Day 28 – logic or instinct – let tech help – Assistive Technology #28daysofwriting


Well I’ve come to the end of my 28 day series. An idea started by @tombarrett and picked up and run with by @staffrm, @mrlockyer & @pepsmccrea.

And the final push I needed was @ictevangelist’s tweet offering a free Staffrm mug for anyone who manages the full #28daysofwriting.

I have been encouraged daily by @digitaldaisies who preferred the free kit blogs of the first 8 days. Penny works for a seriously underfunded alternative provision with very slow broadband – she writes about it here.…

@rondelle has also followed the series with lots of encouraging comments. @hrogerson has asked pertinent questions which prompted a blog from Foldr about eportfolios.

And the wonderful @Sue_Cowley has cheered from the sidelines writing 28 Days midway after someone was critical of the idea; concerned it produced poor quality writing.…

My SEN buddies, @cherrylkd, @nancygedge, @aspiedelazouche, @rachelrossiter and @chrischivers have been great retweeters.

I have made new friends on Twitter through the growing and lovely @staffrm. I have been invited to speak at an event in London, for a coffee and chat in Bristol and learned of new assistive technologies and iPad apps.

Writing is a bit of a demon for me; I’ll never find it easy and to complete the #28daysofwriting I needed to make it chatty – discursive essays take me too long – perhaps the complainer had a point.

Two awards from me, the first goes to the funniest – @ellen_ellenboss for a late night post after being out with her department – coming home tipsy she writes about her failure musing on how students feel. Even the # has an error – I love it.…

Then, dear Rory, @eddiekayshun. He has written poetic, autobiographical and pedagogical blogs. You name it, he’s covered it – I have enjoyed every, single one, especially his Corsican stories.

Oh dear, this has turned into a speech. I’d like to thank my Mum, my dog….

I hope my series has been helpful to some; I know what a difference assistive technology can make. 80% of my job is teaching children how to read, write and spell but despite this, I recognise that they need help to access the curriculum and record their work right now – not once they’ve learned.

It makes sense to help these children; would we deny them glasses or hearing aids?

It’s logical to help them.

RIP Leonard Lemoy


Day 27 – IPad and SEN in Secondary – Assistive Technology – #28daysofwriting

After the iPads & SEN In Secondary course, I like to finish with three points, the best toolkit. problems and take back to school messages.

1. Best toolkit

Here are four options:


Book Creator

Snap Type

Guided Access




Book Creator


Jumbled Sentences

Mr Thorne’s

Telling the Time


Book Creator


Reading Champion

Spell board

Write online


Book Creator


Guided Access


Voice Dream (with Load2Learn)

Speak and prediction enabled in Accessibility and use with Dragon Dictation.


2. Problems
a) lack of secondary reading apps.

I suggested Reading Champion and Lexia but no fiction. A gap in the market here I think? Gazoom do a lovely Level 1-6 Magic Key series for primary; something age appropriate for secondary would be nice. Any ideas?

b). Sharing work – take pictures, email or print all options but far better is an eportfolio – I mentioned Foldr (…), Google Drive and Own Cloud – any other ways?

c) Teachers nervous of use – a small demonstration from SENCO or a confident TA to all staff may help.


3. Take back to School messages

* This tech can enable; it doesn’t replace skills

* Toolkit of apps

* TAs need:

Training so they can help student.

Time to prepare word banks, electronic copies of documents and materials for students.

Access to ipads to practice.

I hope this helps and thanks to the SENCOs and TAs who helped create this.

Day 26 – #5 Simple Tips to Help With Reading from a Screen – Assistive Technology #28daysofwriting


There is a US study which claims to show that increasing the gap between letters may make reading easier for struggling readers. VoiceDream will do this for you (Day 14) but for most students this is not possible.

Some easier steps may help however:

1. A larger font – this can be seen just from children’s books to adult books but if you are showing a lot of text on the whiteboard, it would be useful if the font were 14 or 16 rather than 12.

