Culford School has been using DocsPlus to support students across the school with their literacy development and in informal exams.
Culford is a coeducational independent school for pupils aged 3 to 18. My work is mainly based at the prep school, where we have a group of children who require additional support for specific learning difficulties (dyslexia and/or a cognitive attention deficit). Most of these children have an EP assessment, with many of the reports recommending that they use a laptop. However, once these were in place we found that although they benefitted from some things like access to a spell checker, their overall struggles with writing weren’t really changing, and they weren’t progressing as much as we’d hoped.
I had used Crick Software’s Clicker product in a past school to support younger learners, and really liked it. When I had an email from Crick about DocsPlus, I was intrigued – and I really wanted one of the consultants to come in and show us what the program could do for our older students.
I really liked the look of it during the demonstration and decided to run a month’s trial with a small group of children. I was so impressed with the impact DocsPlus had in that short time that we bought a 5-computer license shortly afterwards.
When I was made head of the Learning Development department, I delivered presentations on DocsPlus to the whole school, and arranged for a consultant to come into parent’s evening and present it to the parents of the children I work with. So many of them were really wowed by it and have now purchased it for their children to bring in on their own devices. We now have a growing number of students accessing DocsPlus via the iPad in Years 3 and 4, then from Year 5 onwards, moving on to the laptop version.
My favourite feature of DocsPlus is the ‘WorkSpace’ mind mapping area. It really helps students to plot out and organise their ideas for an essay: we can colour-code each part so that they can very quickly see how to structure each paragraph, and it encourages them to actually develop each of those ideas too. Previously the children would just start writing without much of a plan, waffle and quickly go off track – now they’re spreading their ideas evenly and logically across their essays in succinct paragraphs, going into more detail and linking different elements together much more effectively. It’s a fantastic tool for revision activities too. I have tried so many different mind mapping tools over the years and nothing is as quick, simple and intuitive as DocsPlus. Many of our more visual learners respond well to images, they act as visual hooks, so to be able to just quickly search and drop a relevant picture into their mind map makes it a multisensory activity that our dyslexic users in particular really benefit from.
I also really love the word banks. Helping children to expand their vocabulary can be really difficult, and these make a real difference. Sometimes I create my own word banks – I’ll go to the history or science teacher to see what topic they’re covering in the next lesson, and will quickly create a word bank for the pupils to take into class. I really like the bank of ready-made ones too though, they cover a huge variety of curriculum areas and I will always recommend that when a teacher starts a new topic, they search there first to see what is already available.
There’s so much technical vocabulary in subjects like science and history, a lot of my students would have no chance of spelling these themselves and would become very frustrated and preoccupied with that element of the task. Being able to select those relevant words and instantly send them into their documents really helps to alleviate that frustration and maintain their focus on what they’re trying to write. There is also an added bonus that just seeing certain subject words in the bank actually reminds the children to incorporate them more frequently.
In addition to my work with our prep school pupils, I also teach a few of the older children in the senior school. One of my Year 9’s still uses DocsPlus now that he has moved up, and absolutely loves it. His main writing issue is that he rushes, which means his typing error rate is quite high. He loves that DocsPlus reads his work back to him. A lot of these children can’t spot errors when they try and read it back themselves, but with the audio support they can spot them very quickly and are prompted to actively review and revise their writing – it really speeds up their editing process.
There have been so many positive outcomes from embedding DocsPlus in our learning development strategies. The children’s writing output has increased, the work they are producing is more detailed and at a higher level than previously, and incorporates more sophisticated and relevant vocabulary. This has been particularly evident in descriptive writing tasks, where pupils can access a variety of adjective banks that help them take their writing to the next level.
DocsPlus has also had a significant impact on these pupils’ confidence and self-belief. Here’s some of the feedback I’ve had from them so far:
“I like it because my hand really hurts if I have to write a lot and it presents my work beautifully (my handwriting is really messy). Also, I write much more as the predictive text works really well and that speeds me up.”
– Year 4 pupil
“I like DocsPlus because it makes writing less stressful in class and during homework sessions. I use the read back mode to help me spot where I need to add a word or punctuation and the spell checker to improve my spellings. By using DocsPlus I find I get more detail into my written work. It helps me complete tasks in class faster and more successfully.”
– Year 7 pupil
“I love it and use it all the time. For me the word banks are really helpful. I make my own sometimes to get me started with my sentences. Also, the WorkSpace helps me plot my ideas quickly for planning and it is a great tool for revision as I use colour and pictures from the internet.”
– Year 7 pupil
“I’m really bad at spelling and the predictive text is amazing and it speeds up my writing. Before I would have loads of spelling mistakes in my work but now I feel confident to hand in my work.”
– Year 8 pupil
DocsPlus also includes an Exam Mode for students who require readers, scribes or word processing support. We have been using it for informal exams at Prep level for the last two years, and it’s been working really well. As more and more of my DocsPlus users move up to senior school, (I have several moving up next year), I’m hopeful that in the future the senior school can investigate using it in their formal exams too.
Looking ahead, I anticipate that the number of pupils using DocsPlus across the school will just grow and grow. From September 2019, we will be starting BYOD for every Year 7 and 8 pupil, where previously it was just available for those who had specific learning needs. Now that it will be every child using a laptop, not just those with special needs, I’m planning to roll DocsPlus out even further, as I strongly believe that they could all benefit from the valuable support it offers in the areas of planning, scaffolding and proofing writing tasks.
I’ll also be running a clinic for any children who would like to come and try it out, during which we can troubleshoot any difficulties they might have with writing and find out how DocsPlus could help. For example, there was one child who was struggling to finish any pieces of work. We did some tests and found that his typing speed was twice as fast as handwriting. We realised we could fix this issue almost instantly by providing a laptop with DocsPlus and making this his usual way of writing – he’s now doing really well!
DocsPlus gives our struggling writers all the tools they need to confidently tackle writing tasks and create work that they feel proud to hand it. I’m so pleased with the progress it’s helping our learners to make across the curriculum.