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TeeJay CfE Books 1a and 1b now available with answer boxes

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 10th October, 2014 at 1:14pm

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Tom Strang at TeeJay Publishers has kindly provided digital versions of the new Curriculum for Excellence books for the Books for All Database, so that learners with print disabilities can read and access them. 

Sarah and Rebecca here in CALL have been working hard to insert answer boxes and adapt the books so that learners can tackle the exercises on screen, and we've just uploaded new versions of Books 1a and 1b to the Books for All Database.

The books are 'PDF Portfolios' so when you open a book with Adobe Reader on your computer you will see thumbnails of each chapter: double-click on a chapter to view the preview and then double click again to open it.

(You'll need Adobe Flash installed to view the Portfolio properly, and from our trials it seems that most school computers do have this.)



Or, you can extract the chapter as a separate file and save it on your computer. We recommend extracting the chapters and accessing them separately because the PDF Portfolio can take a while to open and the extracted individual files seem to open much faster. 


Most of the pages have answer boxes inserted so that you can type your answers on-screen.

To jump to the next answer box press the Tab key on the keyboard: to go back to the previous box, press Shift-Tab.










Some of the pages did not have enough room to insert the answers boxes, and so Sarah and Rebecca added extra pages to give more space to lay out the answer boxes. You'll find that many of the exercises with arithmetic working take this form.







Exercises that involve drawing can be done on the computer using the Adobe Reader Drawing Markups. (Click Comment at the right hand side of the toolbar to see the Annotations and Drawing Markup tools).

This tiling exercise has been done using the Polygon tool. I set the colours of the polygon by right-clicking on the Polygon tool in the Drawing Markups and setting the Tool Default Properties. In this exercise, I drew the tiles in different orientations then used CTRL-C and CTRL-V to copy and paste multiple tiles. 

You can download a quick guide on using the various Adobe Reader XI drawing and commenting tools


On an iPad, tap to download the book and then Open it in the free Adobe Reader app





You'll then see each chapter listed: tap to open the chapter in Adobe Reader.





However, you can't type in answers and so we recommend tapping again and opening the chapter in an app that allows you to type in answers to form fields such as PDF Expert.





PDF Expert lets you type in answers, draw shapes and annotate the text, and it also has text to speech so you can read the questions.

(We used to suggest ClaroPDF for accessing PDFs with answer boxes/form fields but at time of writing it has a bug which means that when you type an answer into a box, your answer often gets copied to other answer boxes on the same page! Claro are working on a fix for this, but it's not there yet.)


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Getting into the Books for All Database from Glow

By Allan Wilson on Tuesday 7th October, 2014 at 4:51pm

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Some people have been having a problem with logging into the Books for All Scotland Database from the Books for All web site since the launch of the new version of Glow. They are getting an error message, "The username or password you entered was incorrect." Please check and try again. The solution, for the moment, is to log in to Glow BEFORE you go to the Books for All web site. You can do this by going to portal.glowscotland.org.uk and logging on with your Glow username and password, or just Google "Glow login"

If you do log in through Glow, you'll find that there is a 'Tile' for the Books for All site in the bottom right hand corner of the Shared Launch Pad, which makes it much easier to find the Books for All database.


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Something about sums

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 1st October, 2014 at 5:51pm

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One common challenge facing many learners with additional support needs is that of writing down mathematical and arithmetic working. This can be a real difficulty for learners with handwriting problems, dyspraxia, low muscle tone, dyslexia and dyspraxia, and learners on the autistic spectrum. So the question is - how can a learner use a computer, iPad or other device to easily and quickly type out arithmetic?

We've experimented with different techniques and one that seems to work well is to set up tables in Microsoft Word. 

These are pretty simple to use: type each digit into a separate table cell and hit the arrow keys on the keyboard to move from cell to cell, or click with the mouse on the cell.

The carry or borrow rows are set to be a smaller font and shown in red so that they stand out.

To strike out a number when subtracting, select the digit and then click the ‘strikethrough’ button on the Home ribbon. 

