Using switches for the first time? Hilary Norton looks at two sources of help
Cover If children are beginning to use switches in your classroom, there are two new products that will prove invaluable.

The first, Learning Journeys: Switch Progression Road Map, is a booklet (free to download) to support the teacher in assessing children’s capabilities, setting targets for them and teaching the skills that they need to access communication and learning. The second is Switch Skills Champions software, also from Inclusive Technology, which offers the learners exciting games that take them through various levels of switch use starting with very simple exercises for beginners.

Ian Bean, the author of Switch Progression Road Map, has worked with children with special educational needs for many years and starts at the very beginning by explaining what switches are, how they connect to a computer or other equipment, and how they work with a variety of software titles – invaluable for a teacher who has not used them before. (Ian Bean will also be running courses including using iPads and apps wth special learners in 2012 – see details below.)

The book describes how to assess if the learner feels comfortable with the equipment around them and how to deal with common behavioural problems. It lists clear milestones that the learner may achieve and what kind of activities you could give them at each stage to develop and reinforce their skills. The stages the learner goes through are broken down into small steps, with explanations of the benefits, and the next step towards greater independence.

Useful diagrams and illustrations are included to show how to set up the switches for use with computers and other equipment, like battery operated toys for example. It lists software that can be use with switches at various levels, from experiential and cause-and-effect titles such as the Switch-it series to more sophisticated use of two switches, and scanning software like  Slideshow Maker.

The 'road map' checks progress, with descriptions of targets for the learners. A useful list of software, websites and advisory services is included, too. This is a book that should be in every classroom.

Learners develop skills by playing games in a sports competition

SS Champions screenSS Champions: 'games for two players, each using one switch'Switch Skills Champions offers five games which provide social play environments for those learning to use simple switches. They are themed around a sports competition, with wheelchair basketball, boccia, volleyball, ice sledge hockey and hurdles – all designed for two players, each operating one switch.

All the games, except hurdles, encourage turn-taking skills. The competitive nature of the games motivate and encourage language use, and this is helped if you talk to the players about what is happening, ask questions, shout and cheer.

The symbolic scoreboards include those who cannot interpret numerals, but you can also use them to encourage counting. You can supplement these with your own cardboard scoreboards. The options menu allows two players to have different difficulty settings, so you can set switch users of different abilities against each other. You can also have a single player competing against the computer.

You can play using two switches, or just with the space bar and the enter key on the keyboard. The five games offer a way for all children to participate in sporting activities. By applying the settings carefully the teacher can take the learners through all the stages of learning to use switches and becoming more accomplished with them. At the easiest level the players just have to wait for their turn, and a switch press any time after this will result in success. At the more difficult level players must be more attentive and precise with their switch timing.

The pages are very attractive, the graphics smooth and interesting and the music and sound rewards are quite exciting.

Ratings for Switch Skills Champions (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose  5
Ease of use             4    
Features                  5
Quality                     4
Value for money      4

Switch Skills Champions

Games that help special children develop switch skills – for Mac or PC, from £49, school licences available.

Switch Progression Road Map

A4 pdf book that is available as a free download from 

Ian Bean workshops
Ian Bean will be running a series of all-day hands-on workshops entitled "Embedding ICT for the Special Learner into the Curriculum" with Flo Longhorn at venues around the UK from March 2012.
Sessions include iPads and iPad apps for very special learners, switch and touch skills development, simple communications through single and multiple messages, including iPad apps. According to Ian, all will be delivered "with a sprinkle of sensory magic dust".

Hilary Norton is an advisory teacher for ICT/SEN and inclusion, in the East End of London, and is a freelance consultant and trainer.