Reviews and success stories

DocsPlus - Carol Allen review

DocsPlus – ‘a rich toolbox of support’ for students with barriers to literacy

I have long been a fan of Crick's Clicker software, in all its iterations (yes, I am that old), as a tool in a learning and working environment to support inclusive literacy. Many of my students continued to use Clicker throughout middle and high school…and one even took it to college with him. Despite it being an elementary school product, the underlying functionality was so useful to them, that they continued to benefit from the support it offers.

Now, I have the option of transitioning students to DocsPlus. For those who are familiar with Clicker, it possesses many of the same features. For example, if someone prefers to mind map their ideas before formulating a final text version, not only is there a mind mapping feature (with audio note taker support), but with one single click on the finished map, a series of grids are instantly produced to support the writing of the final written version.

In middle and high school, the volume of reading expected each day increases steadily as students progress towards college exams. For a student with barriers to literacy, or whatever type of print impairment, anxiety, and/or energy issues, this is a common cause for difficulties to arise. Word documents and PDFs can be read aloud to the student using the built-in DocReader – and this can also read test papers! For many, the ability to re-read, or proof read, their own work is problematic. Once again this is a facility offered by DocsPlus, so students can hear what they have written and hopefully spot mistakes, or points that need re-phrasing or clarification.

"Students are able to take control of their own learning and require less intervention from other adults or peers."

The ability to have word prediction, curriculum vocabulary grids, writing frames and structures, in addition to the accessibility features (including eye gaze and SuperKeys), offers a rich toolbox of support, all of which is there to use, or not use, in a single writing environment. These features help with structuring their work and avoiding time-wasting moments of checking for key topic vocabulary.

What does this offer? It offers independence as a reader and writer. It offers scaffolded support which can be tailored to individual need AND it can cater for a flexible learning approach, whereby more support features are needed for some projects and fewer supports are needed for others. Most importantly, it offers control and success. Students are able to take control of their own learning and require less intervention from other adults or peers. Success is seen when the student who always "plays it safe", rather than attempt writing at a level that they feel unsure about, now has a platform that will enable them to demonstrate their understanding of the topic and task.

Most excitingly, we are finally moving towards acceptance of assistive technology in test settings, as long as it is the student's usual working method (more information on this can be found here). This is a real step forward as we are acknowledging that for some students, assistive technology is their usual way of working and way of demonstrating their learning and achievements.

It can be difficult to understand the impact of literacy barriers that many students face daily. Exhaustion from having to put so much more effort into work completion than others; anxiety caused by the demands of an educational system that doesn't always allow for complex learning differences, and the emotional disturbance caused by a daily struggle to demonstrate your understanding and learning, when your peers seem to do so with relatively little effort. In an educational age where we are looking with clarity at well-being, is it not sensible to offer a "usual way of working" that will help so many?