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New Opportunities and Resources for Shared Reading and Storytelling

By Gillian McNeill on Thursday 27th August, 2015 at 2:09pm

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The benefit of involving learners in shared reading and storytelling activities is widely recognised - for developing reading, writing, literacy, speech and for language. However, many learners with additional support needs (ASN), have difficulty accessing and using standard printed books, so here at CALL Scotland we have felt it important to develop and share information about reading materials which are accessible to all.

Back in 2006, we established the Books for All website and database which is now widely used for finding and downloading accessible digital books, in ebooks and similar formats. More recently we have developed a range of resources focusing on early and pre-readers, which are freely available for staff in education to download and use. We also have  professional learning opportunities with instructional videos to view and a CALL course in September.

Symbolised Resources

The resources are designed for use by learners with complex communication support needs and may also be useful for those who have English as an Additional Language (EAL) and indeed any learner  who might benefit from visual and communication supports in the classroom.  Those now available consist of symbolised resources which accompany  the shortlisted Bookbug books from last year’s Scottish Children’s Book Awards 2015, which were:

Robot Rumpus by Sean Taylor

Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten by Alison Murray

Lost for Words by Natalie Russel

Available to download are - symbol communication boards, communication aid overlays and SoundingBoard App boards for iPad, supporting learners to participate in the storytelling, to give opinions on the books, as well as take part in the voting process. There are also symbol overlays to accompany teaching activities on related book topics and guidance on using all of the overlays there. Recorded video webinars are available to view, providing further guidance and demonstration on how  the overlays can be used.

Initially just accessible during the period of the Book Awards, we can now make these resources permanently available here.

Accessible PowerPoint Bookbug Books

The accessible PowerPoint versions of the Bookbug books from the Book Awards in previous years, have all been added to the Books for All database, with a library now of 18 books, including past awards winners Robot Rumpus and Jumblebum. They can be downloaded here.

Look out for this year’s Scottish Children’s Book Awards 2016 shortlisted accessible Bookbug books and symbolised resources, which will be available from us in early September!

CALL Course – 10th September

To tie in with the upcoming launch of this year’s Book Awards and to provide an opportunity for staff to learn more about engaging learners in shared reading and storytelling, we are running a training course, which is available now to book:

Using ICT to Create Shared Reading & Storytelling Resources for Pupils with Complex ASN

9.30am – 3.30pm, 10th September - CALL Scotland

The course will focus on learning how to make personalised picture-based digital books for early and pre-readers on PC and iPad, and how to make and use accompanying symbol resources. We will explore the range of existing storybooks and resources available, and demonstrate the best tools for producing your own, equipping you to develop shared reading acitivities in your own school. For more information and to book your place, visit the CALL Scotland website here.

So here’s to many more reading and storytelling activities for all!



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MiniReader no more?

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 20th July, 2015 at 4:48pm

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It seems that IVONA MiniReader, the free text reader we liked for reading digital exams, is no longer available for download.

I've therefore spent the afternoon reminding myself of some alternatives - and thanks to Abi James and Jean Hutchins of the BDA Technology group for sharing some hints and tips. Of the free programs, I like NaturalReader best because it's the simplest. Orato and Balabolka are both good but reading text from a PDF involves an extra step because you have to select, then copy the text, then click to read it.

NaturalReader is a simple text reader for Windows and MacOS which can read out text from almost any program – Adobe Reader, Microsoft Word, internet browsers etc.. NaturalReader can use our free Heather and Stuart voices and most other voices on your computer. The program is very simple: select the text, then click the ‘Play’ button.



Orato is another free text reader that can read text from Word, PDF, emails, Facebook or the internet. You select the text you want to read, copy it, and then click the 'Speak' button. (There is an option to automatically speak the clipboard, but it reads out the text and then repeat the first few words several times, which is quite disconcerting and could be confusing in an exam.) 



A third program is Balabolka. It's a great tool for reading long files and especially for converting text into audio files, but you can also use it as a text reader for a digital paper.

The simplest way to use Balabolka to read exam papers is with it's 'floating window'. ​​Select the text and copy it to the clipboard (press CTRL-C, or right click and choose Copy, or choose Copy from the program's menu). ​Then click the Read Clipboard Aloud button at the right hand end of the Balabolka toolbar.  

