Saturday, January 23, 2016

Read and Write for iPad

Last year I outlined the helpful features obtained by signing up for Read and Write for Google, a toolbar accessible in Chrome that brings to webpages and documents (particularly Google Docs) text to speech (always free) and text prediction, dictionary, and other features (via premium account or teacher subscription after 30 days).

With Read and Write for iPad, these features become accessible...on iPad. After going through the steps to activate your account and then teacher account (see the link in the first sentence of this post), install the app Read and Write, which is essentially a keyboard. The app will bring you through the steps of activating the keyboard in your Settings app, and it will then be available for you to toggle and bring it up (installed keyboards are displayed if you tap the globe icon in your keyboard on iPad, or tap and hold to choose from all your available keyboards--I also like Keedogo).

As with Read and Write for Google, the keyboard will be usable for all its features for 30 days; after that you will need to have signed up for a teacher account or purchased the features for students. Text to speech remains free "forever."

Although iOS has text to speech built in through the "Speak Screen" accessibility feature, having the keyboard available will make the option of having text read aloud more visual and "at your fingertips."

Read and Write was naturally designed for reading and language disabilities (and the developer touts benefits for English Language Learners as well), but text to speech is valuable for all students. The path to getting assistive technology accommodations in the hands of students that need it is not always clear, so it is helpful for as many educators as possible to know about available (and free) tools such as this!

You can use the toolbar when doing web research, to automatically make any webpage a listening comprehension activity, or just to give students an engaging break from the dulcet tones of our yammering voices. Text to speech is also a huge help (even for me) when proofreading; students tend not to catch their mistakes when reading their own writing, and also often hate to proofread! To learn more about emerging research on the benefits of text to speech technologies, see this helpful article.

Texthelp's guide to using the keyboard is available at this link.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Tinybop's The Human Body and the Learning Sandbox

A "sandbox" app is one that provides "open" play to some extent in a given context, Minecraft being a very popular sandbox application these days. Within a sandbox app, students can make choices and experience interactions with the context. Many great sandbox apps such as MarcoPolo Weather are relatively language-neutral, with little audio disrupting the activity, and for language intervention this presents a great context to elicit talk. Also notable in sandbox apps is the pace: you set it. In their post on sandboxes and play, Toca Boca notes that "Some sandbox games are set in vast city environments or large natural settings, others in more limited realms such as homes, doctors’ offices or hair salons."

Tinybop has been publishing apps that have these "limited" realms designed around specific curriculum topics (often but not exclusively related to STEM- Science, Technology, Engineering, Math- areas). Take The Human Body ($3.99 and well worth it as a specialized digital toy), which is "a working model of the body." Students can be guided to explore each system of the body and interact with it to see how it works. For example, the nervous system section allows you to drag different stimulants to the body (such as a stinging bee or feather) to see the effects of touch or pain, and smartly connects to the camera and microphone of the iPad to demonstrate the senses of vision and hearing.

Tinybop's working model allows you to explore the digestive system

I have benefited greatly by downloading the free handbooks that go with the Tinybop apps, as without these you might not know where all the interactions are hidden. I recommend printing the Human Body handbook, as within the app you have to access the adult dashboard to see it, and it's nice to have it on paper to the side so you can play with all the systems. You can download the handbook for this and other apps from Tinybop's website to make it easier to print.

The Human Body is quick to familiarize yourself with, and can be used for language-based activities when students are dealing with this curriculum material, such as:
-creating sentences about the cause-and-effect relationships within systems
-sorting vocabulary and concepts into categorical systems
-linking to real-world narrative, perhaps by taking photos and creating a book on our relationship with our body systems in Book Creator.
-pairing with a picture book related to the topic of anatomy and physiology for more narrative and expository instruction

I'll be taking a look at the other Tinybop apps in a future post or two!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Target conversational behaviors and scripts with Plotagon

Some technology tools that can provide an engaging model of conversational "moves" and skills have disappeared of late. The web tool xtranormal, which allowed you to type out dialogues that onscreen characters would speak, was wonderful for this, but is disappeared and is only reemerging as a complicated-looking software for Windows only. Likewise, Go Animate! was once school-friendly but has ported to a befuddling business-targeting subscription model. Toontastic of course is an excellent resource for making animations of social interactions, but an extra person or an affinity for making different voices really helps.

