Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Enter Vacation Mode with Toca Life: Vacation!

Toca Boca's "Life" series aims to reproduce real-world settings as a context for play with characters and the objects they encounter in indoor and outdoor places. As a result, the series provides a visual play space for us to work with students as they tell stories, make connections, and enact everyday sequences. The latest, Toca Life: Vacation, is another wonderful, visually rich, and highly interactive app you can use to take students on imaginary trips to this beach-y location.

The app contains a number of settings including an airport, hotel, beach, and boardwalk, the many spaces within each setting and interactive objects providing great opportunities to role-play, propose problems and solutions, and consider if-then scenarios (important for executive functioning!). The trailer is below:

Language Lens:
-Consider recommending Toca Life: Vacation to parents as an interactive way to preview an upcoming vacation, complete with the travails of navigating airport security, riding on a plane, checking into a hotel, and sharing a bed with a sibling.
-For your part, the record feature of this app lends potential planning and role-playing a bit more of a purpose: let's make a vacation movie together!
-I am just beginning to absorb the huge amount of ideas and resources for developing language and social interaction through play provided in Social Thinking®'s new We Thinkers: Volume 2 Social Problem Solvers Kit. The manual details a model for scaffolding play with fading adult involvement, and the "GPS- Group Collaboration, Play, and Problem Solving" framework can apply to the use of these open-ended sandbox apps as well as offline play. For example, the program's "Group Play Plan" form could be used for the adult to choose a scene and assign roles to form a story (Level 3) or for kids to collaborate in this process (Level 4). One good strategy is to screenshot a scene or two within Toca Life: Vacation to use as a visual support as you make a "Group Plan" for play.

I hope you have fun going on real or pretend vacations this summer. I'm going to take off for a few weeks myself, heading to Cape Cod and, later, Acadia National Park in Maine! See you in August!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Providing Summer Services? Try the FREE Fireworks Lab app for the 4th!

Interactive apps have long been one of my favorite topics because they replicate world schema, and every schema has language that goes with it. As the 4th approaches (or other holidays in the future), you may have fireworks on your mind.

An Aside: before you get me in any way wrong, I think fireworks are dangerous and should only be operated (? Is that the word? Whatever.) by professionals. One of my toughest cases early in my career as an SLP was working with a patient who had facial burns because of a fireworks accident. So, yes, firmly I believe we should enjoy the town- and city-sponsored fireworks displays, and leave it at that. I live across from a busy city park and though I enjoy the evening of the Fourth, I stop enjoying it after midnight when fireworks are still going off there and I fear that our house will burn down. Like your parents said, nothing good happens after midnight.

BUT, apps give us a window to simulate removed events, so along with your messages about safety that are delivered diplomatically so that you don't get called by parents, you might be interested in Fireworks Lab. This free app allows students to organize and operate a fireworks display. The app is gloriously language-neutral, so students can be encouraged to label their choices in elaborated noun phrases (e.g. "green sparkly rocket") and then set them off.

A few supplemental ideas:
-The app is perfect for pairing with a written language or reading activity. Write or sequence cards with the different attributes of the fireworks and use these as a "plan" for the display.
-The app does not multitask, so if you leave it to play a music app, it starts you from scratch. But students could make a music selection via a phone or other device to sync with their display, giving you more vocabulary to work on as well as causal constructions about their music choices.
-Have students research fireworks displays in your town, or for older students, pair with the story of this famous fireworks fail for a narrative activity. The article is safe to use with kids and has some good figurative language too!

Have a happy (and SAFE) 4th of July--and to my Canadian friends, Happy Canada Day!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Video Tutorial: Using Sketching Apps and Comic Creators for Comic Strip Conversations

In my recent column for ASHA Leader, Apps that Help Teach Social Perspective, I discussed the engagement and sharing factors of creating Comic Strip Conversations via iPad. First, on what Comic Strip Conversations are:

Another approach that expands clients’ narratives, if/then thinking and perspective-taking is Comic Strip Conversations, developed by Carol Gray. Comic Strip Conversations visualize social situations with simple sketches involving stick figures, situational elements, word and thought balloons, and color coding for different emotions and verbal behaviors. A comic strip can be developed to exemplify a five-point scale or for reviewing or previewing a relevant social situation.

