Monday, November 24, 2014

School Tools: Overcoming writing barriers with Co:Writer

By Kent Remund
Utah Center for Assistive Technology

In its most simple form, writing is recording; writing is a powerful way for humans to record and express ideas from an individual’s mind and can be kept for future generations to read. Think of some of our greatest recorded writings from Twain, Dickens, Tolstoy and Dr. Seuss. 

Writing in the school setting has changed over the years. From chalk and slate, graphite pencils, and pens, to typewriters, computers, laptops and tablets. Students with disabilities have some powerful tools to assist them in recording their thoughts today. 

For students with learning disabilities, it can be difficult for them to get the words out.  There's a wall between the idea and writing it out. Word recall is a barrier as well as grammar and spelling can get in the way. One of our favorite tools to help students overcome these barriers over the past decade is Co:Writer from Don Johnston,

If students can write just a fraction of what they want to say, Co:Writer will do the rest. The most basic feature of Co:Writer predicts what students are trying to say, and offers word suggestions in real time.  

Even the worst spelling and grammar mistakes are not a problem for Co:Writer. In addition to prediction is the ability to add topic-specific vocabulary, which it uses to predicts words from. 

Co:Writer has word prediction.
Word prediction is one feature of Co:Writer.
If a student were to write a paper on our solar system, a dictionary specific to the solar system could be added to the words that it will predict. The students starts to type "pl" and Co:Writer will predict “Planet” and “Pluto”.

Co:Writer can have specific dictionaries like this one on butterflies.

Another feature is the ability for it to speak each letter, word and complete sentence as the student types. This allows them to check their writing through auditory feedback.  

Co:Writer is also a great tool for students that lack fine motor skills or range of motion challenges. Many students with cerebral palsy use the program with great success as it eliminates keystrokes with the word prediction.  

Handwriting trouble is not an issue with Co:Writer.

In the past, Co:Writer was only available on the PC for $189.00 per computer. Last year it was released for Apple devices for $19.99! Don Johnston just released Co:Writer Universal, which is $89.00 per year, but has some great features that we love. Co:Writer Universal uses the Cloud to store its information and is available to access on a computer, iPhone, iPad or Chromebook.  

If a teacher were to set up a custom dictionary at school, the student can then login to his/her account at home, and continue working on the same work from school. In addition, Co:Writer Universal now has some powerful data collection features for teachers and parents. It continually tracks which words and sentence the student is writing and compiles it in useful charts and graphs to monitor a full range of qualitative and productivity data. This data will help track writing skills and help set goals for the student. 

Data tracking helps you keep up with writing skills.

Kent Remund is part of the Utah Center for Assistive Technology serving Utahns with disabilities, and a member of the Utah Assistive Technology Teams serving Utah school districts. 

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