Enter Plotagon. This free app for iOS is simple to use and allows you to:
-sign in with Facebook or via an email account
-create (tap the Create tab, then characters) a base set of characters. I'd avoid the randomize button as it results in some folks with hair and clothing combos that would be a bit too distracting for your students- just tap the arrow and you'll be able to adjust face shape, skin color, accessories and such, and save and name your character.

Plotagon's character creator- you'll need to create at least two characters before you make an animated conversation

-create (tap the Create tab, then plots) an animation in a simple way. The plot creator works easily- just add a scene, tap to choose your location (a generous portion of free downloadable settings/places are available), and type in dialogue:

Note that all elements in the "script" interface on the left are editable. For example, tap the word "neutral" and you'll be able to give your character a different reaction or expression. It took me a bit to figure out that to delete a line of dialogue, you need to tap and sweep it to the left.

Once complete, you can view your movie as a preview by hitting the play button or viewing it full screen. Any work you do is saved in your account as a "draft," but you can finalize your creation by tapping Publish and Share and saving it to the Plotagon website. There is currently no way to download the video to your Photos app (so don't use students' real names in videos that are saved to the website), but once "published," you can share to others as a link.

Some ideas on using Plotagon in therapy and language interventions:
-I love using tools like this in conjunction with an internalizable strategy. In one group, we created a 5 Point Scale around Topic Management:

5-Off topic and Uncomfortable
4-Whopping Topic Change (a Social Thinking® Term)
3-Connected but confusing
2-Bridged Topic
1-Connected Comment

I created plot videos (see links above in the scale) to serve as examples- endlessly amusing to my students- and we discussed how they corresponded with the scale and character perspectives. We then worked to create other examples, particularly of 2s and 1s.

-Plotagon can serve as a context to model other strategies such as Story Grammar Marker's® 6 Second Story and Social Thinking's "Wondering Question" and "Add-A-Thought" expected behaviors in conversation.

-The app can also be used in conjunction with the Superflex® Curriculum by Social Thinking to model examples of Unthinkable and Thinkable moments.

-For students with more significant challenges, the app can be used to create and model scripts for various situations.

-Plotagon is also just a fun way to practice writing or create projects related to curriculum topics.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Screen Time vs. Co-engagement

It's great to see the emergence of late of a number of resources and messages encouraging parents to consider how technology can be used contextually for interaction and language development in children. A plus for us- these messages also apply to using apps in therapy and teaching.

Historically, news stories about screen time, while important, lack some nuance about how technology can be used for co-engagement, opting instead for the pure "limit it" message. While even I am an advocate for limits, of course, and use technology carefully and thoughtfully in my own practice, a more layered message is appropriate here. Technology brings visual support that is absent when language is simply "in the air," and many children benefit from visuals and increased context in order to scaffold their language. See this reflected in the American Academy of Pediatrics recent "Beyond Turn it Off" article, in which the potential for adult and child participation with media to facilitate social interactions and learning is explored.

I'd encourage all SLPs and other readers to take a look at the excellent free e-book from the Joyce Ganz Cooley Center, Family Time with Apps: A Guide to Using Apps with Kids (available through the iBooks app). This is an amazing resource from folks involved with the Sesame Workshop, most famously the creators of Sesame Street, and contains specific strategies for interaction within different genres of apps such as games, e-books, and creation tools, all in a fun comic format that illuminates the potential adult-child interactions. SLPs can read into these comics and see the potential for techniques such as sentence recasts and parallel talk. The book also provides resources for finding apps within the genres listed. Also check out the Cooley Center website and gems such as their publications around app usage which go into more research and depth on these issues.

Thanks to mobile learning guru Tony Vincent for pointing me in the direction of this book.

Happy Holidays and New Year!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Tiny Tap adds Tap N' Type

Please excuse my brevity and non-productivity, website-wise, but I have been doing a lot of local presentations while at the same time recovering from a pretty bad shoulder injury! At least I can see the humor in a fall up the stairs and shoulder dislocation, which, after the pain, has kept me busy with doctor and PT appointments. I should mention that the Calm app provided me with a little cognitive relief in the emergency room- you can picture me staring at my phone and groaning. Anyway, I am on the mend.