I've created a set of 14 different Word templates for addition, subtraction and multiplication, for starters. You can download a zip file with the templates, plus a 'How to Use' guide, from the Books for All web site. If you unzip the files to a folder on your computer and then open the How to Use guide you will see thumbnails of what each template looks like, plus a link to open the template directly.

I'd welcome any feedback, comments or suggestions for improvements on these files. I've also created some PDF versions that aren't quite finished, and I'll make some OneNote templates in a similar format.

Here's how a few of them look:

Maths Grid 2


Multiplication TU


Division 1 digit 


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New TeeJay Maths books in action!

By Joanna Courtney on Wednesday 24th September, 2014 at 12:40pm

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I was in a school yesterday assessing a pupil. He is working on book 1A from the TeeJay Maths scheme. His hand writing is poor and liable to get worse with time and as the amount of writing he has to tackle increases throughout Secondary.

I showed his teacher the Books For All database and she logged in with her Glow Username and password (impressively, she knew this off the top of her head!)

We searched for TeeJay book 1A and it appeared, ready for download, along with several more of the TeeJay titles.

Within minutes, he was typing his answers into the text boxes independently and with ease and said to me at the end of the session 'I like it.' He went off to his next class happy and confident.

By the end of the day, there were several requests by other teachers for digital TeeJay titles to use with their print disabled pupils.

A great example of Books for All at its best and of real life 'Active Maths!'

A good day.



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SoundingBoard webinar

By Joanna Courtney on Thursday 18th September, 2014 at 5:13pm

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If you'd like to know more about the great FREE communication app SoundingBoard and how it can be used with pupils who have communication support needs, why not have a look at our recent webinar?

It covers simple editing, using digital images on buttons, sharing resources and switch access for those with physical difficulties.

Also make sure you download this FREE app onto your iPad so that you can use our app board symbolised resources which accompany the Scottish Children's Book Awards Bookbug category of shortlisted books!


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New TeeJay National 4 and 5 books on the Books for All Database

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 10th September, 2014 at 1:07pm

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Our grateful thanks to Tom Strang and colleagues at TeeJay for providing us with PDFs of their new National 4 and 5 maths textbooks. The CfE Books N4-1, N4-2, N4+ and N5 are now available from the Books for All Scotland Database.

The books are PDF files and we have added bookmarks to aid navigation, and reader-extended them so that learners can use the comment, markup and drawing tools to type answers and complete some of the exercises on screen.

(We've not added answer boxes to these books because: there are few questions that can be answered with plain text answer boxes (the maths is more advanced); in many cases there isn't space on the page to insert the answer boxes; and we're still working on the earlier levels.)   

These books are for learners who cannot read or access the paper copies, and we've had feedback that they are helpful for learners with visual impairment, physical disability, dyslexia and ASD. 


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Scottish Children's Book Awards Bookbug Symbol Pack

By Joanna Courtney on Wednesday 3rd September, 2014 at 11:05am

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The shortlisted titles for this year's Scottish Children's Book Awards were announced on August 28th by the Scottish Book Trust. The Bookbug books are Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten by Alison Murray, Robot Rumpus by Sean Taylor and Ross Collins and Lost for Words by Natalie Russell.

CALL Scotland has produced accessible versions of the shortlisted books to allow children with print disabilities (which make it hard for them to access a standard book) to take part in the scheme.

The Bookbug books are available as Adobe PDFs, PowerPoint files and as Keynote files for iPad. You will need to have PowerPoint 97-2003 installed (or FREE PowerPoint Viewer) to play the PowerPoint stories and have Keynote installed on your iPad to play the Keynote files (£6.99 from the App Store).  Note that there are also commercial eBook versions of some of the books - if your pupil can use them, then you should go for this option.

This year CALL has also created a pack of symbolised resources to accompany the Bookbug category of short-listed books, which can be used with pupils with Additional Support Needs and those with communication difficulties. These include Go Talk 9+ overlays or printable symbol boards to go with each story, for general shared reading and for voting for the winner! There are also vocabulary sheets to go with each board to help with recording the messages.

We hope this pack will make the Book Awards into a fun and inclusive project for all your pupils to enjoy and really take part in!