And the tech tie-ins:

The sketching involved with Comic Strip Conversations is made at once easier, more engaging and colorful (no array of markers needed!), and sharable with apps such as Doodle Buddy (free for iOS) or Drawing Desk (free for Android). To make a conversation stretching across several pages, check out Paper (free for iOS), a sketching journal that also incorporates subtle effects to make your sketches look neater. All these apps allow you to add text for captioning, scripting and illuminating perspectives, as well as photos for additional context. For example, you can sketch over photo of an important location in your client’s daily life.

In this new video tutorial I demonstrate a quick how-to with Paper by 53 and the text-friendly Comics Head. You might choose one or the other based on what your context is!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Video Tutorial: Using Keynote for 5-Point Scales

In my recent ASHA Leader column, Apps that Help Teach Social Perspective, I discussed The Incredible 5-Point Scale by Kari Dunn Buron and how easy it is to create these tools with apps such as Keynote. Here's a video tutorial on how to do that!

Friday, May 20, 2016


...In Case You Missed It!

In the past months I have continued writing columns for ASHA Leader. A few that have been published for the web version of the magazine:

Tech Your Message Out: Private practitioners can tap easy-to-use tools to better communicate with staff, clients and families.

It’s All About Your Client: Harness the Book Creator app to make treatment relevant to your clients’ lives.

Apps That Help Teach Social Perspective: Illustrative apps can augment established approaches to helping children on the spectrum understand the social world.

I have been happy to receive a lot of good feedback on this last one. I plan to break it down with some video tutorials in the next few posts.

These column links have been added to my column archive on my FIVES Criteria and Other Free Resources Page.

I have also continued to write for the Mindwing Concepts, Inc Blog, and a few of my recent posts may be of interest:

Tech Tuesday: Chapter books and stick writing, A complementary visual strategy

Tech Tie-Ins to Autism Awareness Month

Tech Tuesday: Using emoji in narrative analysis

Opening a new chapter: Tech strategies for getting/using the context of chapter books

When the characters are a whole classroom of students: Some high and low tech tips

Aligning SGM® with Zones of Regulation®, and Tech Tie-Ins

Have a great weekend!

Note: Author is a paid consultant for Mindwing Concepts, Inc for provision of blog and training presentation content.

Friday, May 6, 2016

MarcoPolo Arctic

I have been meaning to write about this app for some time, but it is free today (5/6/16) and fairly priced at $2.99 anyway, so pick it up! Thank you to Smart Apps for Kids for always being a great resource. Do you follow their Friday posts detailing app sales and freebies? There is a "Free App Alert" you can subscribe to on the site. The website is also a wealth of information on interactive apps, with many features on apps from an educational and therapeutic point of view-- very FIVES Criteria-friendly!

MarcoPolo's apps, such as their previous wonderful Weather entry, are "sandbox" apps encouraging interactive exploration and play within a context, specifically geared toward STEM education. However, being quite language-neutral, the visuals provide a great avenue for talk, description of items and actions, and causal and conditional language. Overall the apps can be used for developing descriptive schema (perhaps with the use of the Expanding Expression Tool) or expository text structures as well (e.g. list, sequence, cause-effect, compare-contrast) as post-activities.

Arctic (please click through to download from Smart Apps for Kids and support them) provides an interactive land-sea environment allowing you to insert and name species in different categories and interact with them (e.g. feeding). Students can also observe their behaviors as they are placed in the arctic habitat. The app also features puzzles that provide brief auditory narrations (ask wh-questions or prompt students to summarize) focusing on categories such as land animals or birds, describe body parts and functions. The app can also be paired with many books as a post-book activity (e.g. Winston of Churchill or The Emperor's Egg).

