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Simplicity itself at the click of a mouse

Clicker may have won many awards but it remains a mystery to teachers outside special education. A simple but versatile software, it began as an on-screen keyboard for children to create words using a mouse - hence the name. It can handle speech and has accumulated all sorts of tailor-made resources.

At first glance, Clicker (from Pounds 55) appears to be another of those "framework" programs so loved by software developers, but generally so hated by teachers who have to put in the hours to customise the darned things. Exceptionally, though, Clicker is easy to set up; in fact it's so easy that pupils can set it up with their chosen words as part of an integrated IT activity.

The process of making a grid is simple once you have done it a couple of times; just click a mouse button while holding down the shift key, then enter your text. Pressing "tab" then moves you to the next area of the grid to be filled. It's really that easy. Changing the colour of the text or background, or scaling the font, is just as achievable. The immediacy of the grid-making process means that you can do it with children alongside you, so that they have the chance to choose the text they would like to have on their grid, and then use it straight away. This level of reinforcement worked very for me.

I first used Clicker with my three-year-old son, Rowan, who delighted in making up long stories consisting of no more than the names of the Power Rangers and other friends. This first grid consisted entirely of words that he chose himself. As he picked them, I typed them in to a template, which was then immediately ready to use. He found this very motivating, and regularly chose to use his story grid over and above any of his other games, which did wonders for his word recognition. It was especially motivating when I made up a second grid which contained verbs as well as names that he had chosen. He could then endlessly repeat phrase strings, such as "Alex (his sister) screamed and screamed ...".

The reward for Rowan was hearing these words being read back by the computer. To introduce the concept of words having different uses, I colour-coded the second grid so that all nouns had the same background colour; all verbs had another background colour, and so on.

Grids can contain between a few and 100 words. They are sent to the computer's usual word processor as they are selected. ClickerPlus, a later version, allows you to pop in pictures as well as text.

I was pleased when a switch version of Clicker came out, and we could start to think about pupils at school using grids for creative work or for communication. Switch versions make it possible to scan and select from grids using one or more switches. Briefly, Clicker allows you to outline scan or to fill scan. These options seem to make it easier for some pupils to learn what "scan and select" is about more easily than they can with portable communication device light scans. Some schools have begun to use grids with symbols to cover daily routines or to record significant events such as multimedia "talking books".

The framework format of the program means that it is as suitable for a three-year-old learning to recognise key words as it is for an adult with physical disabilities using it as a word-processing tool.

Clicker resource discs at key stages 1 and 2 include the development of letter sound recognition and topics such as animals, food, myself and school. ClickerSheet is a program which is designed to work alongside Clicker, providing an on-screen worksheet for numbers, words and pictures. This would be especially useful in the early key stages, since it allows pupils to experiment with laying out work and create well-presented bar charts and pictograms.

* The Clicker range is available for Acorn, Macintosh, IBMand IBM-compatible computers. For more information contact: Crick Software Ltd, 1 The Avenue, Spinney Hill, Northampton NN3 6BA. Tel: 01604 671691; e-mail: info@cricksoft. com

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