You should also consider the paid-for programs such as ClaroRead, Co:Writer, Penfriend and Read and Write because they offer more features and facilities which can help support learners with reading and writing difficulties.


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Bright Red textbooks now available on the Books for All Database

By Paul Nisbet on Thursday 2nd July, 2015 at 1:29pm

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BrightRed National 4 and Higher Study Guides are now available on the Books for All Database! We are very grateful to John MacPherson and the team at BrightRed for giving us permission to make these files available to learners with print disabilities across Scotland. 

The books are PDFs that learners can access on computers using free Adobe Reader or Foxit Reader software, on iPads using a variety of apps such as the built-in iBooks, ClaroPDF (now with the Heather Scottish voice!), GoodReader or PDF Expert 5, or on Android tablets using for example ezPDF Reader

Why is this good? This comment we recieved yesterday from a secondary school teacher in Moray sums it up nicely: 

"I find this site invaluable because we can download on to iPads and then the screen and fonts can be adapted for dyslexic students and students with sight issues."

The books available to date are:

BrightRed Study Guides for National 4

BrightRed Study Guides for Higher



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New Maths in Action S3-2 in 18 point Large Print now available

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 29th June, 2015 at 4:26pm

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Thanks once more to Marie Lawson in Shetland who has contributed New Maths in Action 32 in 18 point Large Print - all 629 pages of it! 

This adds to Large Print versions of the 11, 12, 21, 22 and 31 books that Marie has already provided to the database. 

Marie has retyped and laid out the entire book in large print and the result is much 'cleaner' and less cluttered than the original, as well as being in a larger font.

Learners with visual or perceptual difficulties will benefit, and it also looks good on an iPad.  


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New books on the Books for All Database

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 26th June, 2015 at 12:55pm

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Rebecca has been continuing her Herculean task of checking, adapting and uploading books (kindly provided by VTSS in Edinburgh) to the Books for All Scotland Database. The latest batch are 83 books for English, including novels such as Charlotte's Web and Ezio Trot, books from reading schemes such as Wellington Square and Oxford Reading Tree, and English textbooks from Collins. Most of the books are Large Print which are particularly suited for pupils with visual impairment or reading difficulties to read on iPads or tablets with smaller screens, because the large font and simplified layout means there is less need to swipe and scroll around the screen.

The screen shot shows a Large Print 24 point version of Charlotte's Web being read out using the free Scottish Heather voice that is now available on ClaroPDF, one of our favourite apps for accessing PDF files on the iPad.  

The new books are listed on the Home page when you go to the Database.  


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Cereproc Heather now available for ClaroPDF

By Craig Mill on Thursday 25th June, 2015 at 3:27pm

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A question we are often asked at CALL is “can you get the Scottish voices on the iPad?”

Unfortunately, the answer has been a resounding ‘No’. While the Scottish voices are available for Android devices via Google Play, i.e. Cereproc Heather and Stuart (including many other voices such as Kirsty Scottish, Jack UK English, Sue Midlands English and Dodo Glasgow) the iPad has lacked a quality Scottish voice.

Saying that the Scottish Fiona and Scottish Rhona voices are available via an In-App purchase (£1.49 each) for the Claro apps, e.g. ClaroSpeak and ClaroPDF

ClaroPDF iconClaroPDF is a fully featured app for reading documents and books, particularly books downloaded from the Books for All database. The app allows you to customise background colours and includes word / sentence highlighting to support visual tracking. 

There are also options to invert colours, Autoscroll and add annotations such as record audio, add images, notes, and a nifty pen tool for writing comments. You can also add video, either from the iPad's camera or from the Library, providing a multimedia dynamic to the app. 

However, a more recent development to ClaroPDF is the addition of a new voice – Cereproc Heather! Listening to Heather read books aloud on the iPad sounds great – and is extremely good quality, all for free!

Heather isn’t currently available in other Claro apps (at least it wasn’t available for ClaroSpeak or ClaroCom at the time of writing) but hopefully Claro will introduce Heather (and hopefully Cereproc Stuart) shortly.  

To install Heather for use on ClaroPDF follow the steps below:

1. If you don’t already have ClaroPDF you will need to download it from the App Store (£2.99): 

2. Open ClaroPDF and tap or select the Cog icon. When the drop-down menu appears select 'Store'.

Settings in ClaroPDF

3. Under Voices tap or select ‘Add-on Voices’. 

Add voices in ClaroPDF

4.Scroll down until you see Heather. 