2. The right font – evenly spaced sans serif font such as Arial or Tahoma is recommended. There is a free font called Open Dyslexic which can be downloaded. It then just sits in the font choices along with all the others in Word. Some students, those who report moving letters particularly, seem to like this font as it is weighted. Others however hate it and prefer Arial. It is worth encouraging students to try different fonts to see if it makes a difference.

3. Changing the background colour – this is one of the easiest things a student can do. Many seem to choose electric blue or pink – no idea why. A few of my students choose a black background with white or orange text. Again, if they say it helps, why not? I like buff – it just reduces the glare of the white background and makes reading less stressful (before anyone rushes to the comments box to tell me there’s no research, I don’t care, it helps me and seems to help the occasional student). Some teachers will change the background colour on their whiteboard to an off white or light pastel colour which is a nice gesture.

4. Underlining – this can really confuse students who struggle to read – not only are they trying to decipher the letters and the word but there’s another bit of print underneath to contend with. ALSO WRITING IN CAPITALS IS DIFFICULT TO READ.

5. Preferable to underlining and italics is to use bold and bullet points. This emphasises text without changing the shape of the letters. Big blocks of text with no obvious break can be difficult to read and breaking it down into smaller sections or text boxes (even with different colours) can help students. 1.5 line spacing helps.

If you want to research this further, work is being done by E.A. Draffan at Southampton University and JISCtechdis offer good advice.

Day 25 – #28daysofwriting Assistive Technology Series

I have been very postive about Assistive Technology so far but it would be dishonest of me to finish this series without admitting to the problems.

People sceptical of tech do have valid concerns and I don’t think I get it right all the time. On top of that, students change – technology they were quite happy to use in primary school may suddenly seem embarrassing in front of the big kids. The school might be larger making it harder to cart around a laptop to various lessons.

These are my top 5 problems.

Problem #1

Insufficient training – the student gives up because no-one has shown him or her how to use it.

Solution – build capacity within the school.

* Give a Teaching Assistant the title of Assistive Technologist – ensure adequate time and training so he or she can become the expert.

* Allow students using this technology to become digital leaders in assistive technology – they can teach younger students.

Problem #2

Teachers will not let student use the technology.


* a 10 minute presentation to all staff raises awareness of how the technology helps – be clear why a student requires the tech and how it should improve achievement – reassure staff that it is them who will make the final decision but maybe challenge, through debate, if teachers are preventing use due to an ideology rather than the best interests of the child.

Problem #3

IT department put barriers up preventing the efficient use of the technology.


This is difficult – it is IT’s job to protect the school but it is my job to ensure the tech I provide is fit for purpose. I have had some difficult conversations but usually find there is a solution we are both happy with. Explaining what I need and why, helps – equally I have learned to listen to IT’s concerns and ask questions if I don’t understand. The bottom line is that we are here to help children learn; if we can’t facilitate that then I am concerned. It’s like having a library which won’t lend out books in case people don’t bring them back.

Problem #4

Keeping a record of work and showing progress.



@hrogerson raised this question and it is an issue. For students with SEN we ensure the TAs check students have saved worked, sent it to the teacher or printed it out. How to show progress? I can only say screenshot as much as possible and keep in photos. An eportfolio is an idea or Foldr has something called flinks with shared folders (…). They offer a free trial. Owncloud is an open platform where students can access data from all devices.

@cherrylkd mentioned she uses Evernote to track progress – I’m hoping she may blog on this one day….(grovel grovel).

I don’t have a definitive answer on this I’m afraid.

Problem #5

Student will not use the tech because they don’t want to appear different.


This needs unpicking – why? What is the problem? Is there something else which would help? A tablet with text prediction may be preferable to voice recognition in the classroom. Or, do they need space to work away from others to use it?

