You are hereReview of Penfriend XP and XL in the PATOSS Bulletin, November 2004

Review of Penfriend XP and XL in the PATOSS Bulletin, November 2004

I have been using Penfriend, for several years with a range of students with dyslexic, Developmental Co-ordination Disorder and PD for several years now. It is an add - on program to a Word processing package and frees up students of any age above about 7 years, to concentrate on the content of written work rather than their spelling, handwriting and to the extent that they do not have to find and strike every letter, their keyboarding skills.

Penfriend predicts the next word students are likely to write by learning the vocabulary use and grammar structures of the writer. The predictive words appear in a box on the screen and can be read out by the computer if needed. This box can be moved to the most convenient position for the writer and displays words in the colour, font and style that the writer chooses. An on-screen keyboard can be displayed if needed and appears in the same font etc as the prediction box. This helps DCD or athetoid pupils who cannot use a keyboard without hitting several letters, since they can use a rollerboard or equivalent mouse to control input.

Letters, words and/or sentences can be read out as the work proceeds. In addition a Clipboard can be activated which reads highlighted text from the student's work or from another document or the Internet. If requested, it will learn new specialist vocabulary from these other sources. I taught one dyslexic pupil studying GCSE Art. He was working on the Angel of the North. So we downloaded a website with all the information, artists details etc and the vocabulary was there for him at the click of the initial letter, with no tedious copying of names or technical information. Another pupil downloaded the names of his favourite Rugby team into his Penfriend dictionary.

The latest edition [XL] has a screen reader which is invaluable for very dyslexic pupils to read relevant program menus for them. In Microsoft Word, this enables the spell checker and synonyms facilities to be read out on a right click.

It also now works as a predictor in many foreign languages and correct accents for the reading can be downloaded. Wonderful for all students taking Advanced MFLs!

My students and I like it for:

  • Its neatness and simplicity on the screen
  • Pupil control over font, colour and text size
  • The ease with which the student can click directly from the onscreen keyboard to the word they need without looking at the computer keyboard
  • Its talk back facility
  • The ease with which one can add different endings to a root word
  • The quick method of adding, deleting or banning incorrect spellings or risqué words!

I watch students as they work-often with a smile on their face! I feel that it gives them confidence to write more freely and helps with the acquisition of sight vocabulary as they often go up and down the predictive list listening for the word they want. It is also a subtle way of teaching older pupils to listen to phonemes carefully using counters or fingers, as getting the first couple of graphemes correct is important for the success of the predictive box.

A tip - if you want to encourage a 'reluctant' dyslexic or DCD pupils to use it in the classroom introduce it as a tool that ANY pupil can use for their word processing; select the brightest and most motivated, train them and get them to cascade it to their peers. The needy pupils will then be willing to try something with street cred. and cool! A MUST for every classroom I feel and for a range of SEN pupils for home use. It is not expensive by specialist software prices and more details and a demo can be downloaded from