As well as resources for reading the stories, we’ve provided a symbolised teaching activity and vocabulary sheet to go with each story book, adapted from the Scottish Book Trust’s Teacher Pack; Woolly Good Fun, Track Tapir down and Give Wash-bot a scare! So go on, get involved.

We’re sure that your creative minds can come up with your own activities in addition to those we’ve provided and we would LOVE to hear about what you’re doing to get your pupils involved this year!

Use them on your iPad too!

For those using iPads in the classroom or for pupils using an iPad as an AAC device, SoundingBoard app versions of the boards, using SymbolStix symbols (c) 2014 SymbolStix LLC, are also available for download. There are 5 boards in total, 1 for each story +shared reading+ voting, which all link together and are pre-recorded ready to go. So make sure your iPads have the FREE app SoundingBoard installed ready to join in the fun!

You can also watch videos of the authors reading the Bookbug books on the Scottish Book trust’s website. A nice ‘Golden Time’ activity for those darker Autumn afternoons!

Happy Reading! You must register to vote by 31st December 2014 and you have until 6th February 2015 to vote for your favourite. The winners will be announced on the 4th March 2015 at a special awards ceremony held by the Scottish Book Trust. You can register to vote here.


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Scottish Children's Book Awards

By Allan Wilson on Tuesday 2nd September, 2014 at 4:35pm

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The shortlisted titles for this year's Scottish Children's Book Awards were announced on August 28th by the Scottish Book Trust. The Book Awards scheme encourages children in schools throughout Scotland to read a selection of the best Scottish children's books of the past year and to vote for their favourite in three age categories, Bookbug Readers (3 - 7), Younger Readers (8 - 11) and Older Readers (12 - 16). Here are this year's shortlisted titles:

Bookbug Readers

  • Robot Rumpus by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Ross Collins
  • Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten by Alison Murray
  • Lost for Words by Natalie Russell

Robot Rumpus coverPrincess Penelope coverLost for Words cover







Younger Readers

  • Precious and the Mystery of the Missing Lion by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Pyrates Boy by E.B. Colin
  • Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens by Alex McCall

Precious coverPyrates Boy coverAttack of the Giant Robo Chickens cover







Older Readers

  • Mosi's War by Cathy MacPhail
  • Dark Spell by Gill Arbuthnot
  • The Wall by William Sutcliffe

Mosi's War coverDark Spell coverThe Wall cover






Accessible Copies of the Shortlisted Books

CALL Scotland has produced accessible versions of the shortlisted books to allow children with print disabilities (which make it hard for them to access a standard book) to take part in the scheme. The Bookbug books are available as PowerPoint files and as Keynote files for iPad users, with options for switch access and for the text to be read out loud by a human voice. The Younger Readers and Older Readers books are primarily available as PDF files, which can be read out loud using text to speech software, e.g. Ivona MiniReader. Note that there are also commercial eBook versions of some of the books - if your pupil can use them, then you should consider this option.

CALL has also created a pack of symbolised resources to accompany the Bookbug category of short-listed books. These include Go Talk 9+ overlays or printable symbol boards for storytelling, shared reading and voting for the winner! There are also SoundingBoard app versions available for FREE download. So make sure your iPads have the FREE app SoundingBoard installed ready to join in the fun!


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Hodder Gibson Textbooks now on the Books for All Database!

By Paul Nisbet on Thursday 28th August, 2014 at 5:58pm

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For a few years now we have been distributing digital versions of Hodder Gibson textbooks on CD, and the service has become increasingly popular with schools.

We're very pleased to say that the publishers have now given us permission to make the books available for download via the Books for All Database which will be much faster and more convenient for you, as users, and also much more efficient for us (Rebecca won't need to process your paper application forms, burn CDs, and send them to you in the post.)

Over the summer we have been preparing and checking the files and Sven, the Man from Scran (Scran host the database for us), has been uploading the books and they are now all available for download.

Click on this link to browse the books.

So far, we have 217 books available including many of the National 3/4/5 textbooks and we will be adding to the set when we can get more books from Hodder.

