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Boy keyboarding In 1979 an American company named Micropro released software that would fundamentally change the way we handle text. That program was Wordstar, the world’s first commercially successful word processor.
Wordstar gave us the ability to enter, amend, format and print text with a keyboard. This was a revolutionary concept back in 1979, the days of the humble typewriter. These days however, computers and word processors are commonplace. Children routinely use them in our homes and in schools, often pressing keys on a keyboard at almost the same time as they begin to use pens and pencils.
The real power of word processing lies in the way the computer can automate and simplify some aspects of the process of writing text. Cut, copy and paste for example allow us to move whole paragraphs, without having to re-type every word.
In-built functions automatically format the document for us, correcting spelling mistakes as we make them. Documents can be created using any combination of text and images and some word processors even allow the addition of sounds, video clips and links to pages stored on the world wide web. Text to speech technology used in other word processors can read out whole documents, single words or even individual letters as they are typed. It is little wonder then that computers are playing an increasing role in supporting the development of literacy skills, especially for those pupils with special educational needs.  
Specialised word processors
Most special schools have access to at least one of the more specialised word processors such as Clicker, Writing with Symbols 2000 or Communicate: In Print 2. These programs have sophisticated features designed to provide additional support to the learner with special needs.

ClickerClicker, for example, enables you to create on-screen grids using any combination of words, pictures and sounds, which the child can use to enter letters, whole words and sentences. At its simplest, this allows the child to write simply by choosing pictures. They can be accessed using a mouse, touch monitor or switch scanning, making them ideal for use in the Inclusive Classroom environment. Clicker 5’s flexibility ensures that the program will continue to support your pupils as their skills and confidence grow. Grids can made to support any topic and at any level from talking story books, simple sentence building right through to topic specific word banks.




Boy IW TouchWriting with Symbols 2000 is another specialised word processor with many of the same features as Clicker, including the facility to create switch accessible grids.
WWS2000 however has the facility to use Widgit Literacy Symbols (previously known as Rebus symbols.) Developed over 20 years ago and now used extensively in special schools, Widgit Literacy Symbols were designed to provide additional support to children experiencing reading and writing difficulties by ‘drawing’ a small representative picture above or below the word, for example an outline of a car over the word ‘car’.
Research tells us that by presenting key information carrying words in this way it can help a child decode text by assisting the recognition and retention of the words.


cip userCommunicate: In Print 2 also makes use of the Widgit Literacy Symbol set, this time as part of a desk top publishing (DTP) program. DTP programs are similar to word processors but have many extra features that provide flexibility when creating and printing documents such as posters, books and worksheets.
Communicate: In Print 2 is the ideal tool to create symbolised versions of books to support independent reading in the literacy hour. Symbols can be printed in grids for communication books or for use with PECS. Many schools use them to create visual timetables to help children on the autistic spectrum make sense of their day.

jumbo xl lowercase colourLearning to type
To use a word processor effectively, we need to learn how to use a keyboard. Keyboards come in all shapes and sizes to meet the specific needs of the child. For example, young children or those children with some level of dyspraxia may benefit from a keyboard with larger keys such as the Jumbo XL.


Ultra Compact KeyboardThose with only one useable hand or very restricted movement might benefit from a smaller keyboard such as the Ultra Compact Keyboard. Pupils with poor vision might require a high contrast or large print keyboard to help them see the letters. There is an enormous choice and as with any technology, the choice of keyboard should always be informed by the needs of the child.   
Ask 100 people why the keyboard has a QWERTY layout and almost all of them will tell you it is to speed up typing. While this was true back in 1878 when the typewriter was first patented – the QWERTY layout reduced the number of times it would jam - in 2007, it leaves us with a slight problem. Children learn the sequence of letters in the alphabet at a very early age, ABCDE etc. However, when they come to use a keyboard, the sequence of letters they have learned is all jumbled up, making it much harder for them to find the letter they require. Keyboards are available in ABC layout and for some children it may help them learn their way around the keyboard more quickly. However, the rest of the world outside of school uses QWERTY keyboards and there is a compelling argument that we should use ‘standard’ keyboards wherever possible as our pupils are unlikely to find ABC layout keyboards in the ‘real’ world.

Learning your way around a keyboard takes lots of practise, which some children can find quite boring. For younger children, programs like Speedy Keys can make keyboard familiarity fun. Delivered as four exciting games, including the ever popular custard pie game, children will enjoy competing against the clock to find the letters on the keyboard. It has word lists drawn from the National Literacy Strategy, and you can add your own, perhaps as an extension activity using words from this week’s big book.

First Keys 2First Keys 2 is another very useful program to support letter recognition and keyboarding skills. It is almost unique in that teachers can create six different activities from the same word list.
We recently observed a lesson where the teacher had used the program to create an interactive talking version of her weekly big book which the children used on the interactive whiteboard.
Using the text from the book, the teacher created a wordlist and simply by ticking a couple of boxes in the options menu, she had created a range of differentiated activities for her pupil’s individual work.


ReadIt zooTechnology has much to offer teaching and learning in literacy. Traditional tools such as word and symbol processors can provide children with just the right amount of support they need to write independently. Talking animated storybooks such as those in the ReadIt! Younger Reader’s Library feature high quality animations and sounds that can really bring stories to life. The text in these books can be configured to display and be read at different levels of complexity enabling easy differentiation for the less able child.



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