More copies of Clicker 4 software have been sold in the UK than there are schools, so it's very likely that you will have heard of it, if not used it. The reason for its popularity is that it is a straightforward concept that can be used to create sophisticated resources, or simple ones. As a program, it started in special needs, but has been gradually moving mainstream until reaching a position where it is used in many ways in many classrooms across the whole school.
That's certainly the case at Great Bardfield school in Essex. This village school of a little more than 150 pupils bought a Clicker 4 site licence and lots of supporting materials with its e-learning credits last summer. Since then it has found lots of ways to use the software.
In reception for instance, the Picture Dictionary CD is being used to explore initial letter sounds. It is one of a carousel of tasks going on in a classroom buzzing with activity. Groups of five pupils are coming up to the interactive whiteboard, sitting on the strategically placed mats and picking out letters to explore. They take it in turns to tap the board with the end of a pointer, as they could barely reach otherwise, choosing a letter and saying its name as a page of graphics opens. Sam chooses "Q" where he finds a queen, a quiz and a quarry. Tapping on each prompts the computer to read them out.
"What's a quarry?" asks Kay Corris, the class teacher.
"Lots of stones," says Archie. "Get them out of the ground."
Then Sam clicks on the quilt. Does he know what it is? "It's a bed," he says.
"It's not the bed," says Kay, "It's the duvet."
At this point the group are just using a Clicker grid, a number of cells or hotspots on the screen which do something when pressed. In this case they read out the word. There is also a talking word processor as part of the package, Clicker Writer. When this is used with the grids, the pupils can send the words in the cells on to the page. This is what they do next, matching pairs of words in a grid then sending them with a click to the page at the top of the screen. Colour coding helps. "You've got to find the yellow picture and the green picture that are the same," instructs Kay.
While the children get on with the task, Kay explains that as well as developing language skills, Clicker Writer is, "brilliant for developing social skills and turn taking". She adds that children find it very easy to use at all levels.
Kay begins by demonstrating it to the whole class, then she works with small groups and by the end of the week every child will have used it individually on one of the school's laptops to create a page of words and pictures using their chosen initial letter. "They get on with it amazingly," Kay says, clearly impressed. Liam proves her point, choosing "O" and getting octopus, operation, office, olives and ocarina - J"It's something you play. A musical instrument," explains Kay. Liam then presses the red button to return to the start.
The class have been using some of the other resources, too, such as titles from Planet Wobble, the literacy scheme with animated talking books, and Find Out and Write About, an interactive non-fiction resource that pupils can read or listen to and then write about. "They were using words like 'plankton' and they knew what it meant. It encourages them to achieve more than they would do without the resource," Kay believes.
But it is not just the ready-made resources, either bought or downloaded for free from the Clicker Grids for Learning site, (www.learninggrids.com) that are used. When the school first invested in Clicker 4, staff were guided through the tutorial section, after which some teachers began to make their own, including Rebecca Loader who has a Year 45 class.
When working on The Butterfly Lion, Rebecca made three sets of grids exploring different aspects of literacy. The least able group were given a grid of sentences with which to re-tell the story, the middle ability group used it to look at connectives, while, for the most able group, grammar was brought in. Rebecca felt that Clicker 4 made it "very easy to differentiate". She has also used the program to explore spelling groups, with grids around "augh" and "ough" words. These could be distinguished by adding colour to give additional guidance to pupils. So "bought", "brought" and "fought" were given a cerise background, and "cough", "enough" and "rough" a turquoise one. The grids could also be printed out for homework.
Across the playground, Liz Crow is taking Year 2 class two using the Early Reading Research framework developed in Essex by Warwick University.
Following some fast-paced work with all the children spelling out phonemes in short words, the group cooled down sharing a big book on the interactive whiteboard. In this case, it was a talking book called The Circus from the Clicker 4 examples folder. Liz clicks on the speaker and thecomputer reads out the text.
"Anyone got anything to say?" asks Liz.
"It's boring," says Lucy, but she's referring to the robotic voice, not the text.
"I don't want you to sound like a robot," says Liz making a teaching virtue of an aspect of the program teachers criticise. Nicholas takes the point and reads the next sentence with appropriate expression, as does Sophie on her turn.
As I leave the school, I spot a shop selling cheap kilts. I walk on by as they don't suit me. Unlike Clicker 4, which seems to suit everyone just fineI
* Clicker 5 is now available from www.cricksoft.co.uk