The books are PDF files and so they can be opened and read using Windows or Mac computers, iPads, Android and Windows tablets, as well as smartphones. The books are for learners who have a print disability and who cannot read or access the standard paper books.

We are particularly pleased to have taken this next step in our relationship with Hodder Gibson, and our huge thanks to John Mitchell, Managing Director of Hodder Gibson, for his valuable support in making these files available to learners with disabilities.

It has always been our goal to work with publishers to provide files via the database, rather than re-create or scan paper books, and  it means we now have PDF versions of both Hodder and TeeJay textbooks available for download.

This term we will be asking the other Scottish school textbooks publishers (e.g. Leckie and Leckie; Bright Red) if we can make their books available to print disabled learners via the database as well. Watch this space!

Here's a comment from a teacher who got books from us on CD: "Sincere thanks for the digital copies of the National 4 & 5 Physical Geography book. My pupils were absolutely delighted to hear and see their textbooks being used with Read and Write Gold. Fantastic service."


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Helping People with Dyslexia and Reading Difficulties to Access Books

By Allan Wilson on Tuesday 29th July, 2014 at 3:11pm

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Following on from Stuart's blog on Changes to Copyright Law (10th July). we've had a series of emails seeking clarification of the practicalities of access to books for people with dyslexia and other reading difficulties. A lot of information about this is available on CALL's Books for All web site, but we thought it would be useful to summarise some of the existing information, and add some new material that is particularly relevant to adults who don't necessarily have access to the same resources that are available to schools.

How can a book be made more accessible?

Most people with dyslexia and other reading difficulties find it easier to read text if the space between lines and words can be increased and if the size of print can be increased (reducing the number of words in a line). Some fonts are easier to read than others and many people find it hard to read black text on a white background, preferring a coloured background. Different people have their own preferences so it is hard to produce one single type of paper books to meet everybody's needs - it is good to be able to personalise the book to meet your own needs, which can be done if you have an electronic copy. More information on this is available from the book, Accessible Text: Guidelines for Good Practice by Fran Ranaldi and Paul Nisbet, available free from the CALL web site.

Many people find it easier to follow a book if they can hear the text being read, particularly if the book is available in an electronic format which can be read using a high quality voice such as the Stuart and Heather computer voices available for use by people with disabilities in Scotland from the Scottish Voice web site.

There are definite advantages to being able to get a book in an electronic format!

e-Book Readers

Kindle e-book readerVarious portable e-Book readers have been developed in recent years, such as the various Kindle devices from Amazon, the Kobo (from WH Smith) and the Nook. These devices all have different facilities to support people with reading difficulties, e.g. ways to change font size, line spacing etc., and there is usually a (limited) choice of fonts, but the available options won't necessarily meet everybody's personal preferences. There's a good comparison of the various features within each device on Wikipedia.

Apps are available for reading e-Books on iPads and other tablets. These may provide additional facilities compared with the stand-alone e-Book readers. Note that you don't have to own an e-Reader to access e-Books for the device. For example, you can use the free Kindle app to read a Kindle book on an iPad, or you can download free Kindle software to read it on a PC or Mac computer. There is more information on e-Books on the Books for All web site.

Getting hold of an accessible copy of a book

As of June 1st 2014, UK Copyright Law Regulations allow the creation of an accessible copy of a book (and other copyright materials) for a person with dyslexia (or other disabilities that make it hard to read a standard book).

There are various stages you should go through to see if an accessible copy of a book is available, before you think about creating your own accessible version:

