Bishopston Comprehensive School is set in a large site on the Gower Peninsula to the West of Swansea. It has a school population of approximately 1100 students from the age of eleven to sixteen. The school has a Learning Support Department which aims to support the children with Additional Learning Needs in the school so that they are able to access the curriculum.
The Department identified that some children within the school needed support with writing in class for a range of reasons be they disaffection, co-ordination difficulties or injuries such as broken bones. They wanted to find a cost effective way of enabling the children to ‘write’ in class to raise the level of attainment of the children, improve their self esteem from completing more work and to develop key skills such as the use of a spell check to correct spelling mistakes. A simple but robust system would be needed because a range of pupils with different ICT skills would be using the equipment in a variety of different settings across the school. Pupils could type out their work without being distracted by some of the higher level features that a computer based software package like Microsoft Word for example may offer such as changing font colours, inserting images or videos. The school simply wanted a system that could help the children with their spelling, help support the fluency of their writing and enable the children to put information into text form in the most supportive way possible.
The school decided to pilot a scheme using a number of Alphasmart Neo systems and allocated them to children who would require them to support difficulties with handwriting or wider co-ordination issues or to children who would benefit from using the Alphasmart to support spelling difficulties. The school also kept a small number of the Aphasmarts in reserve to help children who may have broken bones in their writing arm to still record information in lessons which may be required in the future.
The school decided on the Alphasmart because it was a financially viable alternative to laptops while still being fit for purpose for the classroom but being robust and sturdy enough to take the rigours of everyday school life. The children were able to use the system easily with no waiting time for the Alphasmart to ‘start up’ as can be the case with computers. It was also felt to be easy to use the automatic saving and printing facilities that the Alphasmart offered to the children.
The children have found using the Alphasmart to be less distracting that using a computer as they have to focus on the writing and not getting side tracked with the presentation of the information on the screen or using the internet to find multimedia for use. It simply focuses on the writing that the children have produced.
The staff in the Learning Support Department have found them to be very useful in supporting children with handwriting and spelling difficulties but also have been able to ease parents’ worries if their child does injure themselves and is not able to record using a pen and paper. Another plus is that it raises the profile of the department; the perception of pupils that we only help people with learning difficulties is challenged when anyone can come to borrow equipment to help them.