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Speaking For Myself PLUS

  1. Published by Topologika

  2. Communication, Language & Literacy

  3. Foundation Stage & KS1

KS1 Content Evaluation by Janet Madden

This CD-ROM offers both Key Stage 1 children and older children with speech difficulties an interactive opportunity to develop speech and language skills. It is also useful for Foundation Stage. The CD-ROM covers a range of skills from key word recognition through to sorting colours, numbers and finding matching patterns and rhymes. It is a fun and interactive program that could be used individually or on an interactive whiteboard with a group. The program has real speech on every page and all text is read on request. There is also the facility to use sign language (Signalong) and picture symbols (PCS) for those with communication difficulties, and the whole program can be accessed with a switch, or the space and return keys.

Supporting Documentation
The supporting documentation is excellent. Included within the pack are flash cards, picture cards and a story colouring book (with a facility to print more of these included on the CD-ROM). The packaging states that the product was originally designed for children with special educational needs, but it has proved its worth in both special and mainstream inclusive classrooms, and I would agree whole- heartedly with this.

Technical Support
The support provided is excellent. There is a Quick Start guide which guides you through the easy installation process and fully explains all of the icons used within the program. There is also a handbook which contains telephone numbers, fax numbers, email addresses and website locations in case assistance is required. The handbook describes the installation process and contains a picture of every activity, with fully labelled screens showing the purpose of each icon, making it very detailed and very easy to follow. At the back of the handbook there is a section on the resources included and ideas on how to use them - these are very straightforward and well explained. Finally, there is guidance on how to print and access the additional resources which are included on the CD-ROM, such as additional flash cards, etc., making this a very comprehensive support document.

Purpose of the Program
The purpose of the program is to develop communication skills (speech, reading and cognitive), as well as introduce simple activities, signing and symbols to help those with communication difficulties. It allows for the discrete teaching of talking as well as listening, as well as basic Early Years skills such as colour matching, number recognition and the identification of rhyme and prediction of text.

Curriculum Relevance
The title supports speaking and listening skills but also allows for the development of number recognition, prediction of text (all of which can be read by the program) and positioning of objects, e.g. to the right of the bed, on top of the television. This allows the children to use and understand basic instructions, colour recognition (with an opportunity to colour pictures on the screen) and matching activities which promote cognitive development. These are basic communication skills and support early ICT use as well (control of the mouse/keyboard).

There are a variety of activities included:Flashcards - children listen to key words, say the key words and then match them to pictures. Flashcards are also included in the package and can be printed off for further classroom use. The Sounds game makes the sounds of everyday objects, e.g. a lorry, a cat. The children listen to all the sounds and then the program repeats each sound which they must try to identify. The Counting game reinforces numbers up to 12 by giving the digit, the word and the quantity in pictures. The Tidy up game allows the child to listen to familiar instructions, such as 'Put the shoe on the table' - this helps to reinforce everyday language. The Matching game helps co-ordination and cognitive skills by asking the child to match two parts of an object. The Talking stories consist of either two-word or three-word phrases and cover a variety of everyday activities such as having a bath or going to the toilet. This gives the child a resource of common phrases to use. Again, all text is spoken and signed. The Nursery rhymes allow for finding rhyme, predicting text and singing along with the music. There are three different activities with a number of familiar nursery rhymes included.

Analysis of Contents - Appropriateness
The content is really appropriate for SEN children with speech and language difficulties as well as Foundation Stage children. The content mirrors some of the resources on speaking and listening that we utilise within our school, but having them on a highly interactive and attractive program would make learning much more fun. A number of children in our school struggle with understanding basic speech and find it difficult to listen to instructions, and this is an ideal piece of software for them. The Foundation Stage will also benefit hugely from the title and, as they often struggle to find titles appropriate to the needs of their less able children, this title was well received. The layout is easy for the child to follow and the colourful graphics would prove to be motivational.

The quality of the images and sound is very good. Real sound is used throughout and there is a video clip of signing (Signalong) provided for all areas as well as pictures (PCS) to help with understanding. (Real Time player is required for the signing to work but this is provided as a resource on the CD-ROM.)

Each activity does progress so the teacher could choose to differentiate by activity. However, no real differentiation has been included because the title is specifically for those children who struggle to communicate. All of the activities are appropriate to SEN children with communication difficulties and Early Years children. The teacher would need to use their own assessment information to decide what is most appropriate to the children in their own class.

Speaking for Myself Plus! provides an excellent resource for the teaching of speaking and listening. It is hugely interactive and can be used independently or by a small group or whole class through the use of an interactive whiteboard. The title provides activities at a simple and accessible level for those with communication difficulties or for children in the Foundation Stage. The addition of picture clues and sign language help a variety of children to access it. The resources provided in addition to the games and activities are of a high quality and are very useful to support the learning of key vocabulary. An excellent resource.

KS1 Classroom Evaluation by Elizabeth Marshall

Installation & Access
The CD runs automatically when it is inserted into the DVD/CD drive. It installs automatically and the on-screen instructions are clear and easy to follow. Adobe Acrobat Reader is included, as is Quicktime. There is no uninstaller included but the program is listed in the Add/Remove programs feature of Windows XP, so it can be uninstalled using this method.

