Riverdeep Destination Reading Course III

Tweens will love this engaging, content-rich offering.

Company: Riverdeep; www.riverdeep.net
System Requirements: Mac: OS 8.6, G3, 64 MB RAM; PC: Windows 98, Pentium II, 200 MHz processor, 64 MB RAM. Also available for servers and as a portal
Price/Grade: $499; pricing for site licenses available/4-6
Pros: Closely aligned with state and national curriculum standards; can be used as main reading program or supplement; suitable for individual or group use; includes diagnostic tests; features real-time, comprehensive progress reports
Cons: Struggling readers may have to pay close attention to the initial concept explanations or have them repeated

Riverdeep's Destination Reading Course III evokes the hip style of popular tween TV shows while providing NCLB-aligned content.

Destination Reading Course III is proof that we have come a long way from the humdrum of electronic drill and practice routines. This skillfully designed instructional reading program for struggling or grade-level 4th through 6th graders focuses on comprehension and content-area vocabulary skills in a boredom-defying montage of images, video clips, music, and sound bytes.

Introduced within the framework of more than 25 fiction and nonfiction genres (poetry, myth, mystery, journal entries, and persuasive text, to name a few), Destination Reading targets comprehension skills like paraphrasing, inferences, note taking, personification, summarizing, and distinguishing realism from fantasy.

Like its Course I and II predecessors, Course III comprises 30 units, each with four interactive lessons and sublessons. The energetic environment has the graphics, movement, and feel of a hip, tween-inspired television program (think Disney's Kim Possible meets PBS's Zoom) and is sure to engross students. The high-tech mock computer interface is complete with navigation buttons, volume control, a clock to record lesson log-on time, and links to an electronic book, glossary, and print options. A pull-down menu offers Download, Connect/ Disconnect, and Launch information portals.

Students can interact with Course III's content via blogs, IM, and e-mail.

Downloading options deftly lead to video, music, sound, and images while Connect seamlessly flows to e-mail, IM, text, and blog options. Launch ushers users to a (fictional) Web site, Game, Expert, or Buddy Chat, and Whodidit.info links to additional information on the topic at hand. Oftentimes, the information is delivered via pseudo-animated characters who place potentially complicated concepts in easy-to-understand terms. Dr. Tective, for example, explains how context clues provide insight into unfamiliar words. Meanwhile, "futurologist" Tom Orrow lectures on predictions, saying that they "should be based on common sense and things that you already know."

While students have the freedom to explore the program, lessons are quite well orchestrated, with pulsating buttons directing users along specific routes through the courseware. Download, Connect, or Launch are indicated based on the needs and pacing of each lesson.

Beyond its appealing interface, Course III is based on solid research and pedagogy. Systematically designed to help students internalize learning, lessons begin with an introduction and direct instruction on the learning objective. Generally this entails a genre study or explanation of a vocabulary, comprehension, or decoding strategy. The student receives a guided practice about how and when to apply the new strategy and is then asked to apply the strategy.

For example, one objective of the lesson on making predictions and drawing conclusions is to teach the reader that mysteries in novels may be deciphered by puzzling together evidence or facts. To illustrate this, the tween-aged Kori (one of two characters appearing throughout the courseware) walks into her kitchen, discovers an empty pizza box, a plate with crumbs, and tomato sauce on her brother's chin. Her conclusion? "My brother ate the pizza!" The student can then apply this knowledge in a mystery game or mock blog. Because the information is introduced so quickly, these guided practices are vital to understanding the material, particularly for struggling readers.

Critical thinking skills such as making predictions and drawing conclusions are encouraged in Course III's features.

Management features are also solid, with a comprehensive teachers' guide and flexible delivery, including a Web-based option for anytime, anywhere accessibility. Destination Reading can also be used by class groups or individuals, with pre- and post-tests verifying each student's specific curricular needs. The program offers easy assessment and reporting features for tracking student progress.

Destination Reading Course III is an effective way to meet NCLB requirements while skillfully servicing preteen readers' cognitive needs and savvy media tastes.

Iris Obille Lafferty is an educational consultant in San Diego.