Heather in ClaroPDF 5. Tap Heather to download the voice. 

6. After the voice has downloaded go back to the Settings / Store icon and select ''Settings'. Finally, under ‘Voice name’ set Heather as the default voice. Remember to set the Speaking rate and there are also other options, i.e. ‘Speak on Tap’ under ‘More’.

Additional Settings

Although there still isn’t a universal Scottish voice that works across the iPad, Scottish Heather for ClaroPDF is one step closer. 



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1.5m Access to Education Fund now open for schools

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 27th May, 2015 at 12:51pm

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£1.5m is now available for schools and clusters to help reduce barriers to learning for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. This includes learners with additional support needs. 

The fund aims to help enhance a school's capacity to:

  • address barriers to learning caused by difficulties in accessing appropriate school resources, equipment, IT, or clothing;
  • provide learning experiences, outdoor learning or other activities which will boost learning and are an integral part of the school curriculum;
  • offer coaching and mentoring programmes for disadvantaged students to support them to become fully engaged in school and community life;
  • deliver parental engagement programmes to support parents to support their children;
  • engage with the wider community; and
  • develop or deliver innovative learning experiences which will raise educational attainment, promote attendance and encourage positive engagement.

I don't know exactly what type of projects get funded, by my eye was drawn to the mention of IT, so perhaps funding would be available to invest in laptops, tablets or software for a support for learning department? Some schools say they have very limited stocks of devices for students with ASN and so this may be one way to supplement your resources. Or how about developing a programme of coaching for learners to teach ICT skills "to support them to become fully engaged in school and community life" - you might have after-school sessions to develop basic ICT skills, or teach students how to use particular software or apps for accessing the curriculum.

To find out more, get the application forms, and see an example application from last year, visit the Access to Education Fund pages on the Education Scotland web site.

Last year there was considerable variation in the amount of funding awarded to schools in different local authorities: from Glasgow, where schools received £173,568, to Argyll & Bute, where schools received only £2,000. Don't miss out this year! Get your applications in before the deadline on 19th June! 


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A brief history of accessible PDFs

By Stuart Aitken on Monday 25th May, 2015 at 2:37pm

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Premiere this week in Riga Latvia – but you saw it first (blink and you will miss it!)

CALL had a bit of fun putting together a 1 minute video with closed captions:

Plus accompanying transcript (Word transcript (.doc) and text transcript (.txt)), on using and making accessible PDF documents. This week we share the video with European Union colleagues in Latvia as part of Scotland’s input to the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (the Agency).

The whistle stop tour is on making and using an accessible PDF document – a maths book with ‘answer boxes’. This accessible format has proved tremendously popular with learners with a physical disability, visual impairment, autism and other support need. You can access the closed caption video on making and using a PDF. A transcript is provided for users who prefer a TXT version, and in MS Word and PDF formats.

The Riga event is the third and final session on driving forward the availability and use of accessible information in learning. CALL's Books for All website, the Books for All Scotland Database, Seeing Ear's catalogue and RNIB's Load2Learn are all ways of bringing accessible information (books) used in schools by disabled learners right into the classroom.

Riga participants will focus on implementation – making it happen not just in classrooms across Scotland but across lifelong learning, and not just in Scotland but across the European union. No small feat indeed. Happily, Scotland is in a strong position to showcase that in this country we actually already implement accessible information. The list of Scotland’s achievements in this area is a credit to everyone involved –to the many pupils, teachers and local authorities involved in some way or another, to SQA and digital question papers, ICTSLS, SAVIE members, Education Scotland (who together with Enquire are also representing Scotland in Riga. Not least, the enduring contribution of Scottish Government to this area has helped to ensure that accessible information for disabled pupils and those with additional support needs continues high on the agenda. Through these partnerships CALL will point participants to:

Each participant was invited to share a 1minute video of some aspect of accessible information for learning. Many CALL Scotland colleagues in classrooms across Scotland will recognise features of the video – SETT framework for assessment, bespoke tailoring of equipment for individual pupils, using inbuilt operating system features plus of course users of Digital Question Papers. Many primary schools teachers will recognised SHM books with answers boxes to allow easy moving between questions.

Please do give us some feedback. Bear in mind too that you can use the Pause / Resume button if it all proves a bit too fast!