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Monkey Spot

Scavenger hunts make for great speech and language activities as they require students to work with categories, use descriptive language, problem solve (and therefore use critical language forms such as because, so, if/then) and work together. Monkey Spot is a unique app, using the iOS camera as the means to capture a number of items on themed lists (note that for now this is an iPhone app only, but it can be installed on iPads, so use the link or change your app store search filter to look for iPhone apps). The app contains 7 free hunts that include several that could be done in a school setting (additional hunts such as "Look in a Book" are worth purchasing for $.99 each). Each item on the list prompts the taking of a photo, and descriptive text can also be added. Once complete, the "hunt" is saved as a slideshow in the app. For a simpler spin on this type of activity, see Alien Assignment.

Monkey Spot provides a great structure for building language in a scavenger hunt context, but you can't make your own hunts in the app as of yet. Consider Google Slides for building your own hunts. Though Google Slides is meant for presentations, you also can basically make digital workbooks with the app, and now that inserting photos is possible, you can make the same type of activity as Monkey Spot offers. Just set up a series of slides with text indicating the items to be photographed (good for working on observational skills for students with social learning challenges) and you're all set. Be sure to make a copy of your Slides file before using it with students so you will still have a blank one for your next group. Having the completed work within your Google Apps for Education account opens possibilities for sharing with students and teachers or perhaps continuing a writing project.

Take a look at Monkey Spot and then see what you can create on your own!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Voice Typing in Google Docs

Oh, my, It's been a busy month! Just got back from presenting with the Hawaii Speech-Language Hearing Convention and New York's association the week before that. Thank you to both associations and membership groups for extremely warm welcomes!

A key strategy within assistive technology is using what one already has. Many of you "already have" access to Google Docs, being part of districts who have deployed Google Apps for Education. We can benefit greatly from this suite of tools, as can our students who struggle to organize materials, hand in assignments, and generally meet the productivity requirements of the classroom. Many districts are making Google Apps available (without email turned on) for even primary grades.

Recently, Google added a speech-to-text function in Google Docs called Voice Typing. Now, speech-to-text works variably based on how students speak, but they can learn strategies to be more successful with dictation if it can be an assistive tool given their profiles. Keep in mind that this feature requires a microphone, Google Chrome Browser, and is only available on newer iPads currently.

Check out this video for a great demo of Voice Typing

See a clinically-minded overview of Voice Typing at OTs with Apps and view this list of commands to use in the feature- it does more than type, and can format text as well!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Resources for Insight and Strategic Thinking

Much of our work is about teaching strategies- a key element in generalization into situations across the day. However, we work with kids who, for a variety of reasons, may not be that "meta." As a result they can struggle to explain why they are even "at speech," let alone their exact goals or strategies to achieve them.

I recently read a very interesting article on infusing video game principles into therapy, "Enhancing the Therapy Experience Using Principles of Video Game Design" (Folkins, Brackenbury, Krause, and Haviland, 2016). The authors' focus was not on including actual video games in therapy but rather incorporating features of games such as "risky challenges" and "generalization" into therapy activities. The article describes how risk-taking in video games is similar to the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development and immersing oneself in "pleasant frustration," and that generalization from therapy can be promoted, as it is in video games, by using learned skills in different contexts. This article can be found on the ASHA website.

These ideas were on my mind when working with a client who a) could use a dose of engagement and b) needs support around the idea of using strategies in the classroom. An area we are working on is comprehension, including that of discourse, but also in following directions. I encountered a review of research on this by Nicole Allison (great summary, Nicole!) particularly supporting the use of a combined rehearsal and visualization strategy for following directions (Gill, Klecan-Aker, Roberts, & Fredenburg, 2003) and have been using these strategies in therapy. The authors define rehearsal as repeating/paraphrasing key elements of the direction and visualization as ‘seeing it happen,’’ or ‘‘imagining the task finished.’’ The authors indicated this strategy use was demonstrated as students repeated directions and looked at relevant objects as directions about them were given, though the visualization principle can be applied in other ways.