  1. Is a suitable accessible version commercially available? If the book is available in a format you need, e.g. for a Kindle you should buy this version, rather than a traditional paper copy. In addition to the various commercial sites, there are also various free sites, such as Project Gutenburg where electronic copies of out-of-copyright books can be found. More of these sites are listed on the Books for All web site. A good way to search for an e-Book is through Calibre, a very useful free program that can be used to search the main online e-Book sites for a particular title. (Calibre can also be used to translate between different e-Book formats - see the CALL Quick Guide, Using Calibre to Read eBooks and Convert EPUB files for the Kindle.).
  2. Can I get a copy of the book from a library? Many libraries now provide loan copies of e-Books that you can download and read via the OverDrive service. The OverDrive books are EPUB format which you can read on PC, Mac, iOS, Android, smart phones etc. On a computer you read the books with Adobe Digital Editions (ADE), which also reads PDF versions. For iOS, Android and e-Book readers or smart phones, you read e-Books and listen to audiobooks using the OverDrive Media Console app. The Books for All web site has more information about borrowing e-Books and the services provided by libraries in Scotland.
  3. Has somebody else already made an accessible copy? Over the years various people have been making accessible copies of textbooks for use in schools, colleges and universities, and of a few novels for general enjoyment. These copies have been made available through various databases: Books for All Scotland, Load 2 Learn, The Seeing Ear and can be downloaded from these sites, though there are restrictions on who can access the material.
  4. Can I get an accessible copy from a publisher? The process of publishing a book can involve the production of an electronic PDF file, which can be read out loud by a computer or tablet with appropriate software. These files are not necessarily 'fully' accessible, as they were designed for a different purpose, but they are still useful. Details of contacts within academic publishers are available from the JISC TechDis Publisher Lookup site. Many of the publishers listed are the same ones used by schools. Note that there may be an administrative charge for this service and it may not be possible to get older titles due to changes in print technology, or files getting lost over time.
  5. Can I make my own accessible copy? As a last resort, it is possible to make your own accessible copy from a paper copy of a book by, for example, scanning into a PDF or Word file using a flat-bed scanner with appropriate Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. If you are scanning a book with a mixture of text and pictures and you want to retain this formatting, it is usually better to create a PDF, which generally retains the appearance of a document pretty well. Word is fine if your document is mainly made up of text. Scanning a book can be a long and laborious process. If you need to scan a few books, you can save a lot of time by using a commercial scanning company, such as DDSR, but note that they will remove the spine of the books in order to run them through a high-speed scanner. You can also make an accessible copy from an intermediate file (a file ready to be made into other accessible formats), but if you want to share this you need to be what is known as an 'authorised body'. More information about scanning books and making accessible copies is available on the Books for All web site.

Once you have an electronic copy you can use appropriate software to read the book out loud. Microsoft Word and Adobe Reader both have built-in software for reading text, but there are better options. We generally recommend WordTalk for use with Word and Ivona MiniReader or NaturalReader with Adobe Reader for reading text from a PDF document.

If you have an e-Book, e.g. for a Kindle or an EPUB file for another e-Book Reader, but want to read it on a computer, then Balabolka is a great free program that you can use. This will be the subject of my next blog.



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Changes to Copyright Law from 1 June 2014

By Stuart Aitken on Thursday 10th July, 2014 at 10:49am

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A welcome change to the law on copyright came into force on 1 June 2014. The new Regulations affect disabled people's access not only to print materials such as books, but also music and other media including video.

Now a person is considered as disabled if the disability prevents the person from enjoying the work to the same degree as a person who does not have that disability. This is a substantial shift from the criterion that was in effect prior to 1 June 2014. Until that date copyright exemption for print materials could only be made for visually impaired people (technically, the definition was broader than visual impairment to include physical disability). For them, accessible copies could be made - large print, Braille or audio for example - without breaking the law. Prior to 1 June, it was possible to extend copyright exemption for others such as pupils with dyslexia. In order to provide this exemption, however, special licences had to be set up, or individual agreements made with publishers. The presumption now set in law is that so long as the exemption criteria are met, an accessible copy can be made.

The relaxation of copyright exemption applies not just to print but also to other kinds of work such as music, film, video. Now a disabled person, whose disability prevents him or her from enjoying the work to the same degree as someone who isn't disabled, can have an accessible copy made.

A further change in the law is also helpful. Now, if a licence term imposed by a publisher for a disabled person is more restrictive than what the law permits , then that licence term is unenforceable.

Full details of the changes to the law are set out in The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Disability) Regulations 2014 

A detailed FAQ has been provided by JISC Legal team and many of the questions and answers are applicable beyond Further and Higher Education.


