Success keeps on coming for 'SEN Assist'. John Galloway looks at the stories and explains why
Early ShakespeareThey did it again. For the second year running the folk at SEN Assist received an Education Resources Award for its interactive stories, this time for Tales from Shakespeare.

SEN Assist produces those resources where simplicity disguises the degree of thought that has gone into it. It works as a story followed by some straightforward follow-up tasks, but it's actually a carefully structured sequence of activities that have been put together from the perspective of a practising class teacher, Adele Devine, assisted by husband Quentin, an animator and web designer.

Adele Devine has been teaching children with special needs for more than 10 years. In that time she has developed a good understanding of how to provide children with challenges that are motivating, meaningful, and manageable. Props to complete the tasks include a 'motivator' – an animated character that cheers the user on, but only in short bursts – and a sequencer that shows the tasks completed and those to come next.

Everything starts with stories (they can be skipped) that, at the lower levels, are both spoken and symbolised. Along with the Shakespeare titles – Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream – there are also familiar traditional ones such as The Gingerbread Man, The Three Bears and Red Riding Hood. The stories are told at four different levels, which are then followed by in Matching, Sequencing, Spelling, Comprehension, Prepositions, and Pronouns, set in the same order each time. The options are drawn from a bank of questions, so activities can be repeated without familiarity becoming the route to success.

Useful for children with a range of special educational needs

The recognition of the stories and the repetition of the order of activities is quite deliberate, as they are known to be good practice for pupils with autistic spectrum conditions (ASC), which is the field that Adele specialises in, and so the target audience for these titles (although these are resources that are worth consideration for children with a range of special educational needs). In providing a safe, familiar, routine, this structure will help pupils to work independently. 

Each activity is announced, and multiple attempts are allowed for completion - the task and level of challenge unchanging - before the motivator, ranging from a woolly mammoth to a fairy to a steam engine, gives a cheer. On the successful completion of a session a certificate can be printed out.

There is a lot to like here. Some may argue that, rather than using freshly designed symbols, one of the several established sets on the market, such as Widgit or PCS, would link more easily to pupils' wider experiences. However, their purpose here is only as prompts to understanding, with the text read aloud anyway. 

This verbal support could also be extended a little further to instructions around the screen, where words are visible but don't link to additional help. However, the current focus remains on the activity and possible sources of distraction are avoided.

Overall these are well thought out resources, with classroom practice firmly at the forefront, and there's plenty of scope to build useful learning activities away from the computer.

Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose     5
Ease of use                5
Features                     5
Quality                        5
Value for money         5

SEN-Assist
CD-Rom-based stories with carefully structured tasks and activities designed for learners with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC) but also useful across a range of special educational needs, from £24.50 for a single title, £49.00 for a site-license.  
www.senassist.com 

John GallowayJohn Galloway works as an advisory teacher for ICT/SEN and inclusion in Tower Hamlets, London, and as a freelance writer and consultant. He is the author of Harnessing Technology for Every Child Matters and Personalised Learning.


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