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Colin, a bright 12 year old with dyslexia and other difficulties

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."

Colin is an S1 pupil (about 12 years old) with complex needs. He has speech and language difficulties along with significant dyslexic difficulties. His reading age was less than 7 years and his spelling errors could be bizarre, due to his speech and language difficulties. Even with my many years of experience of deciphering spelling errors, I found it difficult to understand much of what Colin wrote. On a cognitive level, Colin is a bright boy who has a lot to offer. The discrepancy between his literacy and numeracy National Assessment levels illustrate his difficulties: while he was working towards Level E in Maths, he was only working towards Level B in Reading and Writing. In addition, Colin’s speech difficulties made it challenging for him to use the services of a scribe as it was often very difficult to understand what he was saying. This proved to be very frustrating for him and he could become reluctant to write at length.

How did Penfriend XP help? With the software loaded on to the school network, Colin could access Penfriend across the curriculum. One period of training was all that was needed to set up his profile and show him how the software worked. As is usual with the youngsters of today, he was soon accessing features of the software that I had not yet explored. He soon took ownership of it by customising the voice, fonts and background colours to suit his preference.

One major piece of work that he completed was his National Assessment in Writing. The task was to write a letter to the Head Teacher asking for various improvements to be made to the school. In the group discussion to prepare for this assessment, Colin was full of ideas, but his first attempt, when hand-written, was poorly developed with whole sentences almost unintelligible to anyone reading it. Colin then switched to using Penfriend. A few words of key vocabulary were entered into the lexicon and Colin was left on his own to write his letter. One of the most significant aspects was that instead of working in the SFL base with a scribe, Colin sat his assessment in the English classroom without any additional support. The English teacher was not familiar with the software and had been anxious that no Support for Learning teacher would be available that period. At the end of the period, Colin printed out his letter and handed in his assessment along with the rest of the class- the teacher was impressed, both with the quality of the work and with the fact that no support had been needed by Colin during the period. The letter was awarded a Level C grade.

One of the major features of the software that Colin found helpful was the clipboard. He liked to have it showing on the screen so that he could listen to what he had written. In this way he could review his work as he went along.

What are the next steps for Colin using Penfriend XP? He needs to have it loaded on to a laptop so that he can use it in any class. His parents are also very keen that Colin uses the software at home, so they intend taking advantage of the Home User licence which offers a discounted rate for those using it at school. Now he is keen to use Penfriend XL to help him with his French writing tasks!

Written by Lorraine Cochrane, and reproduced with permission.