By: Melissa Olszyk

SUBJECT AREA: Reading and Language Arts/Literature

PUBLISHER: Don Johnston Incorporated

COST: Individual Title - $65. Each title contains a CD-ROM, paperback book and audiocassette.

Complete Series Pack - $174. Titles are sold as a series of similar books, for example, The Classic Adventure Set 1G includes Treasure Island, The Red Badge of Courage, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Reading group pack - $399. Reading group packs contain 2 CD-ROMs, 2 audiocassettes, and 5 paperback books for each title in a series.

EDUCATIONAL GOAL: To provide students with age-appropriate, high-interest literature in a format for readers who are two or more grades behind in reading or who are not successful readers.

DESCRIPTION: More than 60 Start-to-Finish Books are available in the following categories: literature, history through people, science and nature, mystery, and sports.

The titles are divided into two reading levels, gold and blue. Gold level books are based on a 2/3 grade readability with a book length of 5,000 7,000 words. There are 100 150 words per page, and 10 12 chapters in each book. The 18-point font is clear and large, and there are full page illustrations. Blue level books are based on a 4/5 grade readability level with 10,000 12, 000 words per book. There are 150 200 words per page and 10 12 chapters per book. The font size is 14-point, and the illustration size and placements vary. Text wrapping is introduced at this level.

Each Start-to-Finish Book package presents the book in three formats: 1) paperback book 2) book on tape, and 3) CD-ROM. A Teacher Guide is included.

Students follow spoken instructions to sign in on the opening screen of the computer book and choose the appropriate chapter. They see and hear each section read aloud while the words are highlighted on the monitor. This provides a correct reading model and it links the written and spoken word. The students can click on any word to practice fluency. At the end of each chapter is a cloze passage that students can complete as a tool for evaluating and assessing progress. When students click on the blank to be answered, they are given a word bank of choices. The completed quiz can be printed to be used as a summary of the chapter. Electronic progress reports are available.

The paperback book is divided into short, manageable chapters. The text is all bold faced and double spaced, making it easier to read. Illustrations provide a link to the storyline. The audiocassette is narrated by a professional who models correct intonation. The portability of the cassette provides a way to reinforce the audio portion of the story at home and in the classroom as students follow along in the book.

STRENGTHS: There are several notable features of this software package that meet the needs of a variety of students with disabilities. Nonreaders, as well as poor readers, can benefit from the speech output. The "Read All" feature allows students to hear each page read fluently and see each word highlighted as it is read. The voice of the narrator is professional, engaging and very funny (as stated by my students). Struggling readers can click on an unfamiliar word to hear that word pronounced. My students also enjoyed hearing the pages "flip," just as if someone was flipping a page in the book.

The uncluttered yet engaging and interactive screen assists students with attention difficulties, cognitive disabilities, and perceptual impairments. The print copy of the book has large, bold print that is spaced advantageously to provide easy-to-read pages.

Students with physical and/or cognitive disabilities need programs in which speed is not essential. This software does not require a response from the student in a set amount of time. Students control when they want to move on to the next page and can choose to hear the page read again.

Teacher options provide a means for teachers to customize the software for individual students. Teachers can turn the speech on or off, select single switch scanning for students with physical disabilities, and turn quizzes on or off. Teacher materials found on the CD-ROM's include writing activities, pre-reading vocabulary lists, and multiple-choice questions. The review/vocabulary words are syllabicated, accented syllables are indicated in bold, and the words are transcribed phonetically, as well as used in a sentence.

WEAKNESSES: The strengths certainly outweigh the weaknesses in this package, but there are some improvements that would make it even better. Being able to adjust the rate of speech would be helpful. A built-in dictionary would give students immediate access to definitions of unfamiliar words. In the quiz section, clicking on a word does not make the narrator speak that word. The "?" icon on the "help" button confused some of my students. They thought that by clicking that button the program would ask them a question related to the story rather than answer questions they had about operating the program.

SUMMARY: The Start-to-Finish Book Series provides excellent access to literature for students whose reading skills are limited. Finding "high interest, low level" reading material is a problem faced by many teachers. This software package not only solves this problem, but it goes one step further by utilizing computers to assist struggling readers. The series offers a terrific opportunity to provide students with disabilities access to the regular curriculum.

Start-to-Finish Books

Available Titles

Classic Literature:


Science and Nature:

Short Stories:


Sherlock Holmes Series:


Myths and Legends:


Melissa Olszyk is a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at The College of New Jersey.


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