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Latest additions to the Books for All Database

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 1st May, 2015 at 4:37pm

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We have uploaded another 96 books kindly contributed by Mary Matson at VTSS in Edinburgh to the Books for All Database. Some are scanned copies and some are Large Print. There are too many to list here, but you can see the full inventory on the news section on the front page of the database. The titles cover:

  • Spanish (6 titles)
  • science (8 titles)
  • RME ( 7 titles)
  • Physics (1 title)
  • Physical Education (2 titles)
  • Music (3 titles)
  • Maths ( 11 titles)
  • Classical studies (1 title)
  • Business (4 titles)
  • Biology (5 titles)
  • English (48 titles).


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Best wishes for the SQA 2015 Exams

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 28th April, 2015 at 10:29am

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Best wishes to all learners, parents/carers, teachers, assistants and SQA staff for the 2015 SQA exams which start today! The timetables starts with Drama this morning, Economics this afternoon, and runs until Friday June 5, finishing with High Early Education and Childcare. According to the SQA web site, over half a million exams will be sat during the six-week exam period.

Looking for last-minute advice and inspiration? Try:

If you have any technical questions or queries about using SQA digital exams please remember to visit our web site, or get in touch by phone or email. 

Good luck!


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Talking in Exams Project

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 17th April, 2015 at 1:11pm

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Speech recognition has been around for many years, and many people have tried it without much success. It could be made to work, but often involved a lot of training, time and effort. Today though, computers are much more powerful, speech recognition software is much more accurate and reliable, and we believe it is now a viable option for many more learners.

There has been a lot of interest in speech recognition recently in Scotland, partly because the technology is now more common and better, and partly because of the introduction of the National Literacy assessment, where scribes cannot be used for assessment of writing, but technology, including speech recognition, can.

On 15th January 2015 we held a seminar, supported by SQA, where we discussed the use of speech recognition software in assessments and examinations. You can view a recording of the seminar on CALL's web site: scroll down to 'Speech Recognition in Practice'.

We heard very positive reports about speech recognition from practitioners in East Lothian, Scottish Borders and Stirling, and the participants on the day were keen to continue the conversation and try out speech recognition. So, we thought - how can CALL help?

The Talking in Exams Project is our response, and this is the plan:

Create guidance materials for getting started with speech recognition.

We are creating web pages on the CALL site, with general information covering the SR software and links to tutorials, videos and research. The web pages initially cover Dragon Naturally Speaking, Windows Speech Recognition, WordQ+SpeakQ and Siri on the iPad, but later we will add more for MacOS Dictation, Android and Google Chrome tools. 

Build a community of practice where we can share what works and what doesn’t.

We will organise some more free sessions where we can get together and share experiences. We will set up online collaboration via CALL's web site, and/or via a Glow blog / wiki / Learning Space for project partners to talk and share. We anticipate running these sessions during this term so that work with students can start before the end of term. 

Provide (a limited number of) Dragon and SpeakQ+WordQ licences to schools.

Schools who take part in the project can use the free speech recognition tools built into Windows, MacOS and on tablets, but we also want to include Dragon NaturallySpeaking and WordQ+SpeakQ in the project, so we have a small number of licences for both programs that we can provide free to schools. We anticipate having more schools involved than we have licences and so we will probably choose who gets the software by drawing lots. 

Schools can use one or more of the above, e.g. Dragon NaturallySpeaking on one machine, Windows SR on another, and/or Siri.

Support schools to trial speech recognition software

As well as the web pages, we will organise (free) sessions to introduce the speech recognition tools. We’ll have these on a few dates across the country.

We will suggest a procedure for staff to follow to teach students and record results, possibly based on  Speech Recognition as AT for Writing, by Daniel Cochrane and Kelly Key, or the Speech Recognition Trial Protocol, by Cindy Cavanagh.

Gather and publish case studies / reports.

We hope that participating schools will share case studies or reports on their experiences and we intend to provide an outline format for schools to use to collect information about learners as they learn to use SR. The main question is whether SR is viable for implementation at the end of the trial.


If you are interested in taking part, register an interest by emailing Paul.Nisbet@ed.ac.uk by Thursday April 30th. We will get back to you after this date to discuss next steps. 


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Work at CALL!