The full definition of a "disabled person" is now

- a person who has a physical or mental impairment which prevents the person from enjoying a copyright work to the same degree as a person who does not have that impairment, and “disability” is to be construed accordingly. (The only exception from this exemption is if your vision can be corrected with glasses or contacts which does seem very reasonable.)



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Sharing Learning Resources in Word between Windows and iPad

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 13th May, 2014 at 11:36am

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Last week at the CALL Scotland RTC launch I presented a workshop on iPads and Dyslexia, and one of the topics we considered was sharing of learning resources between Windows and iPad. Many teachers use Microsoft Word to create curriculum resources, and so a fundamental question is “how can learners access my DOCX files”? (One might ask whether one should be taking advantage of more creative and exciting multimedia tools and formats available on the iPad to engage your learners, but for this blog let’s assume we are in a learning environment where files created in Word are the norm.)  

DOC & DOCX format

One approach is to save your Word file in a cloud storage such as DropBox, Glow, OneDrive or Edmodo, or email it to the student, who can then open it using an app that can read and edit Word files such as Pages, Word for iPad. Other apps are Doc2, or CloudOn.

Pages is now supplied free with iPads and for older iPads costs £6.99. Pages is a great app and can import Word files, but the layout of files with elements such as floating text boxes and images may be altered when you open them in the Pages app. This may be an issue if you want to send files back and forwards between the iPad and a PC.  

Word for iPad is a new app from Microsoft, and is probably the best app for maintaining the layout and properties of the original file. To edit a Word file with Word for iPad you need a subscription to Office 365 either as a home user or through your school, college, university of business. Learners in Scotland now have Office 365 subscriptions through Glow and so Word for iPad should be a good option (provided your Glow account gives you access).

Sticking with DOC or DOCX is a good option for resources where learners will be editing or re-formatting the text, and for extended writing. However, for worksheets, assignments and assessments, PDF has some advantages.


PDF is a good format for booklets, assignments and assessments because the visual layout of your resource is maintained, and because learners can use apps like ClaroPDF or PDF Expert to add highlights, comments and drawing, type answers and insert photos and audio notes. Also, the latest Adobe Reader XI provides commenting tools that can be used on any PDF which means pupils can annotate, type in answers and record audio on a Windows computer as well. The use of audio notes is particularly helpful for learners with literacy difficulties because the teacher can record instructions or comments into the PDF, and likewise the learner can respond by recording their own audio notes. (Pages does not have a facility to record audio notes.)  

PDF is also cross-platform in that files can be opened on almost any device and operating system (Windows, MacOS, iPad, Android etc) and so if you are working in a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ environment, PDF will give some consistency. Lastly, teachers can save PDF files directly from Microsoft Word 2010 and 2013 (File > Save As and choose PDF from Save as type). 

So, a workflow for digital resources in PDF therefore looks like this:

  1. The teacher creates the resource using Microsoft Word, saves it as a PDF and emails it or makes it available to the class via online storage.
  2. Pupils then access the resource on Windows, iPad, Android etc and use commenting tools to insert answers or otherwise respond. The pupil emails or saves the file.
  3. The teacher opens the students’ files using Adobe Reader XI on their computer (or uses ClaroPDF / PDF Expert / iAnnotate on an iPad), reviews the responses, and uses the commenting tools to mark the submission and provide feedback. The teacher’s comments can be typed, drawn or recorded as audio. The marked work is then given back to the pupil who can open it and read or listen to the feedback.













The participants at the workshop on Friday thought that the PDF option was the better option for learning resources where some sort of response is expected from the learner, because: the visual appearance is maintained; the student writes 'on top' of the PDF (there is no chance of accidentally or deliberately altering the assignment); it's possible to record audio into the PDF easily; and PDF can be read and annotated with almost any device.

There are many apps that learners can use to open, read and type or draw on PDFs, but I favour:

ClaroPDF (69p) because it has good, simple text-to-speech (e.g.. tap on text and it speaks); there is a Scottish voice (Fiona, costs £1.49 extra); you can tap and type anywhere; it has good drawing and annotation tools; it can be used to type into answer boxes on SQA Digital Question papers.

