BETT visitors with an SEN agenda should start their show journeys with Nasen, writes Sal McKeown
This year promises to be an interesting time for Sencos (special-needs co-ordinators) and senior managers with responsibility for special needs. We seem to have had the SEND Green Paper hanging over us forever. I have already been to three conferences and there is a bevy of pathfinder projects but still no one can predict what the changes will look like or whether the benefits will outweigh the pitfalls.
We also know there will be changes to the Ofsted framework and that schools need to up their game when it comes to protecting vulnerable children. In this changing climate, schools need information, guidance and training so the first port of call at BETT 2013 has to be the nasen stand (B118).
This is the key professional association covering all aspects of special needs and disabilities in the classroom. At the BETT show the organisation will be promotoing the nasen Leadership Conference 2013 (January 31) and free SENCO training which runs each day of the show from 10am to 3.30pm. They have also helped put together an impressive Learn Live seminar stream covering everything from working with autistic pupils through to finding books in accessible formats and researching special needs apps for iPads.
Improving reading and writing – especially for boys
Help the challenged readers in your school become great authors with the new literacy support tool, SymWriter2, to be launched by Widgit Software at BETT 2013 on stand B140. SymWriter2 builds on the powerful features of its predecessor but has new tools to make symbol document writing quicker and more accurate than ever before.
Even those who use Widgit software regularly may be surprised at the pace of development. They now have Widgit Discover, a series of symbol-based reading books for the iPad with speech and symbol support, along with questions and speaking flashcards for conversation and communication support. The first three cover The Tudors, The Victorians and The Egyptians. They are also launching Widgit Go at BETT. This is an app for creating activities and grids to support communication, learning and language development. It can be used as a voice output device or to write simple documents with symbols and text from on-screen grids, and 12 sample activities are included. It is designed for the Android platform but an iPad version is under construction.
There is still a lot of concern about literacy and the gender gap but recent research from PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) has shown that boys have a strong interest in reading using digital devices. Rising Stars eBooks (stand C284) offer students the opportunity to read a range of fiction and non-fiction books including sci-fi, adventure and sport, engaging texts in a digital format. The eBooks feature age-appropriate themes and compelling storylines. Even better, the language level is carefully controlled so it will not deter reluctant readers.
Each eBook selection is supplied in ePDF format for use on any device including iPads, iPod Touches, Kindles, PCs, netbooks or whiteboards. The eBooks comes on disc for easy integration into your library or literacy teaching and they include a permanent home and school licence so your eBooks can be added to the network or VLE for use on an unlimited number of devices throughout the school or from home. It seems that the gender gap is much narrower when reading texts on screen and this can be exploited to engage reluctant readers and motivate your 'switched-off' boys.
Mindmapping is a powerful visual technique and makes it easier to structure information and kick-start the writing process so it might be just the thing to get boys writing more. It is a great tool to overcome 'blank page syndrome'. Mind mapping giants Inspiration Software will be appearing at BETT on Stand B110. We are now up to Inspiration 9 which has lots of new features including a Presentation Manager which will polish up notes and visuals so they look truly professional. Inspiration is also launching a free CPD programme for Disabled Student's Allowance Needs assessors and trainers.
2Simple (stand D230 ) always has useful and creative software tools to offer. These programs live up to the simplicity of use suggested by the brand name and lend themselves to working with pupils with a range of learning needs at all key stages, providing satisfying, creative outcomes across the curriculum.Although they might not be specifically designed for inclusion and SEN,
Wordq/Speakq from Assistive Solutions (stand C130) is a straightforward bolt-on that provides speech feedback, screen reading, prediction and speech to text and is proving popular at secondary level for students who struggle with writing for a range of reasons. (See "Word prediction and speech feedback in one bundle".)
Similar solutions are provided by Texthelp (stand C104) which has additional tools to support research activities, such as highlighters and automatic referencing. This is a lot of software, but it is very inclusive, particularly for older students, and that includes the high-achievers too.
Storyphones (stand G245) are proving popular. These are cleverly designed headsets with built-in MP3 players that can be loaded up with stories or music for groups and individuals to enjoy (see ). Practically indestructible, and easy to operate, this is technology that doesn’t get in the way of the activity.
Everyone needs easy access to text and increasingly it is possible to blend printed text and new technology. Mantra Lingua on stand C20 has worked with the Royal National Institute for the Blind to create a device called PenFriend which can print microdots on to adhesive labels. These can be scanned to trigger a voice file. This is perfect for cooks – no more opening a tin of tomatoes only to find you are stirring mushy peas into your spag bol – but it is also good for labelling CDs or pill bottles (see video below)
This combination of labels and audio is very powerful and Mantra Lingua now has resources for most curriculum subjects, from literacy to science, as well as lots of good resources for EAL pupils. Have a look at CreateLINK – a freebie software download on their website – that will help teachers adapt classroom materials so they are just right for many young people who struggle with the printed word.
