Apps for early literacy and fine motor skills

I was recently asked for the names of some apps to support literacy and letter awareness. Of course there are many ways to help children develop these skills and the iPad is just one method but it is an engaging tool in the toolbox for literacy learning.
My criteria in choosing the list below were:
  • evidence based theory behind the methods   256px-Child_with_Apple_iPad
  • engaging but not over-stimulating
Early Phonics
  • Hairy Letters (Nessy Learning Ltd) –  $5.99  (Anything by Nessy is great!)
  • Phonics Under the Big Top (Celeste Musgrave ) – $2.99
Sight Words
  • Phonics Read CVC (Joe Scrivens) – $2.99 or in a bundle with other apps for $5.99
  • Hairy Words (Nessy Learning Ltd) – $5.99
Bundles
There are two bundles of phonics and sight word apps which are excellent.
  • Tools for Teaching Reading (Reading Doctor) – $129.99 for the bundle of 6, $24.99 each
  • OzPhonics (DSP Learning Pty Ltd) – $7.99 for the bundle, $1.99 or $2.99 each.
Tracing letters
  • School Writing (demografix pty ltd) – $7.99 (Uses Australian states’ handwriting fonts)
  • iWriteWords (gdiplus) – lite or $4.49
  • Little Writer Pro (Innovative) – $2.99
  • Ready to Print (Essare LLC) – $14.99
Most of these have an Australian or English voice which is probably less confusing for Australian children than an American voice.
Photo credit: By Intel Free Press [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Achievable ways technology can help students with learning disabilities (Part 3)

Text Prediction

 

Text-prediction is a feature commonly used on tablet devices and smartphones.  Many of us without a print disability use it routinely. Imagine how much dyslexics appreciate it!

Text prediction is a built in feature of iOs devices.  On an iPad, go to the Settings screen, then go to General, and then Keyboard and enable Predictive.  The process is similar on an iPhone and on Android phones and tablet devices.

Go to Settings-General-Keyboard
Go to Settings-General-Keyboard

 

 

Enable Predictive
Enable Predictive

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spell check and grammar check can be enabled on Mac and PC devices but that’s a bit like bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted.  It may be enough for some writers who can mostly express their meaning and just need a bit of help to correct errors but others, especially younger students who are still working on literacy skills, need a lot more help.

It seems that Windows 10 may have a predictive text feature for its on screen touch keyboard. Windows 10 is very new and it will be interesting to see whether users like this feature.

Typ-O HDSpell Better and Ginger Page are iPad apps which specifically target  writing, using spell checking and text prediction.    These are quite simple apps without a lot of exporting options and extra features but that can be a good thing for younger students and those who are easily distracted by a lot of clutter on the screen.

Ginger Page
Ginger Page

Ginger Page is free.  The pictures below show its features,including options to translate, get a definition or synonyms. Suggestions from Ginger Page for my deliberate mis-spellings are also shown below.  I found that sometimes the iPad’s in built text prediction was beating Ginger Page with a suggestion but, I guess as long as you get a suggestion somehow…

 

 

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Ginger Page settings
Ginger Page settings

 

Spell Better
Spell Better

There is a free version of Spell Better which allows only one piece of writing and no exporting.  The premium version costs $31.99. There are two levels of prediction – the as-you-type level and the search level.  Again, the iPad’s spellchecker beat the app to a suggestion.  I needed to press the magnifying glass button (i.e. search level prediction) to get any suggestions.  See the pictures below.

 

15 - 10

15 - 9 (1)

 

 

 

Typo-HD at the time of writing cost $6.49.  It is a little more intuitive than GingerPage in that it offers suggestions about what the coming words might be. This is valuable for a student whose spelling doesn’t approach the spellchecker’s ability to recognise. Pictures below suggestions made and ways the settings can be customised.

 

15 - 6 15 - 7 15 - 8

 

All these apps will say a selected word or phrase aloud, Spell Better in an American voice, the other two in an Australian voice.

Another serious contender in the field of text prediction isa the products by texthelp – the iReadWrite app for tablet devices and Read & Write for Google app for Chrome on PCs and Macs. iReadWrite at the time of writing cost $36.99.  Read & Write for Google is a Google app. Google products such as GMail and Google+ operate on a subscription basis.  Find more information about texthelp here.

iReadWrite
iReadWrite

 

Read&Write for Google
Read&Write for Google
R&W2
Read&Write for Google

 

 

 

 

Have you used any of these products?  I’d love to hear your comments on the pros and cons.

