Exam Preparation

Review: DocsPlus

 Many of you will probably be familiar with Clicker, which is basically the ultimate child-friendly word processor (particularly great for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)). It has wonderful features such as word prediction, voice notes, picture support, and the ability to provide topic-specific Sentence Sets, Connect Sets and Word Banks etc. 

But did you know they also have a version for secondary school children, called DocsPlus? DocsPlus has been born out of the success of Clicker. The reason behind its creation is that lots of children who used Clicker at primary didn’t have the equivalent support when they reached secondary school. 

I’ve had the pleasure of trialling the software over the last few weeks and I can’t tell you enough how refreshing it is to find a word processor that’s actually designed for education and meets the needs of secondary school students with SEND. It has some absolutely amazing features that will be making a huge impact on children with SEND. When I was a secondary SENDCo we’d have to use the regular word processor on the computers and whilst they obviously do their job, they are predominately designed with adults in mind and don’t offer the support that many children with SEND need. Looking back, I really wish I’d had DocsPlus then! 

What did I like about it? 

– Everything I wish a word processor would be – This might sound a little over the top, but I genuinely mean it. I’ve sat countless times with secondary school students in the computer room writing up work (as well as supporting students that use word processors to write their work instead of pen and paper) and been frustrated on their behalf that the word processor they use couldn’t help them just a little bit more! Apart from spelling and grammar checks (which can be problematic for lots of children in the usual form… how are they supposed to know which of the spelling suggestions it provides is the correct one?) there isn’t really that much extra that word processing software offers kids in terms of support. DocsPlus solves this problem. It is fantastic. It somehow manages to delicately find the balance between offering great support whilst still feeling ‘grown up’. It’s easy to use, has tonnes of clever features and makes writing more accessible for children of all abilities. 

– Lots of templates – For many students, being presented with a blank document to type on or blank piece of paper to write on, can be extremely daunting. That’s why I absolutely love the templates that DocsPlus has. They have mind maps, for example, that are all linked to the curriculum, ready to choose. Students can use them to organise their ideas, and then have it at the top of their document to refer back to. They can also, if they’d prefer, have the list of key words they’d collated in the mind map at the bottom of their document instead as a word bank. Everything is fully personalised and editable, which is fantastic. One thing I really liked is that you can add images (imported directly or from Google Images). They also have a huge range of LearningGrids (almost 1,000) that you can use for all topics of all subjects. These provide students with the key words they might need when writing about a topic. These include everything from fronted adverbials to science topics and history. They have a curriculum team that create these resources so you can feel reassured that they are closely matched to the curriculum and to feedback from customers. Another clever feature is that you can also make your own word grids to go at the bottom of their document from any piece of text. You can go onto the internet, search for the topic you’re learning about, copy and paste it into the word grid and ask it to sort alphabetically and filter out high frequency words, and it gives you a word bank for that piece of text! Such a brilliant, easy and quick way for teachers to create resources that support learners fully.

– Predictor – In my opinion, the predictor feature is probably the best bit of DocsPlus. It gives students the ability to write more independently. As they type, the predictor provides them with suggestions of words based on the context of what they are writing. Not only does this build self-esteem but it also prompts them to use more complex vocabulary. For students who have fantastic ideas but struggle to get them onto paper, this is a game changer! 

– Voice Note recorder option – Equally, for students who find getting their ideas written down challenging, the voice recorder option can be really helpful. It isn’t there to dictate what the students says onto the document, instead it is a way of students recording their ideas to be popped in a little red box on the screen for them to refer back to. I think, for students who struggle with working memory, this would be really helpful for planning paragraphs and for recording the teacher’s instructions to refer back to. What’s great is, they can click on the recording as many times as they want which is brilliant for kids who want support but don’t want to keep asking the teacher. 

– Reads out what they’ve written – I think it’s fantastic that DocsPlus enables students to have their work read back out to them after they’ve written it. It allows them to check it makes sense before handing their work in, giving them independence and helping them with their self-confidence. There’s also the option to have individual words read out to them as well. 

Child-friendly spell checker – The spell checker on DocPlus is a step above other spell checkers! As with other word processors, it underlines the words misspelt in red and gives you suggestions of the correct spelling. But what makes it special, is you can click on the words, and it reads them out to you. This is a really important feature as many young people with SEND may find that being given just the word suggestions written, isn’t that helpful, as they found spelling and reading the word difficult enough. The words suggested also take into account any phonetical errors they may have made. 

– It can ‘mix and match’ on devices – I loved the flexibility this software offers. It can work on a variety of platforms including laptops, PCs, iPads and Chromebooks. When you purchase the software the DocsPlus universal licensing enables you to use it on different devices depending on your school’s set-up. You can install it on the school computers and then also use the app on Chromebooks and iPads. This means at school, children are able to use the software on whichever device they are using in the lesson. 

– Transition to Secondary – Moving up to secondary school can be a difficult time for many children, particularly some children with SEND. If children have been used to using Clicker at primary school it can come as a big challenge if they are suddenly expected to just use a regular word processor. It may also be that some children have been using Clicker often instead of writing by hand, due to their specific SEND, and not having access to an alternative software would be detrimental. That’s what is brilliant about DocsPlus, it means that the children who have been very used to (and often very successful at) using Clicker in primary can continue their learning journey smoothly, with an easier transition at secondary. I’d also like to point out that its benefits don’t just stop when you finish secondary school and in fact I’ve been informed that many University students and adults use it too. 

– Analytics feature – One thing that concerned me about DocsPlus was how would you know what the students in your class found difficult or needed to work on, if all the extra support meant their finished document was perfect? How would you know that they had needed help with the spelling of certain words, or needed to use the speech help? Thankfully, I discovered that DocsPlus is about 10 steps ahead on this! Their new feature allows teachers to understand how students writing has come together to work out what support was needed. It basically tracks what they have been doing, spell checking etc. and then tells you about it in a really well presented way (graphs!). It tells you how many words they wrote independently, how many words they used the predictor to input, how many words from word bars and how many from spell checker (as a percentage). You can also see how they wrote certain words the first time (so you can spot common errors) and see if they used speech help. 

– Exam Mode – There’s two separate modes to DocsPlus: every day and Exam Mode. The Exam Mode is fantastic for students who have been using the everyday version as part of their usual way of working and have access arrangements for exams. The Exam Mode is password protected and you can disable any features that they aren’t entitled for. For example, if you are just using it as a ‘reader’, you can disable the writing support, spell check etc. One incredibly clever feature is that you can even put the exam paper from the exam board on there, you can’t yet edit or write on the paper but students can highlight the questions using DocsPlus and ask it to read to them. I think this would be fantastic for children who are entitled to a reader for their exams but would prefer not to have a member of staff sat next to them reading them. It also enables consistency across the year group with the reader being the same and as an ex-SENDCo I feel it would be logistically a lot easier to organise! 

– Personalise – There are so many ways you can personalise DocsPlus to suit the students using it. For example, you can change the background colour, text, font size, type of font. You can also change the speech to choose a male/female voice and speed it up or slow the speech down (great for EAL). There’s also options to show more words in the predictor settings and you have the ability to turn the spell check on or off. I did worry that this could take up a lot of time sorting everyone’s settings each time, but you can set up individual profiles for each student and save their preferred options. DocsPlus is also suitable for students who communicate using eye gaze, switches etc. 

Find out more about DocsPlus on their website here.

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