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Places still available on CALL’s Switching to Excellence course, 8th March, with Ian Bean

By Sally Millar on Monday 27th February, 2012 at 1:09pm

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There is no real shortage of switch accessible software for those children with complex additional support needs - whether due to physical difficulties or learning difficulties – who are unable to use a traditional keyboard and mouse. But do we choose, introduce, teach and use the right software in the right way, at the right time, to suit each highly individual child, and to help them develop their skills and progress towards their full potential?

Maybe not. Sadly, we can still often see a child sitting in school, year–in-year-out with the same software, “practising his switch”.  If it hasn’t ’worked’ by now, we should be looking at how WE have set up the task, not blaming it all on the child! What are we missing? How could we do things differently?

These days, more and more software at the early years and complex learning difficulty level is designed only for mouse and/ or touch screen use. But many learners cannot use this effectively either. We see children in school batting ineffectually with their hands at a screen. On assessment, they often have ‘cause and effect’ understanding long established but have not been able to move on from single hit software, because of access & control issues. Switch access might reduce the physical demand and let the child move on to tasks more suited to his / her cognitive abilities.

This CALL course on 8th March 2012 aims to unpick these issues and will provide insights and, ideas, tools and resources to help us to do a better job with these learners.  We are very lucky to have secured the time of the famous Ian Bean to lead this course, in CALL. Ian is the author of the much-loved ‘Priory Woods’ switch music videos, and is now working as an independent consultant.  Ian is not  a product salesman but an experienced teacher of children with profound & multiple / or severe and complex  additional support needs. He is the author of the Switch Progression Roadmap,  and a highly recommended trainer. CALL provides laptops so that everyone can have plenty hands-on, with expert support if needed.

Lastly, there are iPads. Everyone seems to want to use them, in spite of their high ‘distractability factor’, and regardless of whether particular children can control them effectively or not!  There are many low-cost fun Apps for learners at a sensory / cause and effect level. There are a very few scanning (Bluetooth) switch operated communication Apps. We will look at these on the course (though not in huge detail as this is not the CALL course on iPads, that’s later in the year).

Do please take the time to look up the full ‘blurb about this course. There are still places available and you will get a lovely lunch and a goody-bag of resources put together by both Ian Bean and CALL. Phone 0131 651 6236 or book online here.


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Why, if and when to move to BoardMaker Studio...???

By Sally Millar on Friday 17th February, 2012 at 1:46pm

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Here's a 'changing over to the new Boardmaker Studio?' discussion that I imagine quite a few establishments will be having over the next wee while.


Original Enquiry

I have a bit of a predicament and would really appreciate your help! In this city, we are about to refresh all our current computers...There are bound to be issues at refresh with new software and resources being required. The biggest issue for us is Boardmaker. In this special school, we are (I think!) advanced users of Boardmaker Plus!, using it to its fullest potential with lots of interactive activities and creating individualised resources for our children. We even make our communication passports using Boardmaker. However, we are using Mac versions and we need to move over to PC versions come refresh. The burning question is - Boardmaker 6 Plus! for PC or Boardmaker Studio? I have been trialling Boardmaker Studio, and I'm finding it hard to change the mindset of starting from scratch every time, to now using templates and adapting someone else's work / idea. Some of the interactive things I do currently can't be done without actual programming, or importing from the current version. I know you noted some reservations in your blog, and I was wondering if you had  any further thoughts about this?

Boardmaker is a wonderful resource, I could not teach without it, but I don't want to move to a version which is going to be a source of frustration at a time when there are lots of other changes happening.

Thanks in anticipation!

Kind regards

Principal Teacher, Special School


Answer from Sally at CALL

Yes this is a big dilemma for you, I understand.  There is no 'right answer' of course, as you already realise - it's a judgement call. And your school is perhaps a bit of a special case, as an 'advanced symbol-using special school'.

If you and your colleagues are finding that you can do everything you want to already with BM Plus, I think on balance I'd advise you to stick with it. Especially if you have cracked the whole interactive speaking, draggable IWB classroom resources bit (which is the sticking point for many others, who still only use BM for printable materials).  And also especially if, as you say, there are going to be lots of other difficult changes to cope with at the same time, concerning the refresh.

CALL has just heard from a PT at another Special School who says that they are sticking with BM 6 Plus! - no plans to change to Studio. Maybe partly money and partly a positive choice.  Indeed, there seem to be people here and in the USA that still use the decades-old original or very early versions of BM  (Mac and PC) quite happily, so there is no obvious need to rush to change to the newest version.

The only thing I can see that you'd lose out on with BM Plus! rather than Studio, is the possibility that more and more of the shared resources available on BoardMaker Share may start to be in Studio not Plus (and the complicated interactive ones are not usually 'backwards compatible') but to be honest I think it will be a long time before that starts to happen, and maybe your school materials are so specialised anyway that that wouldn't affect you unduly anyway. Interestingly, the new add-on 'Pre-Made Activities' (pretty cheap) coming out, see   - and these may well increase as time goes on - apparently run on their own, and don' t need BM Plus or BM Studio to run.