I wrote about the Tiny Tap app some months ago as an example of an app to author interactive activities, with virtually limitless contexts. That (free!) app became even more useful with a recent update allowing for addition of text fields- think labeling of items and categories and pictures, among other things. Check out their demo video for some ideas, and my original post as well.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

ASHA Wrap-Up, Part 2

I was very happy to be an invited speaker this year for SIG 18, Telepractice, along with SLP Nathan Curtis of Waldo County General Hospital in Maine. As I have mentioned, I am not currently doing telepractice (though our practice is considering it), but my background as an instructional tech specialist as well as in SLP has led to some valuable consultations chiefly around the resources and methodologies that can be infused in the telepractice environment.

I wanted to share a few resources from our presentation,"Get Telepractical: Curating Simple, Effective and Engaging Materials, Websites and Apps for Telepractice Sessions" A major portion of our presentation described web resources that can be used over the telepractice portal. As you may know, telepractitioners use software such as WebEx (or many others) to share their screen with the client and generally an adult "e-helper" on the other side. With web and desktop applications, the clinician can truly share that screen and give the client control of the mouse to interact with a website or a program like PowerPoint (to move things around, make choices and changes, etc, and use language in that context). I made a rudimentary sketch to show what that looks like:

Note that both the clinician and client can manipulate the context on screen.

Websites like PBS Kids can be analyzed for language-based content and a list of activities can be curated for future use and sharing with other clinicians on staff. Nathan and SLP Amy Reid at WCGH have created a great list of activities available on PBS Kids which you can access here (note that these activities are also great for face-to-face therapy with the use of a desktop or laptop).

For my part, I discussed how curriculum-related websites could be leveraged in the same way, as they frequently can be mined for categorization, sequencing, and storytelling targets that can be elicited with the use of the activity in the context of topics the client is learning about in the classroom. Resources and strategies we shared in this regard, also useful for face-to-face therapy with a full web browser:
Nathan provided great information about creating authentic materials containing photos and contexts that are meaningful to the child and family. Often this experience is enhanced with some simple tricks in PowerPoint, demonstrated here in this video by Amy Reid (email subscribers please click through to the post to see the video):

We also discussed the use of the iPad in telepractice, both with its limitations and possibilities at this time. Clinicians can use software such as Reflector, AirServer, or connect their iPad directly to a Mac to make the iPad screen "mirror" or appear on the desktop or laptop screen.  However, once sharing their desktop, this does not afford the same opportunity for interactivity as the client cannot control the app from the other side.

Despite this, displaying the iPad in a telepractice session can still be useful for a variety of reasons:
  • The high quality apps available provide a window to many engaging contexts for clients to view and discuss, in the process targeting language goals.
  • The parent or e-helper can be trained in the process of co-engagement and use of language over apps such as those from Toca Boca, Dr. Panda, or others, then transferring these models to use of the family iPad with the child.
  • As indicated above, apps specific to the context of curriculum areas (see the TinyBop apps to start) can also be displayed and modeled for language development within these topics.
  • The use of creation apps such as Pic Collage can be modeled, such that the client and e-helper can later share their own language-enhancing creations. Apps such as Book Creator provide the opportunity for clinician and client to start a book together; the book can then be shared and opened on the family iPad in Book Creator to continue the simple project.
We hope this information is helpful to you and expands your thinking about both face-to-face and telepractice therapy!

Monday, November 16, 2015

ASHA Wrap-Up Part 1

I'm back in Boston and breathing after a whirlwind of visit to Denver for the ASHA Convention. The conference was a great experience in a beautiful convention center and location. However, I discovered I have little tolerance for altitude. Despite drinking TONS of water, as recommended, each day I found myself battling a pervasive brain fog (PBF) and fatigue- overall just not feeling myself! Oh well, I won't be going to a mile-high location again anytime soon!