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“Seven Steps to Writing Success” and students with learning difficulties

Jack? No, it couldn’t be.  He was dead.  I’d seen his bloodied body and been to his funeral. But I couldn’t mistake that walk for anyone else’s…

This was one of the “Sizzling Starts” I wrote yesterday at a “Seven Steps to Writing Success” workshop and according to the certificate I was given, I am now a graduate.

“Seven Steps”, developed by author and educator Jen McVeity, is “a unique system that chunks writing into seven main techniques” which a lot of Australian schools are adopting as a schoolwide method.

Writing success
Writing success

I came away with a lot of useful insights and ideas for teaching writing.  My reason for going was to pick up strategies for helping students with learning difficulties with writing and I was really encouraged that the presenter mentioned several times that students with LDs are definitely capable of writing creatively.

In particular I thought the following aspects of the program were beneficial for students with a learning difficulty:

  • The whole notion of “Seven Steps” provides structure for writers to hang their hats on and consider when they’re writing. A clear structure that they can remember is great to help these kids.
  • Planning is one of the seven steps. There is a story graph which makes it easy for kids to remember how to go about planning.
  • Short activities help to avoid cognitive overload
  • Repetition gives children with learning difficulties a better chance of assimilating new learning.
  • “Verbal is vital” is one of the catchphrases. A multisensory approach is great for students whose literacy skills are not strong.
  • Emphasis is on writing well and creatively. The training did include references to NAPLAN but doing well in NAPLAN is not the primary focus of the program.
Students with a learning disability can still be great writers
Students with a learning disability can still be great writers

Here are a couple of enhancements which may benefit those with a learning difficulty and make their writing experience even more productive and rewarding:

Tips for remembering a sentence – have a look at Dr Lillian Fawcett’s clip here, demonstrating how to help students remember a sentence they have created in their head while they work on writing it.

Assistive technology may be beneficial to help students

  • Make a plan electronically if writing is difficult with an app such as ShowMe or ScreenChomp
  • Write using text prediction and spell checking
  • Dictate their writing using speech-to-text programs or apps

writer-605764_1280

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Achievable ways technology can assist students with learning disabilities (Part 2)

Text to Speech

 

iPad/iPhone

iOS, the operating system on which iPads work, has a variety of settings which allow text to be read aloud.  This could be an article in itself but, in short: to enable text-to-speech, go to Settings – General – Accessibility – Speech.

iOS has great speech to text capability
iOS has great speech to text capability

 

  • turn Speak Selection on and you can then select by sections of text or particular words by tapping and holding down on the screen in any app the text you want read aloud. A box pops up which gives you the option to copy, define or speak that selection.
  • turn Speak Screen on and you can then swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen to hear the contents of that screen spoken.  A little box appears here too giving options to pause, fast forward or rewind, to speed up or slow down the rate of speech.

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Many iBooks have a text-to-speech function.  There are also other sources for talking books which can help a struggling reader to enjoy literature and the many benefits that being widely-read brings.

iBooks
iBooks

 

Other programs

If you want to go to be able to import text from other sources to read aloud, then Voice Dream Reader for iPad is a good option.  It’s integrated with many other programs, has a lot of features and is robust.  One thing it doesn’t do is OCR (optical character recognition) so if you want to be able to scan a non-electronic document (such as a worksheet or homework page) and have it read aloud, then Prizmo or Readiris might be the answer.

Voice Dream Reader
Voice Dream Reader

 

ReadIris
Readiris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vision Australia has a library which anyone with a print disability can join. That is:

  • A person without sight, or whose sight is severely impaired
  • A person unable to hold or manipulate books, or to focus or move his or her eyes e.g. MS, stroke, severe arthritis
  • A person with a perceptual disability e.g. dyslexia, visual processing disorder

The library has an extensive catalogue so it’s well worth checking out.

Mac

Mac OSX (10.8 and later) has dictation and speech-to-text features which work in a similar way to the iPad features and can be accessed via System Preferences.

Speech settings on a Mac
Speech settings on a Mac

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Options for PC

If you’re looking for something that works on a PC, WordTalk is a free add-in for Microsoft Word, developed at the University of Edinburgh.  It highlights and reads text in a Word Document. Once you have installed the add-in from the website, an extra tab labelled “Add-ins” will appear when Word is opened. That tab contains a toolbar with the available options such as speak a word, speak a paragraph, speak from the cursor.

 

Texthelp produces Read & Write for Google, a Google app which provides text-to-speech, editing and translating tools.  Read & Write for Google is free for teachers but there is a cost for individuals and schools.  It’s a good option for someone who wants to work with the Google suite of apps.

