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James, a 15 year old with general difficulties and low self-esteem.


James is in S3 and has very different needs from Colin. Unlike Colin, James is a boy with general learning difficulties, who finds most aspects of learning challenging. As a result, he has low self-esteem and can easily give up on any task he finds difficult. In addition, he has significant social and emotional difficulties which can make it difficult for him to concentrate in class. At times, James can appear confused and unsure of the task he has been set, especially if it is a piece of extended writing.

James is taking Standard Grade Art & Design, which requires him to complete a number of extended reports. One of these reports was on the paintings of Harmen Steenwyck. While James appeared to be interested in the topic and have a good understanding of what he was supposed to do, he had been unable to make a start on the written report. After a period of discussion and planning in the Support for Learning base, it was decided that the best support for James would be to use Penfriend XP and Wordbar. A school support assistant typed the words into the Wordbar grid the day before James was due to work on his project. Inputting the key vocabulary into Wordbar in advance meant that James had the necessary subject vocabulary to write his report. While it would have been possible to add the vocabulary into the Penfriend lexicon, using Wordbar suited James better as it was easier for him to view the words by having them permanently at the bottom of his screen. James still needed to have a teacher sit with him while he was writing, but the teacher input was more to prompt and reassure than to support with the actual writing process. The combination of a period of discussion, the setting up of a Wordbar grid and the use of Penfriend XP meant that James had the necessary support to allow him to express in writing what he knew about Harmen Steenwyck. This was James’s first attempt at using Penfriend and Wordbar and he was pleased with the result. He found it easy to use and was keen to use it for some of his other subjects. He used the clipboard function to review his work and check for any confused sections. Normally James found this a frustrating process and would often merely glance over his work. However, in this instance, he replayed his work over and over until he felt that he was happy with the final version.

The next step for James is to ensure that he has regular supported access to Penfriend XP. The nature of his difficulties mean that he is unlikely to be able to use it independently in a mainstream class. However, the amount of support that he needs is likely to decrease.

Written by Lorraine Cochrane, and reproduced with permission. She writes: "As a Principal Teacher of Support for Learning I was always looking for new ways to explore how technology could support my pupils. The aim was to make pupils more independent learners by giving them greater responsibility for the writing process. Many pupils required a great deal of support with the writing process; from the initial planning stages, through first drafts, reviewing and finally producing the completed piece of writing. This could be a laborious process for many, seriously affecting their motivation to write at length. Penfriend XP has proved to be a valuable software resource: the quality of written work produced improves with a resultant increase in the self-esteem of the writer.