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Word Prediction is Confirmed as a Reasonable Adjustment for Assessing Writing in National Literacy

by Paul Nisbet

on Mon Dec 09, 2013

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SQA have confirmed that word prediction software is a reasonable adjustment for learners with disabilities for the writing assessment of Literacy at National 3 or 4. 

Word predictors analyse text as it is typed on the computer, and try to ‘predict’ the words that the learner is most likely to want, from a dictionary or lexicon of words. The writer types or selects a letter and the program offers a list of the most common words beginning with that letter. If the required word is on the list, the writer selects it with mouse, keyboard or other access tool. If the word is not on the list, the learner types the next letter and a different choice of words is offered.

There are many word prediction programs available, such as Co:Writer, ClaroRead, LetMeType, Penfriend, Read and Write Gold and Write:Online. Some Scottish local authorities have authority-wide licences for some of these programs.

Word prediction can reduce the number of keystrokes needed to type by up to 50% and so learners with physical disabilities use them to reduce effort and to increase endurance and therefore the amount that can be written in one session.

Word prediction can also help learners with even quite severe spelling difficulties because the writer only needs to type the first few letters of the word and then select it from the list of words offered. Most of the predictors can cope with letter reversals (e.g. b/d) or phonetic spelling errors and still offer a valid list of words. Learners with reading difficulties can usually point or click on the words in the prediction lists and have them read out by the computer, to make sure the correct word is selected.  

Some literacy skills are necessary to be successful with word prediction. The writer must be able to decide what they want to say, type a reasonable approximation to the first few letters of the word and then recognise and select the word in the list. Some writers cannot get the first letters right at all; others may miss the word when it is offered in the list or choose a different one by mistake. Some pupils also find that shifting attention between the text, the keyboard and the predicted list interrupts their flow of thought and slows them down. (If this is this case, it can be helpful to use an on-screen keyboard so that the writer maintains focus on the screen.)

Research and experience shows that word prediction can be very effective method of support, particularly for learners with more significant literacy difficulties for whom spellcheckers are not sufficient. 

Word prediction in assessment of literacyat National 3 and 4

SQA regard word prediction as a reasonable adjustment, but staff should ensure that the software is not providing inappropriate levels of support. For example, the predictor should:

  • only offer single words or paired words in the context of the writing topic (e.g. ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex’;
  • not offer whole phrases or sentences;
  • not be programmed such that the learner can simply hit one key to regurgitate an entire text.

For the avoidance of doubt, SQA have confirmed that the following facilities can be used where available:

  • phonetic prediction (e.g. Co:writer’s FlexSpell);
  • ‘next word prediction’, where the software offers a list of words immediately after the last one typed;
  • topic dictionaries matched to the writing task.

This information is provided for guidance: it is the responsibility of the teacher to assess whether a learner has achieved the standard for writing in literacy, and so staff should use their professional skills and judgement to ensure that the support provided is appropriate.

Find out more about how ICT can be used in assessment of writing on our web page.

Tags: SQA, digital exams

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