Software for Culturally Mediated Instruction
A recent example of a software program that provides culturally mediated instruction is Say Say Oh Playmate. It is an interactive program targeted to teach beginning literacy skillsboth phonemic awareness and phonicsthrough a culturally mediated, music-based scenario. Used by children in K-5 classrooms, it has shown positive results in both learning and motivation (Pinkard, 1999). Additional benefits include marked improvement in children's sight vocabularies. Interested teachers can download the Say Say Oh Playmate software.
The goals and activities in the software include teaching a clapping routine, creating songs and clap routines, recording songs, and sharing songs. Say Say oh Playmate begins in a clay-animated neighborhood with an introduction to Sam, a character who promises to help the student teach new clap routines to other children in the neighborhood. Teaching other children new clap routines is essentially the cover story for the more important purpose of the program: to scaffold the development of basic literacy skills. This goal is embedded within the software architecture and maintained throughout the scenario. The student's task is to create, learn, and teach clapping songs to online friends. For example, students work actively to reconstruct the lyrics to the song/clap routine. They reconstruct the clap-routine sequence they will learn. Next, they practice the routine themselves and see how the children in the neighborhood were successfully "taught" through their own activities. Then they write and record new songs/clap routines on their own. The concept is that students move through these various components of the neighborhood scenario, building various reading, writing, and communication skills in the process. These literacy skills are cross-referenced to the Michigan Curriculum Framework as curriculum connections. In addition, the Web site has curricular extensions that can be used in the classroom to integrate lessons from the software with classroom activities.
What makes Say Say oh Playmate essentially different from noncomputer-based settings is the orchestration of several coaching and teaching features within an interactive and engaging scenario. Coach Sam provides content-based assistance to the student throughout his or her progress, and a tracking system (invisible to the student but accessible to the teacher) assesses and adjusts instruction based on a history of the students' progress. From a content perspective, culturally mediated instruction that is firmly based on sound curricular expertise combines the best features of integrated learning system software (extensive beginning reading instruction) and the best features of the talking book software (highly motivating context).