Once all options have been explored and there is still resistance, I’m certainly not going to force it. I don’t think I’ve met a student who has rejected every option though and tablets have made this easier in my opinion.

I am sure there are other problems but I still think technology assists rather than hinders and it can transform some students’ lives.

Day 24 – the right equipment #28daysofwriting Assistive Technology

I have been writing about various technologies in this series so I thought it was time to give some examples of assessments highlighting students’ needs with examples of the type of equipment I’d recommend (these are not real students).

Samuel clearly shows good understanding in class and contributes well to discussions. In addition, his spelling and reading are within the average range. This does not appear to reflect in his work however; Samuel is placed at Level 3 to 4 and he is in the lowest set for English.

Samuel’s handwriting maybe one reason for this lack of progress; his writing is difficult to read and he tires quickly. While I recommend he continue with his handwriting lessons, it should be noted that he has received instruction since year 1. Samuel is now in Year 7 and his handwriting has not significantly improved.

To prepare Samuel for word processing his exams, it would be worth encouraging him to use an iPad (with wireless keyboard) or laptop in lessons. This would take handwriting out of the equation. Samuel could type his exams when he reaches Year 11 but it needs to become his normal way of working. By introducing him to word processing now, this should allow him to become competent and fast at touch typing by the time he takes his GCSEs.

Sally has good verbal ability but her single word reading and spelling scores are in the ‘well below average’ range. This is affecting her accessing the curriculum and recording her work independently. Sally does not like to depend on a TA and, since moving to secondary school, this is becoming more evident. Sally also struggles with organisation and often forgets equipment and homework. This has resulted in a number detentions recently.

It would benefit Sally if she could use one of the school’s iPads with some assistive apps put on for her. I recommend:

‘Write Online’ so she can write using predictive text and have her writing read out.

VoiceDream which would allow her to have her text books read to her using text-to-speech. These should be downloaded from Load2Learn by her Teaching Assistant so Sally can access them easily in class.

Popplet would be useful for spider diagrams.

Dragon Dictate so Sally can talk into her iPad and it will type for her.

Merriam Webster dictionary so she can ask for any word to be spelled or to have the definition read to her.

There are also a number of organisational apps which may help Sally. Homework app to record her homework and set reminders. Timetable app so she can keep it on her iPad (Sally has lost her planner twice this term) or MyStudyLife, which is for scheduling, tasks and events.

John has Cerebal Palsy and cannot use his writing arm efficiently; he also struggles to sit comfortably requiring a specialised chair. In addition John has poor working memory and his skills in reading and spelling are in the low average range. His verbal skills are good and allowing for extra time to process, his understanding excellent. John is in Year 6 and it is important, at this stage, we enable him to work independently as much as possible. These recommendations are to include software he will use when he moves up to secondary school in Year 7.

I recommend:

A 15’4 screen laptop to enable clear vision when moving around.

Dragon Naturally speaking 12.5 (Nuance)

Headset with good proximity mic – wireless free due to movement in specialised chair – Bluetooth Voyager Pro UC – Planatronics

ReadWriteGold 11



I hope this has given you a flavour of the type of technologies available for the various needs of students. It is about removing the barriers to enable learning.


Day 23 – Popplet for Alternative Assessments #28daysofwriting Assistive Technology

I mention alternative assessments a lot.

But and it’s a big but (I like big buts and I cannot lie) because there are so many tests and exams embedded into the year nowadays, it is harder for teachers to trust in using a different method which does not fit in with SATs tests and the like. I don’t blame you – for if we are pushing for students to pass tests or emerge as a levelled writer or reader, then by using assessments which do not tally with national guidance appears counter intuitive (the new buzz word).

But, what if these alternative assessments did help the end product? What if, by helping the student think through a process in a way which suited them better, it would eventually lead to a higher level in SATs or GCSEs?

Are there students in your class who are writing content which does not warrant the level you know they are capable of? Are there some students who are not writing at all? Are there students who, as soon as you ask them to write, will play up enough to be sent out?