Iansyst, on stand B130 at BETT 2013, will be launching azzapt – a new cloud-based service which makes materials more accessible for people with disabilities when they are out and about. It works on computer, tablet or smartphone (see explanatory diagram below).
What about some music?
If you have an interactive whiteboard you might like to look at ABC Creative Music (Stand C351M) which provides programs for primary pupils and for P-levels too. Those who are not music specialists will soon find they can get children creating music using voice, body percussion and classroom instruments.
Also try Skoog (stand B129), a squeezy musical cube (see "A new instrument from the land of bagpipes") which allows users to record any sound, including their own voices. It plugs straight into a computer's or laptop's USB port. By touching, pressing, squashing, twisting or tapping the Skoog even those with complex disabilities can play a wide range of instruments. Petrina Lodge, head of education at Meldreth Manor Schoo,l describes the Skoog as,"one of the most exciting technological developments for disabled children and adults of any age, for some time. It has been designed for accessibility for even really severely disabled children and adults, challenging each user at their own level."
There will also be a host of hardware worth trying out, none bigger than Osborne Technologies' sensory pods (stand E90). These are soundproofed, air-conditioned sensory rooms, that are worth seeking out just to get a few minutes peace in a tranquil, relaxing environment. You will want to get one of these, probably as your next office, but you will need to start saving hard.
BETT Awards finalists are must-sees for visitors
Make sure that you find time for a look at some of the special needs products shortlisted for the 2013 BETT ICT Special Educational Needs Solutions awards:
- AssistiveWare (C110) won the special needs BETT award in 2011 with Proloquo2go, an innovate Apple app. This year they are shortlisted for their "Harry and Rosie" text-to-speech voices which help children with no clear speech tp sound like real children and not like a dalek or a little adult. Anna Reeves, National AAC co-ordinator, believes these new voices – genuine British – will transform the lives of many children and help them to have better relationships with family and friends. ?
- Dyslexia Action produced Load2Learn in partnership with the RNIB with funding from the Department for Education. It is a collection of more than 1,900 downloadable, accessible textbooks and images (in Word, pdf and audio formats). See them in the SEN Learn Live Speaker Zone on Wednesday January 39 at 2.15pm.
- Have a look at HelpKidzLearn from Inclusive Technology (stand B116). It has a host of games and activities (music too) and can be accessed via mouse, switches, joystick, rollerball, touchscreen or an eye-tracking communication solution. It offers something for the majority of special educational needs children. It has been used by more than 500,000 people in more than 160 countries and HKL activities are currently also being issued as Apps for the iPad. Best of all, it is great fun. I just love "Peeping Musicians" and have shown them to many people, mostly adults with time on their hands over Christmas.
- It will be no surprise that Crick Software Ltd is on the shortlist. Clicker 6 (stand D210) is a year old and is being used in thousands of schools around the world. It has the familiar grids, word prediction and will read text aloud. It is easier to use than earlier versions. If a teacher grabs a piece of text from the VLE or from the web, a handy tool will strip out all the text into a topic dictionary. This can be accessed by the predictive text tool or put into grids. This is a great way of accessing specialist vocabulary. (Crick will also show its two new two new iPad apps – see "Crick to launch 'Clicker' apps for iPad at BETT 2013".)
If you are after a ‘wow’ factor, visit Amazing Interactives (stand G230) who specialise in 3D. They have developed a lot of engaging sensory videos, that quickly absorb and enchant. Or for a more active experience, call by Spacekraft (Stand C144 www.spacekraft.co.uk ) who are sensory room specialists. They will be showing off the Khoros, a set of curved floor panels that can be connected together in different ways, and programmed to create all sorts of fun activities, from making music, to doing sums, to learning phonics.
Finally, 2012 was dominated by media stories of vulnerable children, from Megan Stammers running away to France to the scandals surrounding celebrities and young children. Schools often think such crises could not happen to them but some make sure they don't by putting robust measures in place. Contact Group’s Looked After Call (Stand A230) is a cost-saving solution designed to help local authorities monitor the school attendance of children in their care accurately and securely. There are different ways of contacting parents – via email, text and phone – and a new system where schools can text links to letters displayed online. This saves printing and postage costs and makes for a faster service. It could be the one thing which makes a real difference if a child goes missing.
Sal McKeown is a freelance journalist. Her book, How to Help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child, is published by Crimson Publishing. You can catch her own BETT 2013 seminar session – "Art, music, story telling, video, animation and green screening in the inclusive classroom" – in the SEN Theatre on Thursday, January 31, 13:15-14:00.
ABC Creative Music C351M
Amazing Interactives G230
Assistive Solutions C130
Contact Group A230
Inspiration Software B110
Mantra Lingua C20
Osborne Technologies E90
Rising Stars C284
Dyslexia Action and RNIB Load2Learn seminar Wednesday January 30 at 2.15pm
Learn Live SEN Seminars at BETT 2013