Problems with Writing?

Problems with writing?

Is writing a struggle because …..

  1. You or others can’t read your handwriting?
  2. You can’t spell the words you want to write?
  3. You can’t recall the words you want to write?
  4. You can’t organise your thoughts so you have to keep re-writing your work?
  5. You spend so much of your energy thinking how to write that you forget what you wanted to say?

There are plenty of solutions that can help you – or your child.

Word processing will dramatically improve presentation and make work legible. It can also raise the self esteem of the writer. To maximise the benefits, there is a need for  the writer to develop good keyboard skills. Typing tutors for children can be bought  (Nessy Fingers costs £20 + delivery) or found for free at www.bbc.co.uk/schools/typing. There are also many free adult versions available on the Internet. If young children struggle with the upper case letters of the Qwerty keyboard, then you can buy lower case stickers to place over them from www.inclusive.co.uk  for £5. The younger dyslexic may also benefit from picture symbols to support their writing. Pictures appear above a word and give the writer visual assistance, reinforce meaning and improve confidence. SymWriter2 (www.widgit.com from £149) features text-to-speech and a spell checker with symbol support.

Where weak spelling is an issue, the built in spell checker in your word processor may not be able to offer suitable corrections, so a specialist solution could come in handy. There are handheld spellcheckers which will try to interpret phonic spellings e.g. the Franklin spellchecker – from as little as £11. If you go for something like the Collins Pocket Speller/Thesaurus at £22 you can type in an easy word like ‘grumpy’ and find ‘cantankerous’!  Alternatively, Global AutoCorrect 2 is a product which automatically corrects the user’s spelling as they type, enabling them to focus on what they’re writing. It works in every application, and the software keeps track of spelling mistakes so the user can work on them in their own time. It costs £109.

Talking word processors will read text back you – a good way of checking you have written what you meant to say. Wordtalk is for use with all Microsoft word documents (1997 – 2010) and can save the text you have written as an audio file. You can download this for free at www.wordtalk.org.uk. ClaroRead SE (£49) will do a similar job and Penfriend XP 4.1 (£60) has the added advantage of providing speech plus word prediction. (There is also a portable USB version for £99). Co:Writer 6  (£179) is the only word prediction programme to use the context of a whole sentence to predict the next word and its Flexspell interprets phonetic and inventive spelling better than most spellcheckers.

Some predictive software also comes with word banks (lists of words relating to a topic). Children generally learn to recognise words before they can construct and spell them and weak spellers can use the word banks to select longer and more difficult words to enhance their work. The Oska Wordbanks (£159) offered by Claro Software (www.clarosoftware.com) and those available from Clicker and WriteOnline (both £150 from www.cricksoft.com ) all offer text to speech to support reading of the word banks as well as predictive text. Using word banks can reduce the number of key strokes and, consequently, be a lot quicker for the slow typist.

Voice Activated Software (VAS) offers the articulate, clear speaking individual the opportunity to turn their speech into text with a high degree of success and at great speed – three times faster than typing. Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 (the ‘Home’ electronic download is £79.99) is the market leader. It requires a good headset (the USB version is £24.99) and the patience to learn how to use it and to correct errors so that it becomes as accurate as possible. You also need an environment where you will not disturb others and their noise will not interfere with your dictation. It works with digital voice recorders (Olympus DM-450 [2gb] £149) so audio notes can be converted into text. If you download the free Dragon App then no training is needed, but beware! You need to be connected to the Internet to use the remote server and Apple can keep a copy of everything you say!

I have some experience of trialling VAS with teenagers and found that usually their spoken language was not sufficiently clear or structured for it to work efficiently. Having said that, the written work they produced was far better than anything they could have written unaided. Their expectation, however, was that the results would be perfect.

In GCE and GCSE exams there is provision for using some of these tools, providing there is an assessment of need and there is proof that they are the normal method of working in class. The use of a word processor is much more acceptable these days. A scribe, or the use of VAS with spellchecker activated, provides the ultimate support. However, candidates will usually receive no marks for punctuation, spelling or grammar.

Finally, the organisation of longer pieces of work can be achieved by the use of cut and paste facilities in a word processing programme. Many dyslexics dislike working in a linear document and prefer the Mind Mapping or Brainstorming approach where a central idea is placed in the middle of the page and ideas added around.  Inspiration and, for younger users,  Kidspiration (£49 each) both offer the user the opportunity to work in either map or diagram views. These provide the opportunity to structure thoughts and visually communicate concepts before transferring them into the linear documents required for essays. There is a built in picture and symbol library as well as sound to replay what has been written.

MyStudyBar is a tool which helps overcome all problems that students commonly experience with studying, reading and writing. It offers literacy support in planning, reading, writing, vision, speech and voice. This might be worth a try before spending lots of money on one particular product as it is FREE from  http://eduapps.org/?page_id=7 !

One word of warning! Laptops to run all these helpful pieces of software are heavy. Added to the typical school bag they can far outweigh the recommended load for children. A solution is to use the robust and lightweight AlphaSmart Neo2 (£139). It works with Co:Writer predicitve text (£96) and Text2Speech, is battery operated and has wireless connectivity to download work to your PC.

I have only mentioned a small proportion of the software available out there. Have I wetted your appetite?

Acknowledgements: Jamie Munro of Inclusive Technology (www.inclusive.co.uk) who stock most of the products mentioned. For a more detailed analysis of writing support go to the BDA New Technologies Committee website at  http://bdatech.org/learning/supporting-writing-with-ict/.                                                                                                                                Barbara Lowe     May 2013