Even with the PBF, I managed to process the following events:

Kelly McGonigal delivered a terrific keynote on the science of mindfulness. Through a discussion with a friend I learned also of the Headspace app, which offers a free 10-day course of short, simple meditations. I've already enjoyed day 1. You can see Kelly speak in her TED Talk and read some of her posts at this link.

At "Practical Strategies for Middle School & High School Language Learning Disorders," Wallach, Bartholomew and Charlton gave an overview of strategies teaching language underpinnings in the context of MS/HS curriculum, including text structure and sentence combining. Upon arriving home, I quickly bought Don and Jenny Kilgallon's Sentence Composing for Elementary School, a recommended text for getting started with content related to sentence combining.

In this post, I wanted to share information from my first talk, "'Son of' Pairing Picture Books & Apps to Contextually Address Language Objectives," which took place on Friday afternoon. The wacky title springs from the fact that this was the 4th iteration of this presentation at ASHA. I was thrilled with the turnout and enthusiasm of the audience. The upshot of the presentation is that we can select picture books and apps that overlap in context such that both address language and social goals in context. Books with "speechie" qualities-- an identifiable/mappable narrative or expository structure, vocabulary contexts, social concepts, rhyming text, rich and potentially language-neutral visuals to elicit talk and description, and contexts for asking constrained and open, higher-level questions, can be paired with apps that have some of the same qualities or meet FIVES criteria, for the construction of post-book activities that also target language objectives.

A pairing that seemed to be an audience favorite included Todd's TV and Telestory.

In James Proimos' fun picture book, Todd's parents start to rely on the TV for parenting duties. This quickly gets out of hand with the TV taking over and proving adept at "changing the subject" whenever the parents try to reason with it. In the end, they simply turn it off and the book details all of the ways their lives are more fun and connected without the overbearing TV! In addition to an important theme about moderating technology (have kids infer what the message is, or make text-to-self connections), the book is filled with lists: tasks the TV starts to take over, ways the parents try to get the TV to back off, and the benefits once the problem is solved--all mappable using narrative or expository graphic organizers.

A good pairing for this book is found in Launchpad Toys' (makers of Toontastic) free app Telestory. The concept of the app is that you can use it to make a "TV Show" in various genres: news, music, spy, etc. Within each genre are suggested situations and then storylines that provide some structure. When shooting with the simple interface, you can include an enhanced "selfie" mode where costuming tracks the face while using the front-facing camera. Students within a group can play different roles as the app allows for various "shots." Overall this easy-to-use app provides an opportunity to target narrative language, play, and any target you want to include in developing a script or plan with your students for your "show."

Below you can see the (quick and simple) app demonstration filmed during the presentation (email subscribers, a reminder to click through to the post to see any videos):

Thanks to all who attended! Great time! More on our presentation on resources useful in telepractice later in the week...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

See you at ASHA!

After a trip to South Florida (click here for info on our free workshop with UM-NSU-CARD) this weekend, I am excited to head off to Denver, and hope to see many of you there. In case you missed it, check out my article on apps that will help you navigate the convention. I'll definitely be relying as always on TripIt!

In Denver I am honored to be presenting 2 sessions on Friday afternoon:

Session Code: 1416
Title: “Son of” Pairing Picture Books & Apps to Contextually Address Language Objectives
Day: Friday, November 13, 2015 Time: 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Location: Colorado Convention Center
Room: Mile High 1E-1F
Session Format: Seminar 2-hours PDH(s): 2 Hrs
Abstract: A “sequel” to this popular presentation with installments at ASHA 2012-2014 describes all-new pairings of books and apps and suggestions for interventions. The presentation explores research-supported strategies for using picture books in intervention for language development, providing exemplars of contextual book and app pairings serving as visual, interactive post-reading activities.

This is my 4th iteration of this presentation and I am very happy to have been granted a luxurious 2 hours to stretch it out!