I don't often feature "dedicated" speech and language apps on this website, as the theme of the blog is the diverse range of contextual technologies that can be looked at "through a language lens," but a unique dedicated resource I have found helpful is School of Multistep Directions. This app has leveled contexts for students to listen to directions of varied length and complexity (many which are challenging even for me) and "follow" directions through various interactions on the screen--tapping, underlining, highlighting, etc. I especially like the contextual "Chemistry" class, which requires stirring, shaking, and addition of items to containers.

For this particular client, I have sought to build engagement and insight by including the "risky challenge" principle; I simply ask him to guess how many trials he can do accurately (and am glad he generally exceeds his guess).

Regarding the strategy use, I had initially emphasized rehearsal but the study on following directions helped me to tweak this. Though I had used a sketch (word balloons, etc) to demonstrate how rehearsal is done, I wanted to make the visualization element more clear. Enter apps. Two features of apps that make strategy use more explicit--visualizing the meta, so to speak-- are app-smashing (see the work of Greg Kulowiec) or combining apps, and use of word and thought balloons, available in any comic-making app.

So, I made this visual to support my client, who had already started to show use of the particular strategies:

It's pretty easy to app-smash and show strategic thinking in this way:
1. I screenshot one example from the School of Following Directions app.
2. I opened Doodle Buddy and made the screenshot image the background, quickly sketched the circles and arrows that represented the "visualizing", and saved that image to the photo library.
3. Then in Comics Head, I created the comic. This app has characters you can add to a single or multiple frame comic, and also allows you to add photos (I had also saved an image of an iPad so the context of following a direction in the app was clear), pinch to resize photos, layer photos, and put photos, along with text, in word and thought balloons.

Later, I will be able to duplicate and edit this comic to promote generalization to other levels in the app as well as, of course, more importantly, classroom contexts.

Folkins, J. W., Brackenbury, T., Krause, M., & Haviland, A. (2016). Enhancing the therapy experience using principles of video game design. American Journal Of Speech-Language Pathology, 25(1), 111-121. doi:10.1044/2015_AJSLP-14-0059

Gill, C. B., Klecan-Aker, J., Roberts, T., & Fredenburg, K. A. (2003). Following directions: Rehearsal and visualization strategies for children with specific language impairment. Child Language Teaching & Therapy, 19(1), 85.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Read Works Provides Access to Handy Text Passages

Expository text passages are handy for language intervention. There's a lot you can teach with a passage as a context!

I attended (well, watched from an "overflow theater") a great presentation at ASHA Convention in Denver, Practical Strategies for Middle School and High School Language Learning Disorders (Wallach, Bartholomew & Charlton), that covered a number of strategies that can be practiced in the context of expository (or narrative) text:
-Recognizing and interpreting subordinate clauses
-Sentence Combining (see the work and resources of Killagon)
-Teaching Self-Monitoring and Metacognition (I've recently been putting the TWA Strategy on a Bookmark for students:

-Within the above, supporting comprehension and expression (summarizing) is analysis of text structure and use of graphic organizers; Mindwing's Thememaker® and the Thinking Maps programs are both approaches to understanding expository text structure.

So, where to get the contexts? I recently discovered ReadWorks- this website provides free access to reading passages and much more, with skill and strategy units on many topics in comprehension. The passages are searchable or organized by various categories--they are also Lexile-leveled. The website recently released a collection geared toward expository text structures as mentioned above.

Check out Readworks and sign up for a free account. The website is iPad-friendly, so you can activate Speak Screen while using a passage to have it read aloud, or download and "Open In..." an app such as Adobe Acrobat Reader in order to use highlighting and other annotation tools.