PDF Expert (£6.99) because is also has good text-to-speech, albeit slightly more complicated than ClaroPDF (and no Scottish voice); great annotation tools; and it can also access Digital Question Papers. PDF Expert can open and save files from a wider range of cloud services than Claro, and has better file management.



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Text to Speech and Reading Books with Mavericks

By Allan Wilson on Monday 21st April, 2014 at 2:23pm

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We had a couple of enquiries last week about different aspects of 'text to speech' on an Apple Macintosh computer so it is probably a good time to put together some updated information, particularly relating to the Mavericks (10.9) Operating System. The first related to general text to speech facilities for a pupil with dyslexia, particularly interested in reading past exam papers. The second was more specific to using the computer to read books, particularly Kindle books.

Recent Mac operating systems have included a reasonable text to speech facility, but we have generally recommended the free version of NaturalReader, particularly for somebody with a reading difficulty who might want to click on a mouse button to speak text, rather than remember a keyboard command. Unfortunately, the free version doesn't currently work with the latest Mavericks operating system so the best 'free' alternative is to use the built-in facility.

Accessing Text to Speech with Mavericks

Text to Speech on a Mac running Mavericks is accessed through the Dictation and Speech System Preferences. (Click on the Apple icon in the Menu bar [top, left of the screen], then System Preferences, then Dictation and Speech [You may have to click on Show All in order to see this.). Now select the voice you want to use. The Mac defaults to using one of six American voices (see below, left), but you can access many more by clicking on Customize (below, right). Simply tick the voices you want to have available and 'untick' the ones you don't want. The additional voices include a good quality Scottish voice, Fiona, which you can use free. Note that there are also Mac versions of the Scottish computer voices, Heather and Stuart. The Scottish voices are generally free for use by people with disabilities in Scotland through the Scottish Voice web site, or can be purchased through Cereproc.

After you have chosen the voices you want to have available, click on System Voice again and choose the voice you want to use. Speaking Rate can also be adjusted at this point to suit the user. People with an auditory processing difficulty may benefit from a slower speed, while people with a visual impairment might prefer a faster speed, particularly if they are used to Text to Speech. Finally, choose a key or key combination to 'Speak Selected Text'. Choose something that you will remember, and which is not already used by something else.

Once Text to Speech has been set up, select text in any application with your mouse and press the key you have chosen to Speak Selected Text to hear the text read back to you. Note that words are not highlighted in any way as they are read. If this is important, you would need to use a specialist Text to Speech program, such as GhostReader or Read and Write Gold.

What about Reading an Electronic Book?


Most Mac users would think of iBooks as their first option for reading electronic books. There are over 2 million books available and a basic Text to Speech facility is built into the program. Select the text you want read, then click on Edit, Speech and Start Speaking.









If the book is available as a PDF, then the text to speech options in Adobe Reader can be used. See the CALL Quick Guides to Using Books on the Books for All web site.


What can you do if the book you want is only available for the Amazon Kindle, or if you have a Kindle account and prefer to use that, rather than set up an iBooks account? There is a free Kindle app, available through the Apple App Store, which can be used to read Kindle books that have been purchased, or downloaded from the Amazon Kindle Store. Unfortunately, the Kindle App for the Mac is quite limited for people with reading difficulties - there is only one, unfriendly, font available, though text size and spacing can be varied, and there is no built-in Text to Speech facility. The Speak Selected Text method used to work (see video), but it no longer works in Mavericks. The best way we have found for adding Text to Speech to the Kindle app on an Apple with Mavericks is to use the Screenshot Reader in Read and Write 5 Gold (circled in red below). This allows you to select any block of text from the screen, including from the Kindle app, copies the text into a new frame and then reads the text back, highlighting each word as it is read. You have to read each page individually, which is a hassle, but at least it is possible to read the text out loud using this method.



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New John Muir Graphic Novel available in accessible digital format

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 16th April, 2014 at 4:58pm

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A new graphic novel based on the life of John Muir, the Scottish pioneering conservationist was launched by the Scottish Book Trust earlier this month. The novel is written by award-winning author Julia Bertagna and illustrated by Glasgow-based artist William Goldsmith, and free copies are being sent to every secondary school in Scotland for use by pupils in S1, S2 and S3.

