
Project LITT: Literacy Instruction Through Technology
San Diego State University
6505 Alvarado Road, Suite 204
San Diego, CA 92120-1878
Voice/Message: (619) 594-8591
FAX: (619) 594-8592
e-mail: rlewis@mail.sdsu.edu
Internet: edweb.sdsu.edu/SPED/ProjectLitt/LITT

Tamarah Ashton
Assistant Project Director
Project LITT: Literacy Instruction Through Technology
e-mail: tashton@mail.sdsu.edu

The Project LITT website is designed to provide parents, teachers, and others interested in learning disabilities with information about one of the most popular types of software today. Sometimes called "talking storybooks," these interactive books on CD-ROM are hypermedia-based children's literature programs. These programs read stories aloud to students in realistic digitized speech, colorful graphics accompany the text, and students often can interact with both text and graphics. Examples are the programs in series such as Living Books, Reader Rabbit's Reading Development Library, Discis Books, Disney's Animated Storybooks, Fisher-Price Read & Play Library, Magic Tales, and WiggleWorks.


Project LITT: Literacy Instruction Through Technology is a three-year research project funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs. It is sponsored by San Diego State University in collaboration with the North Coastal Consortium for Special Education in San Diego County. In the first year of the project, 1996-1997, a national search was conducted to identify all published talking storybook programs. Representative titles were reviewed by focus groups of students with learning disabilities and focus groups of teachers of these students. In the second year of the project, two classroom studies are being conducted using naturalistic methodologies to determine the strategies students with learning disabilities use when interacting with talking storybook software and the types of instructional interventions needed to maximize the likelihood that students will gain reading skills when using this type of software. Activities planned for the third year of the project include a large-scale study of the effectiveness of talking storybook programs with students with learning disabilities and a smaller, naturalistic study of the usefulness of bilingual versions of these programs with students with learning disabilities who are English language learners.


A national search was conducted to locate CD-ROM-based programs with interactive versions of children's literature. Excluded were programs with no text, those with no speech, nonfiction books, and programs with grade 8 readability levels or above. More than 200 talking storybook programs were identified and reviewed by Project LITT staff. This is body of software is a large and heterogeneous one. Programs differ in the types of stories they offer, ranging from award-winning children's books to fairy tales and traditional stories to written-for-computer stories. Several programs offer versions of stories in languages other than English (Spanish is the most common). Print books accompany some, but not all, programs. The text in the print form of the book may differ from that in the on-screen version; typically, the on-screen story is shorter. Estimated readability levels of the stories were calculated using the Grammatik program; most stories were in the grade 1 to grade 4 range.

Programs vary in the types and numbers of interaction opportunities they offer to students. In terms of text interactions, students have the opportunity to ask to hear the entire "page" read aloud. Some programs also allow students to ask to hear an individual word read aloud and/or to hear a definition or explanation of a word. Opportunities for interactions with the graphics on the screen vary widely from program to program. In some talking storybooks, there are no opportunities for graphics interaction; in others, there are 20 or more "hot spots" on each on-screen page. Games and other features are found in some programs. These range from arcade-type games to activities related to reading such as glossaries, writing/word processing features, and lessons on reading skills.


Students with learning disabilities and their teachers were asked to provide information about talking storybook programs. Focus groups were held in which teachers and students were shown representative programs and asked their views of the instructional strengths and weaknesses of this body of software and its age-appropriateness.

Students with learning disabilities reported that they liked the software, particularly its interactivity. Teachers were also enthusiastic, although they preferred programs that emphasized interactions with text rather than interactions with graphics. Teachers felt that programs with word processing components were particularly valuable. In general, teachers and students agreed that talking storybook programs were most appropriate for elementary grade students.


The Project LITT website (edweb.sdsu.edu/SPED/ProjectLitt/LITT) provides information about the project and its activities, as well as preliminary research results. In addition, it contains Software Profiles for more than 200 talking storybook programs. These Profiles can be accessed in a number of ways. The first strategy is through lists. Five software lists are available:

TITLES OF TALKING STORYBOOKS -- An alphabetical list of the titles of individual stories. (When there is more than one story with the same title, the name of the software series is included.)

NAMES OF SOFTWARE SERIES -- A listing of storybook titles by the software series in which the titles are found. A software series is a collection of similar programs published by one company. Most, but not all, programs are part of a series.

READABILITY ESTIMATES -- A listing of storybook titles by estimated readability levels. Readability estimates were computed using the Grammatik program. NOTE. All readability estimates refer the English versions of programs only.

SOFTWARE FEATURES -- A listing of storybooks by types of instructional features (e.g., glossaries, writing activities, reading skill lessons).

LANGUAGES OTHER THAN ENGLISH -- A listing by language of storybooks with versions in languages other than English.

A search engine is also available so that users of the site can look for programs with specific characteristics. The search parameters are (a) estimated readability (English text only), (b) language, (c) text interactivity, and (d) graphics interactivity. For example, a person could use these parameters to search for programs with high text interactivity, low graphics interactivity, and an estimated readability level of grade 3.

SOFTWARE PROFILES Each Software Profile in the Project LITT database describes one talking storybook program. Profiles contain several types of information: NAME: The name of the story. (The series appears in parentheses if there is more than one story in the collection with the same name.) SERIES: The name of the software series to which the story belongs, if applicable.

PUBLISHER: The publisher and its world wide web address, if available.

PLATFORM: The computer(s) for which the program is designed.

PRICE: Because software prices are subject to change, only the approximate cost is listed.

AGE/GRADE RECOMMENDED BY PUBLISHER: Information provided by the publisher in catalogues or advertisements.

PRINT BOOK: If a print book accompanies the software, the number of words in the print story and its estimated readability level. NOTE. The Grammatik program was used to compute Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level readability levels.

ON-SCREEN STORY: The number of words in the interactive text of the on-screen story and its estimated readability level. NOTE. The Grammatik program was used to compute Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level readability levels.

LANGUAGE: The language or languages in which the story is told.

SUMMARY OF THE STORY: A brief resume of the story.

STORY INTERACTION MODES: A description of the ways in which learners can interact with text and graphics in the story.

TEXT INTERACTIONS: Information on text highlighting and whether learners can hear pages, sentences, and/or individual words read aloud.

TEXT INTERACTIVITY RATING: An overall rating of the text interactivity and the number of interactive text pages.

INTERACTIONS WITH GRAPHICS: Information on "hot spots" within graphics and the types of actions that occur when these are activated.

GRAPHICS INTERACTIVITY RATING: An overall rating of the graphics interactivity, the number of interactive graphics pages, and the average number of "hot spots" per page. "Hot spots" were counted on three pages in the story (beginning, middle, and end), and the counts were averaged.

AMOUNT OF ANIMATION IN THE PROGRAM: An overall rating of the amount of animation that occurs in the program.

NAVIGATION THROUGH THE PROGRAM: Information about how the learner moves through the program.

FEATURES: Descriptions of any program features.

DESCRIPTION OF THE SERIES: A brief description of the software series.

NOTE: The contents of this report were developed under a grant from the U. S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

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