Judge Kristin Munson asked all her writing implements for help with this review, but none of them would talk to her. What a bunch of snobs.
"Learn the secrets to exceptional writing[?]"
Can a vaguely ethnic magic pencil make you or your child a better writer?
According to Rock 'N Learn, its 70-minute, barely animated tutorial provides kids 10 and up with two programs—writing and proofreading—to improve their essay skills, but if your children learn anything from this DVD, it's the vast and unfair nature of life. While their friends are enjoying Anorexic Sparkle Teens or Pirate Ninja Kick Punch, or whatever the heck it is kids these days watch, they're stuck with lead-tipped tormentor, Marko.
Marko, while well-intentioned, isn't the most helpful of tutors. "If you can't come up with anything real [for your essay], just use your imagination by brainstorming," he says, giving your impressionable kid very bad information.
"But Marko," your wise and wide-eyed 'tween wonders, "don't writers get in trouble for making up stories about themselves? And why do you talk like Super Mario?"
"Don't-a question me or I'll stab-a-you in the hand. Pasta Fagioli!"
For all its flaws, the writing half of the DVD does provide some useful tools for novices. It skims 11 writing tools like alliteration, personification, and paragraph transition in a too-swift 35 minutes, but the bonus section provides "posters" with word suggestions to go along with the concepts. Additionally, the chapter menu is set up so that teachers and home schoolers can spread out the tools over a writing unit.
The promised proofreading section isn't a similar tutorial guiding viewers through the editing process but a play-along reading test, complete with answer bubbles. This is more fun than putting Marko between your middle and ring fingers and squeezing, but only slightly. While it does cover the difference between their, there, and they're, and two, too, and to, any useful portions are buried beneath an avalanche of multiple-choice questions. Also, the animated child in the program has the annoying habit of giving the solution before reading all the answers. I'm not suggesting Dora-sized pauses here, but give the kids at home some time to think.
Rock 'N Learn has won several mantelpieces worth of awards for their educational DVDs, but the typical age range for those programs is between 3 and 8, and it feels like they way overshot the mark for the 'grades 4 & up' suggested on the Writing Strategies case. Grammar skills are presumed, not explained, and suggested words are overly ambitious. Don't believe me? Turn to a 10-year old, if you've got a spare one lying around, and ask him to use "therefore" in a sentence. Okay, now try "moreover." Isn't it adorable?
Rock 'N Learn: Writing Strategies sports a colorful, full frame transfer and the standard stereo, which is unfortunate because the soundtrack was apparently composed on a synthesizer with Tourettes. If your kids don't hate you enough yet, you can print off the corresponding tests from Marko's Web site, so they can follow along with a mercifully silent #2 pencil of their own.
Less concerned with teaching an important skill than passing a standardized test, the proofreading portion is a near total waste. Whatever happened to learning for the sake of knowing? The 35 minutes of useful material isn't enough on its own to push Rock & Learn: Writing Strategies over the hump and into a recommendation; there's just not enough content to justify the cost.
So, yes, a talking pencil can help with your writing, but 'wood' you really
want him to?
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