So what about young people who can't read or access the free copies, I hear you ask? Well, the good news is that we have been working hard with the authors, the Book Trust, and the designers at Metaphrog to create an accessible digital version of the novel. 

This turned out to be quite tricky. Most graphic novels are PDF image files, and while you can zoom in and magnify the text, and turn pages and navigate on a computer or device, you can't  have the text read out by the computer. However, we wanted to have the option of text-to-speech because it can really help readers with dyslexia, visual impairment, hearing impairment or non-native English speakers. This meant that the novel had to have proper, selectable text, and so John and Sandra at Metaphrog created a special font to mimic William Goldsmith's handwriting, and then used this font to create a special accessible version of the novel. We also spent many hours working out the best way to get the text read out in the correct order by the free text reader in Adobe Reader, and John and Sandra went through every page checking and adjusting it. Lastly, they added bookmarks so that readers can see the table of contents and click to go to a particular section.

I'm pretty chuffed with the way it has turned out and grateful for the opportunity to work with the artists and authors and I think it is a good model for graphic novels in general. 

Apart from giving readers with print disabilities access to the book, it also fits with the general theme of conservation and sustainability, since no trees were harmed in the production of the digital copy.

You can download the novel from the Scottish Book Trust web site. (Make sure you get the accessible version and not the standard PDF which doesn't have readable text.) There are also teaching notes for use in different subjects across the curriculum.

You can read the novel on a computer or on an iPad or Android tablet, and I've written some quick guides: one for Windows, and another for iPad. To read it on a Windows or Mac, you just need the free Adobe Reader software which will probably be on your computer already. You can read the novel with the free Scottish voices.

For the iPad, we suggest reading the novel with ClaroPDF because it has good text-to-speech tools (including Fiona, a Scottish voice) and at 69p it's a steal. (Fiona costs £1.49 extra.)

If you have an Android tablet, try ezPDF Reader (£2.49) with the CereProc Scottish voices (£1.19 each).



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Dragon NaturallySpeaking on inexpensive laptops

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 2nd April, 2014 at 12:13pm

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Recently there has been renewed interest in the potential of speech recognition for learners with writing and literacy difficulties (partly as a result of the restriction on use of a scribe for assessing writing at National 3/4 Literacy). Dragon NaturallySpeaking is we think the best speech recognition software for Windows PC, and I was interested whether it would run on the relatively low powered Acer TravelNote laptop that is available from XMA through the Scottish Tablet and Notebook Procurement Scheme. (There are of course scores of lightweight laptops around but it's often easier and cheaper for schools and local authorities to buy machines through this national procurement scheme.)

So we did an experiment - I installed Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium 12 on the Acer and on my own Dell laptop, dictated into both at the same time, and tried to see if there was any time lag or lack of response between the two machines. The Acer has a Celeron 1.5Gz processor with 2 GB of RAM, while the Dell has an i5 2.5 GHz processor and 4 GB RAM, so the Dell should be noticeably faster. Both machines were running Windows 7. I didn't bother to train Dragon to my voice, and the accuracy was pretty good 'out of the box'.  I looked like an even bigger prat than usual by wearing two identical headsets (Andrea NC181VM USB)... 

In fact, for basic dictation, we couldn't see much difference between the two. The Acer seemed slightly slower to load programs and Dragon said that the natural language processing facility wouldn't work because of the lack of RAM and processor speed, but apart from that it was fine. (The natural language commands let you give commands to Word in simpler English (e.g.. 'Turn on bold') but not having them is not a huge disadvantage because you can still usually use the more formal commands (e.g.. 'Set Font Bold')  for most tasks.)

The Acer costs £216; Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium Education is £99; so for £315 schools can get a lightweight laptop running a good speech recognition system. (You would probably need MS Office which your local authority would install, and we strongly recommend a USB headset like the Andrea at around £30 but the total cost still seems pretty good value.)

Alternatively, for about the same price you can get an iPad Air and try the free built-in Siri speech recognition - you do need an internet connection but we think it's just as good as Dragon and it seems more forgiving of strong accents and also very simple to use.





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