A Chrome browser showing the Read&Write for Google toolbar
A Chrome browser showing the Read&Write for Google toolbar

 

There is an app version of Read & Write for Google which is free for the lite version. iReadWrite is an iPad app also produced by Texthelp with text-to-speech and word prediction features as well as a dictionary and a number of sharing and display options.

Have you used any of these?  Let me know which ones you prefer in the comments section below.

Next time: Writing and Text Prediction

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Achievable ways technology can assist students with learning disabilities (Part 1)

Whereas Assistive Technology has been expensive and obvious in the past, the rise of 1:1 technology and BYOD programs in schools is making AT simpler and cheaper to access and much easier for teachers to integrate into the mainstream classroom.

 

These technologies are not intended to replace learning support but rather to provide options for students to access resources and produce work without being hampered by their challenges with spelling and other language conventions.

 

Unfortunately, those with learning disabilities are often subjected to the same spelling and language convention assessments as other students so the following programs may not be appropriate in all situations. For a project where the real aim is that students can show their content knowledge and ability to analyse, some of these apps and programs can put them on a level playing field with everyone else.

 

This article merely scratches the surface of assistive technology but I have attempted to present options for different types of devices and different budgets. In some cases, negotiation with the school’s IT department may be necessary. In many cases a lite (free) version is available so you can try out the app and see if it suits your learners.

Speech to text 

There are some really good free options here.  Something really simple but very liberating especially for students in the middle primary age-range who are starting to need to research and work more independently but are still struggling with reading and spelling is to teach them to use a voice command for internet searching.  On an iPad or iPhone, ask Siri to search.  In a Google browser window, tap the microphone button and speak.

Siri
Siri

 

 

Google Voice Search
Google Voice Search

 

 

iPads have a built-in dictation feature. To enable the Dictation feature, go to Settings, General, Keyboards and then Enable Dictation.  You will need to be connected to the internet for dictation to work. Once you are in an app and ready to type, tap the screen and when the keyboard appears, tap the  microphone picture and start dictating.  You can give commands like New Paragraph but corrections need to be made manually.  Tap Done when you are finished dictating. I have found this feature easy to set up and use.

Speech options
iPad speech options

 

 

Setting up Windows Speech Recognition
Setting up Windows Speech Recognition

Setting up Speech Recognition in Windows 7 or 8 is a little more complicated.

You will need to set up a microphone and train your computer to understand your speech.  There is a tutorial on the Windows website which takes you through how to talk to your computer so your voice is understood accurately.  Over time the computer builds up a profile of your voice so accuracy should improve.

 

 

 

 

 

There are a number of programs and apps which also provide a speech to text feature.  The best known of these is probably Dragon Naturally Speaking for PC and Dragon Dictate for Mac.  There is an accompanying iPad and iPhone app, Dragon Dictation.  Because business and the health industry also use dictation, there are many dictation programs on the market and many free apps.  The robustness of these apps varies.  Some are glitchy or won’t allow easy export of text.

Nuance produces a range of Dragon Dictation programs
Nuance produces a range of Dragon Dictation programs

 

 

Have you tried any of these? Which one is your favourite?

 

 

Next time: Text to Speech

Kabilan29 at English Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Apps for Autism

Autism is one area where assistive technology has made a huge difference in access and affordability, and allowing individuals to participate in mainstream education.

296px-Autism_Awareness_Ribbon

In honour of World Autism Awareness Month, here are some great sites which explore apps and programs which may be useful. The focus here is on technology which can be downloaded from an app store or accessed via an online subscription, rather than those purpose-built devices that need to be purchased through a supplier or manufacturer.

Every person with autism is different, just like every person without autism is different, so what suits one person may not suit another.  It’s probably a case be of listening to advice, reading reviews and then trying some things out to see if they work.

This article  from UK based organisation Research Autism provides an overview, based on research, of the types of assistive and adaptive technologies available.

Appy Autism is a funky little website that lets you search for an app based on type of device and desired features, dividing apps in to the categories of :

  • Communication,
  • Learning,
  • Leisure,
  • Support Tools and
  • Emotions and Social Behaviour.
Appy Autism
Appy Autism

 

 

 

 

Autism Queensland has an excellent resource page which also divides apps into categories and rates each app according to:

  • independence needed to access the app,

    Autism Queensland
    Autism Queensland
  • motivation,
  • feedback given to the child,
  • the sensory friendliness,
  • the ability to customize, and
  • language skills needed.

Happy World Autism Awareness Month!

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