Writing With Symbols 2000 - Version 2
by Gerry Kennedy
Writing With Symbols 2000 Version 2.6
For MS Windows TM 95, 98, NT4, 2000 and XP
Writing With Symbols 2000 Version 2 from Widgit Software Ltd
The Australian Version of the popular Writing with Symbols 2000 software has some new features, in particular a set of Australian symbols and a spelling list for Australian users.
It remains as one of the most flexible support packages for literacy development, and can be used in four ways. An increasingly, schools are using it as a mainstream product, supporting their students with special learning, literacy and/or access needs. Primary schools have found that it offers a different approach to writing, reading and literacy development. It caters to students of all abilities, and helps in fully integrating students who have different needs. Special settings rely on it to provide a range of experiences to students with moderate to severe learning difficulties. Since its introduction quite a few years ago on MS Windows 3.1 computers, it has been the predominant choice for the majority of special schools in their communication and literacy ICT based programs.
WWS 2000 Version 2.6 has a number of new additional features over and above the previous V2.0 package. The initial ‘look and feel’ at start-up has been a great success since that launch. The four main modes are clearly indicated and ready for use upon launching the program. They include:
- Symbol Processor: displaying PCS, Rebus or other symbol /graphic/photo wordlists, with voice support
- Text Processor use with or without voice, with a pictorial spell checker. Functions as a word processor.
- Grids for Printing for printed media, including charts, tables, timetables, rosters, posters, badges, flash cards
- Grids for Writing use one or more onscreen grids for constructing text, with voice and graphic support
The user-friendly start-up screen directs and informs the user to the four different ways with which they can work with text, voice, symbols and grids. The WWS 2000 package accommodates a wide range of literacy and communication needs. It can be used in the classroom or at home by parents, carers and instructors, or in residential units with adults in order to achieve a variety of discreet outcomes.
Text Processor Mode:
WWS 2000 works as a text-based word processor. In addition, graphics can be displayed above (or below) a word, or group of words at any time by using the F12 key. Students or poor spellers can check their sentences and words for meaning, spelling errors, typing mistakes or incorrect context, using the built-in picture support and voiced feedback. A simple spelling activity is achievable where students match their typed text with the symbol that they have previously been taught or exposed to in class. It is a great way of learning new symbols, for practice and mastery of typing skills, or to promote symbol awareness.
Some students need occasional support. They can type a story, shopping list, poem or note. If a word troubles them, they simply click on the text and press F12. The symbol, picture or photo that describes or gives extra meaning to the text will appear. Text can have multiple contexts, so by pressing F12 again, another context specific graphic will appear. This is extremely powerful and is a unique feature of this software. A good practice for teachers, aides and parents is to promote the removal of symbol or picture support after users’ mastery of text production. Working in this mode is similar to typing text into MS Word, except that the program has voice support and instant, removable pictures.
Symbol Processor Mode:
The symbol processor mode is undoubtedly the most popular and commonly used mode, especially with integrated students and for users who have mild to significant learning disabilities.
Users of all ages enjoy the support of seeing symbols or pictures appearing with the associated text. The ubiquitous WWS 2000 has been the mainstay program in many school and adult training settings as the preferred word processor. It can be used as a diary writer, process writer, note taker, sentence maker, reader or even a teacher resource to create talking books and projects. The words appear with picture support and letters, and letters, words and sentences can be voiced as you type.
You can assign different voices to different parts of the text to create dialogues, interaction between ‘speakers’ or just for fun. Assigning voices to different sentences or paragraphs is ideal for character-based stories, for rehearsing and/or learning lines in a play or where there is a narrator or storyteller. The user can denote each character or personality with a unique voice. Simply type the text, highlight it and assign one of the many SAPI voices from the toolbar option.
If students were retelling a part of a Harry Potter book, they could assign Jane as Hermione, Sam as Harry and Mike as Harry. Voices can be modified using the Speech/Speech Setup… menu. Students can become involved in their writing process as they can hear their characters ‘come alive’, and listen to text with pauses and the desired intonation. Punctuation has more meaning as they hear how the audience will ‘read’ their story.
Grids for Printing: Grids are very important and valuable in classrooms. Teachers have traditionally made all manner of charts, daily rosters, timetables, wall charts and posters, in many cases in the past, manually with cut and paste. It was time consuming and frustrating if you wished to remove sections, relocate text or pictures or even reorganize whole sections. WWS 2000 can be used as a time saving tool for creating quick grids. You can create anything that needs to be printed to A5, A4 or A3 paper.
