Thursday, October 2, 2008

Write Out Loud and Solo Give Great Teacher Supports

Another look at a standard tool reveals more support for teachers.

I had been referred by one of our OT's to help a Title I teacher at a school that sits out on the windswept banks of the Columbia River. An hour drive had brought me to the school, and inside I found a friendly staff and great school climate. The teacher was waiting (I was on time thanks to my inner alarm clock - I had been there 15 minutes early and had caught a cat nap in the car! Yes, that is how we itinerates sometimes survive, eating, sleeping, writing reports, etc in the car - our second home.) and we sat down to go through the Co:Writer and Write Out Loud software from Don Johnston.

It seems that I am always looking for a hot topic, issue or new product to promote on the blog and forget that there are some good "bread and butter" staples in the AT software field that I need to bring up now and then. Write Out Loud with the Co:Writer application is one of these tried and true programs. Let me tell you why.

For those that aren't familiar with them, Co:Writer works with other programs such as MS Word or Powerpoint to place the text in the window. Before it gets there though, you type in a floating window on top of the word processing application you have open. The Co:Writer window reads what you write for audible proofreading support. You also get word prediction underneath so as soon as you see the word you want, you can stop spelling, click on the word and add it to your sentence. You can roll the mouse over the word list and hear each one too if you don't know how to read it very well. THis can be great for getting students to build word recognition and find patterns in spelling by viewing and hearing words, analyzing them and using them in a sentence or paragraph. Once you finsh the sentence or paragraph, you hit enter and it adds it to the Word document after reading you the sentence one more time.

The Write Out Loud program does the same thing as far as the text to speech tool, but it is self contained rather than integrated with a processing program. There is a dictionary and other study helps. But the real power is in the teacher support area with Solo.

Solo gives you a "student central" area that allows the student to access their own work and assignment folders when they log in. When they log in, they also have a set of preferences customized for them as to font size, color of font and background, etc.

When a teacher logs in, they can build writing prompts, assignments and add directions then save as an assignment with locked text so the students can't change anything. Teachers can view student folders and highlight, add comments, etc. and then put it back in the student work folder for editing.

When students log in, they can view their assignment folder and do whatever has been placed inside. If they are still working on a document they have saved, it will be in the My Work folder to continue to edit, etc. They get the text to speech support, the word prediction, word dictionaries under topics that can be added into the word prediction library for a particular assignment/topic.

There is a picture library to pull from for reports and, in our case, we designed a writing activity that used images of games like Trouble and Jenga. We went to the Internet did an image search and added the images to the report - writing about "My Favorite Games."

We asked questions in the assignment so the student could write up a list of single words. Then we designed questions to build more ideas that might need more than one word to describe. After the questions, we gave the student a chance to put the resources from the questions and lists into paragraph form to answer the question about fabvorite games. After we designed the assignment and locked the text, we placed it in the students folder to do tomorrow.

After the assignment is done, the teacher can go in and read and edit and return if necessary, and when done, the final assignment is given a score by the software for you. You can view a chart of the student and see elements such as word count scored for each writing assignment completed. The software even shows you the data in a chart form that tracks growth in writing length and word usage. This data can be printed off and filed for the student records.

I can see copying and pasting text into the program and saving just to read. The voice we used was very nice and had an adjustible set of preferences such as speed of reading.
I have been using these programs to support writing, but hadn't explored the teacher side too much. After 2 hours, I left knowing I wanted to share these teacher supports with you.

All the best to you!


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