However, this is really a whole school / authority strategy issue, not just a choice for you as an individual teacher (or do you have designated responsibility for ICT, overall)?

I think Mayer Johnson's plan is to market BM Studio into schools that have never used symbols before, including Secondary schools, and to push the 'inclusive classroom/school' concept. I believe BM Studio was designed to make things easier for new users (especially teachers wanting interactive materials for IWB use). If a school or a member of staff is just starting out and thinking of using symbols for the first time, I am starting to point them to BM Studio, and they seem to recognise it as being 'like PowerPoint' or 'like Clicker' - and can also see that it could actually replace both of those as well, to streamline down to one single package (which might make it more likely to be used well than staff trying to use three or more packages).

For you, relevant considerations are perhaps (1) the 'user demographic' (sorry!) in the school . Do ALL the staff know and use BM Plus as well as you do? Is there training in it at this 'advanced' level for new staff coming in? Or are there just you / one or two 'experts' and all the others leave you to make all the material for the school?  And if the latter - what happens if/when you and your 'advanced' colleagues leave the school?  You should perhaps consider also what support other than from Mayer-Johnson you and other staff currently use / need / benefit from.  If you share materials with other schools and or have materials made for you by external specialists, then you might want to also consult them on this issue (probably you already have) and think about agreeing an overall strategy rather than potentially going off in separate directions.

And (2) the other software used in the school - and how widely and how well this other software is used?  If the school already has whizzo advanced expert users of Clicker and  Powerpoint then maybe there is no need for another package that does this kind of thing (with symbols inbuilt) but if these are under-used and you you think that some of these functions might enhance teaching and learning opportunities then BMStudio might have something to offer.


Finally there are always compromise solutions. I know it sounds a bit mad, but there might be a case to be made for buying a copy  (or some licences) of EACH version, so that different staff who might be at different points of expertise and experience, and might have pupils who are very different, could use the one that suits them best, and also have the opportunity to plan and build a kind of 'Boardmaker Transition Strategy' for the school / authority (for I fear that BM 6 Plus! may be set to disappear completely in a few years time….)


Sorry it's so complicated but hope this helps.

Best wishes, Sally



Response from Enquirer

Thank you so much for taking the time to give such a detailed response! I am happy for you to publish this on your blog or elsewhere, as it is a problem others will be facing.

I have a dual role in this is as ICT co-ordinator for my own school, but also as the special schools "champion" (unnecessarily grand title!) on the refresh team. There are 3 of us across the city trialling Boardmaker Studio over the next 6 months, and Mayer Johnson are keen to get some kind of package in place for refresh.

I would say that most staff have a good grounding in Boardmaker, and all classes are using interactive resources. There's probably an "expert" in each class, either teacher or member of support staff.

We don't use Clicker perhaps as much as we should, and are moving towards using Boardmaker for most things, including presentations.

I think your suggestion of using both versions to allow a period of transition is probably the best way forward.

Thanks again for your time and your support.

Principal Teacher, Special School


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Stand Up comedian with iPad communication aid

By Sally Millar on Friday 17th February, 2012 at 1:07pm

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 Here's a first! Lee Ridley is a young chap with CP and severe motor speech impairment using an iPad as an AAC system, to deliver his stand-up comedy routine.

Brilliant, good luck to him!


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Free AAC Resources on Visual Systems

By Allan Wilson on Tuesday 14th February, 2012 at 4:14pm

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We received an email today from Dolly Bhargava, a Specialist Speech Pathologist working in Australia, with information about some resources she has created in conjunction with School for Parents. The 'Getting Started' series currently consists of five downloadable books and video material, available via YouTube, illustrating different aspects of the use of Visual Systems to help parents develop their child's communication skills. The five titles are:

  • Getting Started!!! Using visual systems to promote communication
  • Getting Started!!! Using visual systems to promote play
  • Getting Started!!! Using visual systems to promote an understanding of cyber bullying
  • Getting Started!!! Using visual systems to provide positive behaviour support
  • Getting Started!!! Using visual systems to support the development of self-esteem

The first book describes different types of visual supports and visual systems and explains how the appropriate supports can be used by parents and teachers to encourage speech and language development. The other books in the series focus on their particular topic (play, cyber bullying. etc) and illustrate how the use of Visual Systems can make the material more relevant for children with communication difficulties.

The books were produced with funding received by School for Parents from the Non Government Centre Support for Non School Organisations of Western Australia. The books and videos can be downloaded FREE from the School for Parents web site.

Great Stuff!!!



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SQA Answer Booklets in Word format are now available

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 3rd February, 2012 at 4:11pm

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One of the requests from the staff who attended the Digital Papers Focus Group meeting in October 2011 was for SQA to provide answer booklets in Microsoft Word format. While answer booklets have been provided as PDF documents, some staff felt that the Word format would be more suitable for some candidates. You can now download answer booklets in Word / DOC format from the SQA web site.