The program is so easy and time efficient. Students and teachers alike can use various image formats, clip art, pictures and photos from the Internet (i.e. copyright free) and symbols. Graphics appear in cells automatically after text is typed. You need only click in a cell and type in a word or a phrase. Hard copy of this electronic media is then printed in black and white or colour – to your preferred size paper, or paper colour/texture. The F12 key once again toggles between multiple contexts and F11 replaces text. If you had typed clown, and wanted funny clown, you merely click on the word clown, press F11 (or use the shortcut icon in the toolbar), and type the new text. You then press the right arrow on the keyboard to indicate that you have competed the revised text label for that concept or word. This method is ideal when modifying concepts.
In addition, it is ideal for designing overlays for expanded keyboards or create communication overlays for custom sized boards, wheelchair trays or standing frames. Included is a step-by-step Wizard that guides you through the whole process, in order to make grids that you will gleefully print and laminate, colour in, apply contact adhesive and display.
Grids for Writing: The last mode is where onscreen grids or environments are created by the teacher, assistant, speech pathologist, parent, or students themselves! The onscreen grids can be positioned on the screen and are linked to a writing widow (where the text and symbols appear in a document). Grids of varying size can contain text, or just pictures or a combination – in colour or black and white. You can mix symbols with photos. If you require, custom designed cells can have foreground and background colours and different border and interior line thickness. After designing, creating and saving the environment (i.e. the grid(s) and the working window), users need only click on a cell to have text (and/or associated graphic) appear on their work page.
Environments provide powerful learning and access tools that promote equity and participation for all users of any ability. They are ideal for students who use a switch or touch window. Touch window users need only point and press on their device to target a word, concept or entire sentence. It is then ‘sent’ to the writing window. By pressing F7 (on their keyboard or from the speaker icon in the toolbar) they can hear the text as well.
Spelling lists and word banks can be quickly created. Key phrases to assist users for communication or text creation can be quickly set up for increasing fluency, for improving story writing and for scaffolding purposes. Commonly used text that is included in a grid is therefore ready to be used and it is correctly spelt! Students can work more efficiently and confidently when approaching a writing task. They can be assured that the words they wish to include are available. They need not worry about having to think of words as they appear on screen ready to be selected. Poor readers can click on a cell and listen before they commence writing, to rehearse and gain confidence.
This software is useful for all students of all abilities. In my opinion, it should not just be considered exclusively for students with special needs. Children can work in pairs or in small groups, and tailor the program to suit their specific needs in that particular lesson, or to accommodate the genre of writing. This provides a vehicle for real and practical integration of children disadvantaged by disability or paucity of educational opportunities, of new arrivals, for users from other cultures as well as for reluctant and struggling writers.
Teaching staff need only learn one program. The need for professional development is decreased with all staff in the school or centre having to learn one key program, rather than numerous different applications. They can acquire the necessary skills and understandings to cater to a wide range of needs and accomplish different tasks using the one tool. Once principals see the huge advantage of maintaining and installing a globally useful and flexible software application, they see the potential for their students, and identify the obvious cost benefits to their school community.
Switch Students On
Writing with Symbols 2000 can be used with mouse, a switch adapted mouse, trackball, joystick, QWERTY keyboard, mini or enlarged keyboard, IntelliKeys, Concept Keyboard or touch window! WWS 2000 is switch capable with sounds, no sound or auditory scanning options, accessing the software with one or two switches. One or two switches can be set up using a Serial Switch interface in COM 1- 4 ports. You can also set up keyboard equivalents. This means that you can ‘drive’ the program by using an IntelliKeys with an appropriately programmed overlay or with externally mounted switches. It has all access solutions built in and ready to use via the Access menu.
Users of all abilities can work together. Younger students or those with physical disabilities using environments with a Touch Window can happily work alongside siblings or peers. You can therefore provide the appropriate access for your users to ensure that literacy opportunities are available to everyone in the class. Access is ensured so that everyone is included in writing and word processing tasks – and most importantly, successful. As it is predominantly a text creation tool, it can be used across all key learning areas (KLA’s), in all subjects, for any writing task.