If you have any students who are not achieving for whatever reason, an alternative assessment may be worth thinking about – just occasionally.

Popplet might be the answer (the lite version is free), it’s the simplest to use spider diagram app I have found (I write about concept mapping in Day 6 using Inspiration – for higher order skills this may be better as it turns the map into a linear format – there is a free version on the iPad which is worth looking at).

In Popplet, you can add text, handwriting, photos, images and change colours. It is so simple to use and my favourite thing? Each new box is called a Popple – how cute is that? OK, I am a stationary geek and this is very similar – you may not be feeling my enthusiasm.

It is worth thinking about Popplet for various alternative assessments:

A series of images instead of writing out a sequence.

Hand in work in planning stage instead of writing an essay.

Group work – using Popplet to plan in pairs or in a group but then allow the student who struggles to use and expand the Popplet (with more Popples) while the other students begin to write.

Teaching staff create a Popplet with images which the student then has to add text to.

If having to analyse a magazine article – let student use a Popplet to answer the questions rather than writing full paragraphs (they could then choose one Popple to write a paragraph about).

Talk through an essay question and the member of staff types in the Popplet to reinforce the discussion – then gives to the student as a writing frame. This may prevent the writing inertia stage some students experience.

Other alternative assessments include:

Video answers – Vlogging even?

A news report – using something like ‘I can Present’ which allows text alongside the video.

Twitter exchanges

Storyboarding – asking the student to plan the story and then write one paragraph from a picture – the overview is there to talk through.

In Romeo and Juliet – students have been asked to write about the Prologue using quotations. Ask student to produce tableaus with quotations instead. Could even be created using modelling clay or Lego?

What do you want from the student at this point in time? (not for SATs or GCSEs – end product) If it is to show understanding, then can they use an alternative assessment?

Clearly they need to practise for tests and exams – but small steps? By using Popplet with just one really good paragraph of writing may be the first step to something of better quality later. Using David Didau’s (@Learningspy) ‘Slow Writing’ could be the next step on from Popplet perhaps?

Do you have any other ideas for alternative assessments? I would love to hear about them.


Day 22 Book Creator for SEN – #28daysofwriting – Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology does not always have to be specifically with a need in mind. I think tablets have revolutionised SEN practices in the classroom; they allow students with complex needs to access the curriculum and participate in the classroom.

I also think it has (or should) have changed the role of the TA – preparing electronic texts, having knowledge of what apps do and enabling the student to work independently while keeping a close eye from a distance.

Book Creator is one of the most inclusive apps in my opinion. It won an award at Betts this year and there are fantastic resources on how to use it. (@ictevangelist has written this…

Book Creator has something for everyone. A speak option if a student struggles to write, a type option for poor handwriters and the facility to put photos of work students have done or to include images from the Internet.

Teaching staff could prepare a scaffold of images and then the student can write alongside each image.

The books could become an eportfolio of progress or a project based book within a subject area.

Another positive is the frame. Too much text or a lengthy worksheet can be overwhelming therefore working on one page at a time seems more manageable. Some students – you know the ones who constantly ask how many more? Or how much longer? – might need an explicit framework with a clear ending for each task within the scheme. A bit like me on a bike ride; I can’t look at the top of the hill as I’d give up and tear open my emergency Yorkie bar, I just head for the first tree and then the next – small achievable tasks.

I also use Book Creator for ‘how to’ instruction manuals (See How to Train your Dragon Day 4). For me, this is building capacity within the school so the equipment continues to get used.

The final string in the bow is the potential to write Social Stories – these can be made really easily with Book Creator – those who use Social Stories successfully know that the more personal they are the better – similar to Direct Instruction scripts – the generic needs adapting and making relevant to the people it is trying to support. With Book Creator, photos can be taken, voices can be added and text put in easily.

So, Book Creator – I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say I love you – you are totes amazeballs.