The main advantage of using PDF answer booklets with Adobe Reader is that candidates can use the same program to access both question paper and answer booklet. However, disadvantages of the PDF answer booklets are: 


  • Each page contains a separate text box for the answer and the candidate's text does not automatically flow from one page to another.
  • The font and size are fixed, and formatting is basic.
  • Inserting symbols, formulae and equations is awkward.
  • Drawing tools are basic.
  • PDFaloud text-to-speech software does not highlight the text in the answer booklet as it reads, and it reads the whole page - you can't just read a sentence, word or paragraph.
Using answer booklets in DOC or Word format does mean using one program to read the paper and a different one to type answers, but the advantages are:



  • Word is a much better word processor than an Adobe Reader text box! The candidate can change fonts, sizes, styles, use formatting etc etc.
  • Symbols, formulae, equations and diagrams can be easily inserted.
  • A wider range of text-to-speech programs can be used to read out your answers, including the free WordTalk reader.
  • Speech recognition can be used to dictate into Word, including the free Windows 7 speech recognition software.
  • Support tools for mind-mapping, spellchecking and word prediction (if permitted by SQA) tend to work better with Word than Adobe Reader.
Thanks to the team at SQA for listening and acting!



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Brilliant Ideas for Using ICT in the Inclusive Classroom

By Allan Wilson on Friday 3rd February, 2012 at 2:45pm

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We've just added 'Brilliant Ideas for Using ICT in the Inclusive Classroom', the new book by Sally McKeown and Angela McGlashon to the CALL Library.

It is an excellent book, consisting of 50 'Brilliant Ideas', followed by 20 'Brilliant Starters'. The brilliant ideas include such topics as:

- getting smart with the versatile Smartboard

- words on the move with CapturaTalk

- creating a communication-friendly environment with symbols

- iPads: next-generation technology

- meeting all of a pupil's writing needs.

The brilliant ideas are presented in the form of short (one or two pages) case studies, illustrating how they have been used in schools throughout the UK. Many teachers will already be using some of the approaches described in the book, but there is sure to be something new for everybody. The 'Starters' are similarly short guides to completing a particular task in commonly used programs such as Clicker, PowerPoint, GarageBand and I Can Animate.

The book (ISBN 978-0-415-67254-2) is published by David Fulton and available through Amazon for £20.19.


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New Quick Guide - Calibre and the Kindle

By Allan Wilson on Friday 3rd February, 2012 at 12:20pm

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Most people who use a Kindle simply download the books they want from the Amazon web site. But what can you do if you want to read something else on your Kindle? The Kindle recognises Kindle (.azw), Text (.txt) and Mobi (.mobi) files and can also view (but not read out) PDFs. It cannot currently handle E-Pub files, so if the book or resource you are looking for is only available in E-Pub format, you need to convert it, using a program such as Calibre.

Calibre is a free eBook management program that you can download from the Calibre web site. It is a very comprehensive program that allows you to search for and download eBooks from the internet, view them and manage your collection. It also allows you to convert between the various file formats used by different eBook readers, so that you can read your eBook on, for example, a Kindle. Calibre also allows you to download online editions of newspapers and magazines from all around the world.

Some aspects of Calibre are a little quirky and it does not have built-in text-to-speech, though it links well with free TTS programs, such as NaturalReader and Ivona Minireader. Nevertheless, it is a very useful program for anybody using digital books.

CALL have now produced a Quick Guide to Using Calibre to Read E-Books and Convert E-Pub Files for the Kindle, which can be downloaded from the Quick Guide section of the CALL web site, under Books for All.

More 'Books for All' Quick Guides

More than 30 further Quick Guides are available in this section covering many different aspects of finding and adapting books for learners with a print disability. Titles include:

- Accessible Formats from Local Authority Library Services

- Accessing Books for All Scotland Database via Scran

- Copyright and Books for All

- Creating interactive digital resources with Adobe Acrobat Professional

- Free eBooks-eTexts and audio files from the Internet

- How to navigate to the Books for All Scotland database from within Glow

- Kindle for PC Accessibility Plugin

- Making Accessible Digital Reading Books

- Making Maths Resources

- Scanning into Word with FineReader 10


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Windows 7 Ease of Access Centre Guide free to download

By Craig Mill on Thursday 2nd February, 2012 at 4:18pm

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Ease of Centre Access GuideEase of Access Centre Guide

Microsoft has included a range of accessibility features (Accessibility Options) in its operating systems since Windows 95.

Windows 7 incorporates several improvements such as a change of name from 'Accessibility Options' to 'Ease of Access Centre'. These features provide a valuable but often overlooked method of supporting learners with additional support needs.

The Ease of Access Centre, found in the Control Panel, brings together all the accessibility options and adds some new features.

You can download the Ease of Access Centre Guide from the CALL website - for free.

Windows 7 On-Screen Keyboard video tutorial

One of the new built-in features is the On-Screen Keyboard which offers word prediction to help with typing speed and accuracy. The following tutorial highlights some of the key features.


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