The package features:
- a fully featured voiced word processor (with numerous SAPI male and female voices – you can adjust volume, pitch, speed)
- a fully functioning symbol processor (PCS, Rebus, PECS or other symbols or pictures, photos or clip art graphics)
- a pictorial spellchecker (words appear with associated symbols from the attached word list – and voiced as well)
- over 5500 Rebus symbols
- over 4000 coloured and black and white PCS symbols (including Australian animals, plants and specific terms and spellings)
- scanned images of Australian money – note and coins
- switch access (for one or two switches)
- an improved interface that invites users to select from four modes, or start with an online tutorial
- improved wizards that guide users through the process of designing grids and environments
- the ability to save documents as HTML and display at home (or on a computer with an Internet browser)
- switch users can now scan irregular grids
- numerous example files that are ready to explore and implement straight after installation
A Few of the Benefits
- Allows teachers, therapists and parents to prepare a wide range of symbol supported materials (notices; worksheets; lists etc) without having to laboriously cut and paste in the symbols each time
- Supports students who experience poor literacy in meaningful and empowering ways
- Font size and image size can be the same, or different, and images can appear below or above text. Text and images can be removed, coloured and resized at any time
- Speech is built into the program allowing text to be voiced back as a letter, word or sentence as you type your text
- Text, after having been entered, can be voiced, in male or female voices, or in combination (e.g. as in a play)
- Provides visual prompts for appropriateness of words used – such as “pear” vs. “pair”, or “write” vs. “right” thus assisting with confusing or difficult spellings, and with homophones
Using Writing with Symbols 2000 you can write with any level of symbol support that is required by the user. Students or adults with any level of literacy can elegantly and quickly produce writing that is automatically fully illustrated. You can write in a full window, have multiple documents open or choose to open and utilise a pre-designed environment, or one of your own. You can set up the program with font, colour, symbol wordlist and voice preference, and then save it as the default or as a ‘style’. This means that every student can have one or more pre-determined styles saved. The teacher or parent can load the style, and commence work immediately without fuss or bother.
Environments can be very handy for constructing and designing multi-level communication books, talking stories, instructions and directions documents, worksheets and timetables. The printed grid making facilities provide ample scope to provide a handy publishing resource tool for students and their teachers, aides parents and therapists.
Success and Writing
Success in creating and composing text is so important for building self-esteem and confidence. Many students often fail or avoid writing as they do not feel confident. Their handwriting might be clumsy, slow or fraught with errors. Spelling may present a problem. Even just getting started is difficult for many students. Text creation is a fundamental and crucial skill in all subject areas. Being capable writers and note takers benefits students in all areas of their curriculum. Research depends upon documenting ideas and recording data.
WWS 2000 is empowering as it not only displays the appropriate symbols or pictures on screen (having been set up by their teacher, aide or parent) but also voices the text. Students can hear the their written work in context and see if words are correctly spelt. This vital multi-sensory aspect assists all students and they thoroughly enjoy writing due to the software supporting their individual needs, when and if required. You can add or remove wordlists and edit them in the new improved Resource Manager. Wordlists can be combined. Photographs and student-specific graphics can be added to existing or new wordlists.
Colleagues in Australia have also enjoyed the recent innovation of “Travelling Licences”. This licence simply requires that a specially designed CD be inserted into the computer for the program to run. The travelling licence has been made available to be used on an unlimited number of sites. This style of licensing for the Writing with Symbols 2000 program has been often requested. Itinerant and visiting teachers particularly like this option!
NOTE: The package can be purchased as an upgrade from previous versions, or purchased with Rebus and PCS, no symbols. If you have older versions (either V1.5 or V1.6), or more recent versions (2000 V2.0 or above) you can easily upgrade either by downloading and installing the necessary file(s) from the Widgit site, or contacting your supplier and explaining what you’d like to accomplish. Used together with Boardmaker® or by itself , it is a formidable package and one that does NOT get relegated to the shelf! Teamed with digital devices such as digital and movie cameras, it makes written tasks easier, more enjoyable and a great deal more exciting.
Refer to the Widgit website for more background information, including fact sheets, upgrades and other software news – http://www.widgit.com). For technical and curriculum support, go to www.spectronicsinoz.com or to your software dealer. For training, curriculum, classroom planning and teaching ideas, contact Gerry Kennedy on email@example.com).