Book Creator and SEN
90% of all children with Special Educational Needs in the UK are in mainstream Education according to the SEN code of Practice. In other words, the large majority of children with special needs are not in specialist schools. Therefore, every teacher needs to be equipped with the knowledge and appropriate tools to cater for this. Of course, the large umbrella term, ‘Special Educational Needs’ encompasses a huge number of complex and specific needs. Flexible and multiple accessibility options are therefore a must when it comes to utilising apps within the field of SEN.
Of course, there are many specific SEN applications on the app store. However, many children can benefit more from using less specific education apps. Ultimately, many SEN specific apps help with day-to-day tasks of communicating or decreasing irritation. They do not do a lot when it comes to general teaching and learning. Clearly, this is a problem for a teacher in a mainstream school. Most teachers wish to offer the same learning opportunities to all of their children. The key is to understand how the use of certain apps can be adapted appropriately according to needs. Thankfully, apps like Book Creator offer layers of accessibility. In this blog, I am going to explain how the basic features of Book Creator can cater for a large number of needs.
First and foremost, Book Creator is an app that enables children to create books. The iPad’s multi-media functionality is directly built in to the app. You can add all sorts of engaging and accessible ‘items’ that utilise the iPad’s camera, photos app, touch screen, word processors and microphone. I am going to through each ‘item’ and highlight the implications they have within SEN.
The ability to add photos could be an added extra for some. For others, this provides access in to entire learning objectives. Tapping on the ‘add photos’ button accesses the camera roll of the iPad. A child can therefore access image or video within the photos app. With a little bit of leg work and a little bit of sharing (via airdrop or a cloud based storage solutions) a teacher can provide a pupil with images. These images could be the structure of a story. They could be visual prompts or visual timetables. A teacher could even create a video explanation to help a child complete a book creator task and pop it in to their photo library as a prompt. Ordering or sequencing images does not rely on writing skills and lager photo formats negate the need for fine motor skills.
In the same way as adding photos, using the camera within Book Creator offers unique accessibility into various learning activities. Tapping on this option opens up a simplified version of the iPad’s camera app. You can capture photos and videos with the camera, again offering a non-text reliant way of contributing learning content. However, the implications of this function go further than the ease of use. Firstly, the camera itself is full screen with an has an impressive digital zoom and manual brightness controls. These features can cater for the needs of some children with visual impairments. Furthermore, being able to take pictures within the app means that any child can take a verbal task and make it more visual. For example, a child with communication needs can easy photograph and sequence tasks within the app.
The Pen item enables children to write free hand on the screen. This function can make a huge impact for children with fine motor skill needs. Ultimately, the keyboard does not have to be utilised to create written content on the Book Creator app. What's more, the pen tool does not require a pen. Children can simply use their fingers to write on the screen. Again, when it comes to early engagement with letter formation this may well be a good option before a writing implement is introduced. Another useful aspect of this option within the app is the fact that any free-written text can be re-sized. Therefore, a child can form letters at a size that is good for them before resizing them to fit in more. Entire sentences can be formed in this way.
So far, I have highlighted ways in which word formatting can be avoided within this app. However, children can also engage with the keyboard in Book Creator through the ‘Add Text’ option. selecting this opens up the normal iPad keyboard. There are a number of ways that the standard iPad keyboard can provide provision. Firstly, by swiping the keyboard with two fingers you can split it in two. This creates a typing space that can be interacted with only two thumbs. This may well be a better option for children with specific fine motor needs. Secondly, the iPad’s keyboard should come complete with a microphone key. Tapping on this engages Siri dictation. Children can talk at the iPad and have Siri dictate the audio in to written text. Any children that are good verbally but have poor writing skills can use this tool as a scribe. Finally, third party keyboards can also be accessed within this ‘add text’ options. There are a number of good ‘third’ party keyboards available on the app store including an XL one that is particularly good.
Without a doubt, the ‘add sound’ option brings with it a completely new layer of accessibility. When a teacher of pupils adds sounds the iPads microphone is engaged. Hitting the big red button creates a little sound clip that sits anywhere you want it to within your book. The implications of this feature are massive. Children are able to verbally contribute to the content of their book. On the flip side, teachers can provide sound clips to go alongside text or images to add an auditory explanation as well. Visual impairments can be catered for via this function, as visual elements can become entirely auditory. The sound clips can also be used to great effect when it comes to using them alongside writing. Many children find it difficult to remember a sentence that they have thought of. They may get half way through and forget where they are going. Being able to record ideas first means that children can create a reminder and use it with ease.
All of the features I have highlighted are very flexible. One or a combination of the features can be engaged within a number of different ways. In a typical mainstream classroom, there are a variety of needs and learning preferences. Book Creator can do a lot to bend and twist until it fits each individual need. On top of the features, the app itself is attractive and easy to use. Stylistically, it is quite minimalist. It’s not an adult or a childish looking app and so it should appeal to anyone. Therefore, older students can benefit from the app without feeling like they are engaging with a tool that is below them. What's more, the minimalist look limits the distractions on screen. This means that easily distracted children are able to focus on the task at hand without flashy graphics or adverts getting in the way. Combining the features of Book Creator with the wider accessibility functions within the iPad’s settings makes the experience even more inclusive. SEN is a complex and daunting aspect of day-to-day teaching for many. Let Book Creator become another tool in your SEN tool belt.