Session Code: 1477
Title: Get Telepractical: Curating Simple, Effective & Engaging Digital Materials, Websites & Apps for Telepractice Sessions
Day: Friday, November 13, 2015 Time: 3:30 PM - 4:30 PM
Location: Colorado Convention Center Room: 301-302
Session Format: Seminar 1-hour PDH(s): 1 Hrs
Presenter(s) : Nathan Curtis, Waldo County General Hosp (presenting author),  Sean Sweeney, SpeechTechie (presenting author)
Abstract: This session is developed by, and presenters invited by, SIG 18: Telepractice. Clinicians engaging in telepractice need not “reinvent the wheel” to find materials. This presentation provides strategies and resources to locate and organize digital materials. Repurposing websites and apps using a speech and language lens provides relevant, engaging and effective activities. Demonstrations of how to individualize authentic materials will be offered.

Though not a telepractitioner myself, I have had a longstanding collaboration with the folks at Waldo County General Hospital, home of a famed telepractice training center, and recently conducted a 2-day presentation with Nathan Curtis. See one of our recent articles here. My role as an instructional technology specialist has been to advise on the types of resources that can be used over telepractice web portals. I am excited to have been invited to co-present this session by ASHA's Special Interest Group 18.

I look forward to sharing some resources from these and other sessions after the convention.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Haunt the House

Many games meet the FIVES criteria for being highly interactive, visually supportive of language formulation, and geared toward addressing "Speechie" objectives such as categorization, sequencing, and interpretation of body language. Some additional factors I take into consideration are language neutrality (does the app work like a wordless picture book as a context to elicit language) and pace/timing (can the action be stopped by pausing or taking the iPad away for a moment to discuss?).

Though this is almost too late to make it useful for Halloween use (you can of course continue the app into the following week for "Halloweeen season"), I wanted to feature the app Haunt the House ($1.99)! Sort of a stepped-up version of Toca Boo!, this app has you act the role of a ghost attempting to scare people out of various settings including a village, mansion and train. The ghost can "possess" items in each room, prompting predictions about object function.

Using apps such as these with students is a good opportunity to target executive function and Social Thinking® applications around monitoring time and turns. My students yesterday posed that a fair turn would be 6 minutes! We limited them to 1-minute turns (with a timer) and then asked "how long that felt" to play or wait for a turn--it's plenty. The timer or clock can then be faded or facilitated for independent use.

We used this app with several pre/post activities:
-A mini lesson about "thinking with the eyes" and physical proximity (body in the group). You know you are being successful at scaring residents when they "notice" the object's movement with their eyes, and the best strategy is to move to rooms where people are present.
-From memory, I asked my students to create a map of the house, thereby targeting the story grammar element of setting and the executive function skill of mapping a space one is to navigate (see the work of Sara Ward and Kristen Jacobsen). I scaffolded by placing a few "anchor" rooms on the map so the students had a model of how to sketch, as well as a place to start.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Toca Boo- Currently Free and Full of Fun Scares

This is partially a repost from last year- Thanks Smart Apps For Kids for letting us know that Toca Boo is Free for a short time- please click through to the App Store from their site to support them.

This highly interactive app allows you to play the role of a "ghost" and wander a darkened house scaring members of a family. Seems a strange concept, but it's loads of fun.

Have you ever played hiding games with kids who proceed to hide themselves or items in plain sight? This illuminates, pun intended in the context of this app, problems around perspective taking and "thinking with the eyes" (see the work of the folks at Social Thinking®). In Toca Boo, to achieve a maximum scare, the ghost needs to avoid the family members' flashlights and hide in hotspots (e.g. under the covers of the bed or in a box) or behind furniture. Watch the trailer below:

The process of coaching students to effectively scare the characters will give you the opportunity to model and elicit if/then and causal language, as well as target spatial and positional concepts, in addition to the social cognitive ideas mentioned above. The app provides a good context for building the category of rooms of a house as well.

Do use your judgment of the trailer to consider which of your students would like this app, and whether it might be too scary for some. I do think they go a little far in having you scare (and knock over) the comical older man with the cane. I admit I laughed at this, though (America's Funniest Home Videos being a guilty pleasure of mine)! Toca Boca as always does a good job of discussing the ideas around the app in the "For Parents" section of the app, but I'm a believer in a little scare, suspense or humor being a great context to get kids talking.

New idea: try following this app with some dramatic play, perhaps filming with your video camera an "unsuccessful scare" vs. a "successful scare," at the same time targeting the sequential language of hiding and popping out and some feelings vocabulary.