Pulling out the stops
There may be a surprise absentee at BETT this year, but those that are attending are offering a plethora of new and exciting special needs products which really whet the appetite. Sally McKeown reports
here are lots of new developments in the special needs market this year - not least the absence of Inclusive Technology, stalwarts of the BETT show's Special Needs Village. To make teachers' lives easier, many of the suppliers are providing on-stand demonstrations and small sessions outside the main arena, to give staff the chance to keep up to date with the newer products and get a grip on New Opportunities Fund training.
Questions Publishing are showing QIPS, a community intranet with modules to help teachers find materials and use them in traditional and multimedia formats. There are curriculum quests and a good Web guide module with nearly 10,000 sites. That should keep you going for a while. Terry Waller of Becta will be giving the latest news of the Becta Inclusion Site, a one-stop shop for busy special needs co-ordinators (Sencos) looking for resources and mailing groups to support their work.
By the time you read this, the winners of the BETT special educational needs hardware and software awards will be known. It's a fascinating selection this year. There's IEP Developer for administration, two products for adults - Lifeskills Series from LT Scotland (formerly known as SCET) and Semerc's Out and About plus Simple Signs, a resource from the deaf community. What, no Clicker? No word processor with add-ons for special educational needs (SEN) pupils?
While the awards boost sales and raise the profile, companies can't expect to rest on their laurels. According to the authors of Time To Revise, 80 per cent of the information we learn is forgotten within a day so the marketing wars need to continue. CALSC, which makes "memory" software, has been plugging away quietly for a few years now and is just beginning to receive recognition. Time To Revise is a good product for dyslexics and others who don't have good strategies for memorising facts for exams. The secret is to develop a reviewing system where you revisit material at regular intervals and develop an upward spiral of moving ideas and facts out of the short-term memory into long-term memory.
Another useful product to support dyslexics and learners with writing problems is WordSmith from textHELP. This scans any text into Word 2000 so it can be read back or edited. There is also speech feedback a phonetic spell checker and a pronunciation tutor and word prediction. This will help to increase access to text for poor readers From Don Johnston comes CoWriter 4000, the latest version of its famous prediction program with lots of new topic dictionaries, designed with the needs of dylexic learners in mind. The big news in the US is that some Alphasmart keyboards are going to be shipped with a version of CoWriter.
At last, Draft;Builder is ready. This is the most exciting product for a long time. Previously, many planning tools are too big and unwieldy for learners before key stage 4. Draft;Builder has three steps: outline your ideas, expand your notes, build a draft. It's simple, clear and easy to use with no unnecessary frills. This one's a winner. Don Johnston also has a really good range of low-level high-interest reading books.
LT Scotland and Semerc seem to be taking their commitment to older learners seriously. Both organisations are showing new products designed for adolescents and adults. Smart Moves covers real life issues such as healthy eating, alcohol and drugs. There is scanning and speech support to help SEN learners access the materials. Assessability from Semerc assesses the ability of older adults with moderate to severe learning difficulties and looks at communication, visual and verbal memory, number, spatial ability and social skills. It links to entry levels 1, 2 and 3 of the basic skills curriculum and includes photographs, audio, signs and symbols.
It's good to see that Chris Abbott has a new book out. Symbols Now from Widgit Software looks at how symbols can be used, not just to help those with literacy or learning difficulties make sense of written information, but also for communication and to support inclusion. With over 80 contributors, this book is a triumph of editing and includes not just the teachers' and researchers' perspective but also the ideas from the symbol users themselves. A fine example of inclusion in practice.
So what about the absence of Inclusive Technology? It is running a "Not at BETT show", next door at Olympia Hilton where it plans to pamper customers old and new. Martin Littler says: "BETT is such a scramble. We are offering a touch of luxury. Visitors will meet experts from Scandinavia and the US, as well as many of the exhibitors from the Special Needs Village. We are showcasing some great new products such as 4talk4 from Penny and Giles, Intellitalk2, our new picture browser with a range of 2000 graphics, and our Small and Tiny Mice."
Becta: stand C30 and X40
LT Scotland: stand P54
Semerc: stand SN14
CALSC: stand SW83B and SN74
HELP: stand SN72www.text
Don Johnston: stand SN12
Widgit Software: stand: SN10