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 30th March, 2015 at 4:15pm

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Development Officer - Assistive Technology & Additional Support Needs

As a result of recent and upcoming staff changes, we are looking for a person to come and join the CALL team. This post is full-time and fixed-term until 31st March 2017 - although we hope and expect that funding will continue beyond this date. Secondment is also a possibility. If you would like to discuss the post informally please call Paul on 0131 651 6235 or email Paul.Nisbet@ed.ac.uk

The post details are on TES jobs.

"You will be a qualified teacher with extensive experience working with children and young people with disabilities and/or additional support needs. You will have expertise with specialist assistive technologies.

This post includes elements of research, capacity building, and knowledge exchange in addition to direct work with learners in schools. The post is diverse, exciting and challenging: it involves providing assistive technology assessment and support for learners with additional support needs in schools; developing and delivering Continuing Professional Learning; resource development; and the opportunity to develop projects and developments with schools, local authorities and national agencies. The post is an exciting opportunity to work in a rapidly changing field and to promote and develop good practice in assistive technology, both in Scotland and internationally. The post involves working across Scotland and you will have a car licence and access to a car.

CALL is based in the Moray House School of Education and is funded primarily by the Scottish Government to lead and support the use of assistive and communication technologies by learners with disabilities and/or Additional Support needs."


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A new FREE editor for creating digital prelims, assessments and resources!

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 27th March, 2015 at 4:50pm

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PDFescape is a new browser-based PDF editor with the facility to insert form fields (answer boxes). The free service lets you upload a PDF, do simple editing, add form fields, and then download back to your computer. The PDF can then be accessed by learners on computer using for example Adobe Reader, or on an iPad.

PDFescape has got two significant advantages: it is free, so you don't need to buy a PDF editor such as Acrobat Pro, and since it is browser-based, you don’t need to install any software on your computer.​

Inserting form fields is straightforward but entirely manual – there is no automatic form field recognition as provided by Acrobat Pro. Text, check (tick), radio, list and dropdown fields can all be inserted. There are also some limitations:

  • The answer boxes do not have coloured borders so you cannot give them the red border that is used by SQA on Digital Question Papers. This also means that they are invisible to the user unless the ‘Highlight Existing Fields’ feature is activated by the user in Adobe Reader.
  • The answer boxes do not have a colour fill option – they are transparent so if your PDF has handwriting lines they will show through – unless you use the editor to draw in a white box to cover them up.
  • You have to set the properties of each field when you create it – you can’t set default properties - which is slower than setting default properties for all your fields.

PDFescape looks like a great resource for adding answer boxes to PDFs of classroom resources and internal assessments, but for prelims we think it’s good practice to create papers with red answer boxes like the SQA digital papers, which requires Acrobat Pro or one of the other editors. Also, it lacks a lot of the features of Acrobat Pro, such as scanning and text recognition, editing text, page numbering, setting tab order of answer boxes, etc. Lastly, it doesn't have Accessibility tools and so you cannot ensure that your PDF is accessble to users or, for example, screen readers. 

Verdict: a good tool for making class resources, but we think you need Acrobat Pro or similar for creating prelims. 


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What the Ladybird Heard-Spring has Sprung for Accessible Books!

By Joanna Courtney on Tuesday 24th March, 2015 at 1:13pm

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Now that Springtime seems to be upon us at last, you'll be looking for some suitably 'fresh and lively' reading material for your Young Readers!


Just to remind you that CALL's PowerPoint bookshelf is available for download with links to lots of ready made PowerPoint switch prompt books for you to use with pupils who have a Print Disability


Why not start by downloading 'What the Ladybird Heard,' a fabulous story by Julia Donaldson about a ladybird who spoils the plans of two thieves trying to steal the prize cow from the farmyard!





Download CALL's symbolised 'Shared Reading' resources to accompany the book and enable children with Communication Support Needs to take part fully in the fun. The resources include a printable symbol board (or Go Talk 9+ overlay), Step by Step and Big Mack switch tops and a Vocabulary Sheet with ideas of what vocabulary to use. The Shared Reading set of resources appear near the bottom of the page.






There are also some great teaching ideas and resources to go with this story on the Teaching Ideas website as well as from the Scottish Book Trust's website.


Please also remember that CALL's symbolised resources to accompany ALL the short-listed Bookbug books from this year's Scottish Children's Book Awards, including the 2015 winner Robot Rumpus by Ross Collins and Sean Taylor, can still be downloaded from our website until the end of March.

So download the resources now before time runs out!





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