from Technology & Learning

This feature-rich literacy software can help struggling readers realize their potential.

For many students, integrating reading, writing, spelling, and other literacy components is a seamless process, but for those with learning difficulties, it is anything but smooth.

Solo integrates reading and writing literacy components across the curriculum.

Company:Don Johnston Incorporated
System Requirements: Windows: Windows XP or Windows 2000, 512 MB RAM, Pentium III processor or higher.
Macintosh: OSX 10.2 or higher, 512 MB RAM, G4 processor or higher
Price/Grade: License starts at $549.50; network pricing varies/ grades 3–12 (struggling readers)
Pros: Well-integrated package that helps students with reading and writing literacy across all curricular areas; Lots of helpful educator materials and features are included.
Cons: Program tutorials for educators are time-consuming.

Learning is like connecting the dots. Connect them all perfectly, and you get the whole picture. Miss even one, and there's a gap. The trick to closing the gap is to interrelate the various learning components. One way is with Solo, a comprehensive multi-sensory program designed to help students build skills and strategies as they experiment with guided support in reading comprehension and writing. Solo is really four programs in one. Co:Writer (word prediction), Draft:Builder (graphic organizer) and Write:OutLoud (talking word processor) with a new addition, Read:OutLoud (text reader). Read:OutLoud allows readers to locate and hear key words in a curriculum-based context.

Teacher Workplace

An additional component is Teacher Central. In this workshop area, educators can create assignments, view student work, and look at formative data collected from written assignments. Progress can be charted using qualitative and quantitative data and can be displayed in graph, chart, and preview form. This aids instructors in differentiating instruction according to need. The network version allows teachers to access data from any computer on their network so they can share assignments and view students' work.

Solo also provides built-in, modifiable templates for assignments and outlines. Sample outline templates include three-paragraph essays, book reports, and compare-contrast essays. There are also generic assignment templates for making story maps and comparing and contrasting characters, and templates geared to the limited amount of core curriculum content that ships with the program, like passages on ancient Egypt.

The Components


Just as literacy skills are dependent on each other, Solo's components are intertwined. Each one involves reading, draft building, editing, and completing an assignment, all in meaningful context. For example: A teacher might prepare an assignment template on pyramids and tombs. When students click on this assignment, a split screen opens in Read: OutLoud. One side has the eText and the other side text questions and instructions. All parts of the eText can be read aloud using Speak and Read buttons on the toolbar. A click-touch dictionary also supplies any student-highlighted words with a definition, context, and read-aloud audio support. For student-built outlines, the same audio support is available, along with drag-and-drop options, highlighting, and color-coded subtopics.

As an extra, Solo also reads add-on audio files. This means digitized audio books can be uploaded, providing support for students with IEPs.


Once an outline is complete, students send it to Draft:Builder, where they use their topics and notes saved in My Work folders to build first drafts. Draft:Builder opens in a split screen, illustrating the connections between the subtopics. This is particularly helpful for visual learners, as it gives a big picture of the assignment and shows them how reordering subtopics in either the map or outline changes the view on the other panel.

Draft:Builder has two other views, Notes and Draft. In Notes, teachers can provide prompts to stimulate thinking and help students expand their writing. As in other areas, audio support is available for all text. References can also be linked to notes with a Bibliographer feature that illustrates correct citation formats for Internet references, interviews, magazines, books, and letters. New additions to Draft:Builder include the ability to view the outline as a concept map, the option to build a bibliography in either ALA or APA styles, teacher-created templates that have "locked text" for adding instructions in both the notes section and the draft sections, additional formatting capabilities (font size, color, and type), access to the Franklin Dictionary, and spell checking.

Write:Outloud and Co:Writer

When drafts are completed, students send them to Write:Outloud, Solo's talking word processor, where they can check spelling, search for homonyms, revise, and edit in preparation for publication.

New features include extended editing tools (such as a strikethrough), new data collection capabilities that allow teachers to compare student work for improvements in vocabulary and sentences structure, more user-friendly interface buttons between components, and more student guidance options.

Like the other components, Write:Outloud opens in split screen. Editing is easy and intuitive. When students want to add to their drafts, they put their curser on the text and click Write More on the toolbar. When students make an addition, they hear a playful ripping sound and a blank line is added. When spelling, grammar, and formatting are checked and they are satisfied with their drafts, students can prepare them for publishing by aligning text, choosing background and text colors, and adding pictures, either from Write:OutLoud's library or their own Pictures folder.

Extra support is built into writing through Solo's Co:Writer component, which has three windows: Sentence, Paragraph, and Word. Here struggling writers use linguistic word-prediction tools to help them compose grammatically correct sentences with subject-appropriate vocabulary. With the help of easy-to-follow wizards, first-time users choose templates (beginning, intermediate, and advanced) and create Writer Files with their own preferences. New additions to Co:Writer include a more standardized interface and a floating palette to provide easier access to functions, such as Topic Dictionaries. The palette also contains an eWord Bank to give students "right there" support.

Co:Writer is very powerful as a cross-curricular writing tool. For example, using the Intermediate Template's 12,000-word list, kids can write with confidence across a range of school subjects like history, science, and geography. One of the greatest attributes of Co:Writer is that it allows students to work at their own pace, keeping frustration low and individual success high.

As empowering as Solo is for students, it is equally powerful for teachers and administrators. In addition to the Teacher Central management options, Solo helps teachers advance the learning process through careful scaffolding, digitized and printable text, auditory and graphical support, tools to match multiple learning styles, and content to pique curiosity across the curriculum.

Look for Solo Writing Coach this fall, featuring three curriculum units focusing on strategies for expository writing and goal setting.

Jamie Keller is an educational therapist and teacher in Berkeley, California.