Planning Classroom Use - What This Product Offers
The title provides a very structured and simple access to language. It is narrated by real voices, both male and female. The language used is consistent and the content is very simple. The sequencing, number and counting activities are quite simple and are therefore more suited for children with Special Educational Needs. However, the counting section was too simple for my children, as even those with SEN are able to count and recognise numbers to 10; the children required a higher level of interaction than the program provided. The program is also accompanied by a handbook, a colouring book and two sets of flashcards.

Purpose of Using This Product
The key teaching objective was to see if particular Reception children could recognise and understand use of positional prepositions - an area of speech they find difficult. One child has a Statement of Special Educational Needs which has a Speech and Language element. Another child has significant Speech and Language difficulties.
"I found this title useful because it offers very clear and easily understood instructions. It follows a set format with clear icons and has a speech supported interface."
Because of the needs of the targeted children I had to sit with them and give them one-to-one help with moving through the program. However, other children were watching and once I had finished working with the chosen children, they were able to use the program unaided. These children then showed others how to use it. The most popular section was the colouring, which was good for those children just developing mouse control. The sounds activities were good and I shall use this section in a more structured way later in the term, when the topic is 'The Senses', as it will enhance the children's listening skills.

This title is designed for children with Special Educational Needs. It has switch, keyboard and mouse access and all menus are spoken. It is very easy to launch from an icon on the desktop and because it is a full installation it needs no CD to run. The stories were suitable for the child with no speech. She could practise her mouse control with these and the signing was useful for both her and her support assistant. She is just 4 years old and communicates at a fairly high level using gesture and facial expression, but seems to have to be taught sign discretely. This is an area we are working on, so the signing will be a useful feature for this child. The stories were too simple to hold the other children's attention, and this comment also applies to the matching game. It was very good for a couple of children, but on a mouse control level rather than one of perception and matching.

Classroom Experience - Classroom Organisation
The software was used during the course of the day with a group of Reception children who started school in January. Other than short sessions of direct teaching on the carpet, children are free to choose their own activities out of the range of planned activities in the classroom. I had stationed myself at one of the two computers to work with individual children using the software. Other children came to watch and learn how to access the program while I was using it.

Context of Use
We had done some introductory work on the language of position during our week-long look at shapes and space, such as playing games with the children by hiding toys in different places and playing 'I spy' guessing games. We had also done some positional work in PE.

Ease of Use - Design & Navigation
The program is very easy to use and navigate. Most children were able to watch me using one game and then were able to navigate it on their own and access other games independently. Because all instructions are spoken, no reading skills are needed and one only has to click on the written instructions to hear them spoken. The instructions are very clear and very short, making it easy for young children to follow. The icons are clear and consistent. Navigation between pages involves clicking on an onwards pointing arrow. The Home icon (a house) is shown all the time in the same location, making it easy to choose other activities. It is necessary to double click on the Exit icon to leave the program, which is useful as it is more difficult for a child to accidentally click this icon and leave without intending to. It also supports the use of a switch and is supported by Signalong signing, which is used by one of the focus children. Activities can also be navigated via the space bar and Enter for those who don't have access to a switch. It is not possible to keep individual records or tailor the program to individual children.

The rhymes are not sung and this was a disappointment for the children, as we sing extensively and the child with SEN loves music and singing. For most of the children, progress through the rhymes was a bit too laborious.

The flashcards didn't really fit in with where we are with teaching reading and words. They might have been more useful if they were split into topic-based sets and contained a few more school-based words. The first four sets of flashcards have colour drawings, while the fifth set contains black and white eye-text pictures instead. The black and white flashcards do feature some of the words that appear in the colour flashcards.

Monitoring & Assessment
The object of the lesson was whether children could understand positional language. If they were able to place the required object where they were directed, then they had achieved this target. The words used were 'on top of', 'under', 'next to', 'in', 'on', 'above' and 'to the right/left of'. They found the last one difficult as many of them are not yet aware of left and right.

Feedback from Pupils and Other Staff
The children enjoyed working with this program and chose to launch it by themselves. Their favourites were the colouring and matching games, closely followed by the positional instructions.

This program is very easy to use. It installs with no problem and has a clear and concise QuickStart Guide. The content is suitable for young children and those with Special Educational Needs. It can be navigated using the mouse, the keyboard or a switch. The navigation is clear and consistent and the instructions are very clear with all speech supported. Many things are also signed. It has simple word flash cards, maths games, including counting, colours, position and matching, very simple story sequencing and nursery rhymes.

I used this title to support my work with Reception children in using positional language correctly. I had done lots of practical work with positional language, playing games, etc., but it is often difficult in this type of scenario to tell which children are able to understand the words and which children are following others. This title gave me the opportunity to assess children's ability to follow precise instructions. Because the operation of the program was so simple, this didn't interfere with what the children were being asked to do. It also provided an excellent opportunity for peer support and teaching.