Friday, January 30, 2015

Talking about the Weather

Having just dealt with a tremendous blizzard, I am going to be a stereotypical New Englander and talk about the weather. Again. Weather is a topic that naturally lends itself to eliciting language in our students as well. Not only does this topic pop up repeatedly in science curricula across the grade levels, making it relevant to the Educationally Relevant "E" in The FIVES Criteria, but discussing it requires a number of language skills:

Sequencing-seasons, processes
Categorization-seasons, months, precipitation
Schematizing/"Main idea and details"-describing a particular day's weather involves attention to features such as temperature, wind, cloud cover, and precipitation
Stating Cause-Effect- within weather processes and explaining why certain clothing would be worn in certain weather conditions.

A great context for eliciting and working with language around weather was released recently in MarcoPolo Weather (Free). MarcoPolo Weather is a "sandbox" app allowing open-ended play by bringing characters, setting elements, clothing and weather conditions together and observing the effects. MarcoPolo has here continued their commitment to developing apps that address Science, Technology, Math and Engineering (STEM) skills (also found in the MarcoPolo Ocean app), including, according to the app description:

-Observe and describe different weather conditions including temperature, cloud cover, and precipitation
-Identify ways in which weather affects daily routines, such as dress and activities
-Determine how weather affects the natural landscape
-Learn about the water cycle and how clouds are formed

Check out the video below to see how MarcoPolo Weather works. It's a ton of fun!

MarcoPolo Weather would facilitate a natural language connection to
-a concept map or graphic organizer about weather conditions
-sentence strips or other print contexts to construct causal sentences about observations in the app
-picture books dealing with the weather
-creating a weather journal with Evernote by stepping outside, snapping pictures, and consulting the Weather app for data

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Add Custom Keyboards to your iPad in iOS 8

iOS 8, among other enhancements, brought the ability to add 3rd party keyboards to the operating system. Previously, though some modifications of the keyboard were possible, we had little choice in customizing keyboards for use with learners of different ages and styles.

With iOS 8, keyboards are searchable and downloadable from the App Store. With a few taps in the settings app, they are made available any time the keyboard is visible. Some of the most interesting educational keyboards are being made by AssistiveWare, creators of Proloquo2Go. Among these are Keeble ($14.99), a keyboard for adults with visual and physical impairments, and Keedogo (1.99/4.99), a child-friendly keyboard!

Keedogo has a look and feel that will make your young students want to type! In addition, the keyboard can be customized to offer more extensive word prediction choices and ABC or Querty layout.

After installing Keedogo from the App Store, open the Settings app and navigate to the General>Keyboard section. Tap Keyboards>Add New Keyboard and Keedogo will be available under Third-Party Keyboards. You will need to enable Full Access in order for the keyboard to work. To see this process on video, see this tutorial.

From any app that uses the keyboard (remember that the keyboard only appears when the context is one in which you would be typing), you can then tap the Globe symbol to switch between your available keyboards. In this way you can have Keedogo available when you want it, and switch to the grown-up keyboard when using the iPad yourself.

A view of the Keedogo app being used with the Pages word processor. Tapping the Globe icon allows you to switch between the keyboards. 

Tap the 123 button and then the Cog key to customize the Keedogo keyboard's theme, layout, word prediction and other features.

If at any time you decide you want to delete the Keedogo keyboard, navigate to Keyboards in the Settings app and sweep left to delete Keedogo. You can always reinstall and enable it later.

Friday, January 16, 2015

EPIC! App offers free picture books to educators

One of my favorite topics is using picture books and apps in contextual conjunction in language intervention, and in this post I want to let you know about an app that IS picture books (chapter books too).

Check out Epic!- Books for Kids (FREE), an eBook library of picture and chapter books that can be used to present language-enhancing books in interactions with your students. Epic! offers thousands of narrative and expository books from major publishers such as HarperCollins, Scholastic and National Geographic. The app offers features facilitating an engaging presentation of a book to a group of students via an iPad, including zoom in/out to page and "read to me" audio available for some books.

After downloading the app, be sure to register for an educator account, which you can do through the app or on this page.

Epic! features a number of books I have used for language development over the years, and I have been finding other great options through the app. For example, the books Scaredy Squirrel and Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend by Melanie Watt offer the following "Speechie" book features:
-A narrative structure featuring problem, reaction (or attempts to solve) and conclusion
-Many expository elements presented in an engaging, fun way, e.g. animals Squirrel is afraid will bite him, sequences and connections between items and their functions.
-Text features such as diagrams and flowcharts that are helpful for scaffolding understanding (and seen in textbooks that students must grapple with in their classrooms)
-Contexts to explore social cognition strategies such as Zones of Regulation and the CBT paradigm of risk vs. opportunity (i.e. reframing anxiety-producing situations as opportunities to learn).
-Potential to screen-shot illustrations and pair with Strip Designer to make comic strip conversations about the character's thoughts and perspectives.

In my presentations on this topic I often include this reference that is very on point regarding the utility of this app:

The act of reading books aloud interactively and using scaffolding to support children’s use of more advanced syntax, vocabulary and critical thinking is itself an activity which addresses language development (Beed, Hawkins, & Roller, 1991).

So, for a source of books "at your fingertips," give Epic! a try. For tips on interactive reading aloud, see here or here, as well as Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook and Jane Gebers' Books are for Talking, Too!

Beed, P.L., Hawkins, E.M., & Roller, C.M. (1991). Moving learners toward independence: The power of scaffolded instruction. The Reading Teacher, 44(9), 648-655.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

iPad Essentials: Speak Screen and Speech Options in iOS 8

Many people are not aware of the many assistive technology (and engagement-enhancing) features that are built into the brain of the iPad--iOS, its operating system. In talking to groups out and about, I am aware that many people have been afraid to update their iPad to iOS 8 for fear it will slow things down or perhaps explode. Yes, there are some hoops you need to jump through possibly to make space for the update, but I would really recommend it at this point, even for the iPad 2s (I assist with a fleet of them at a small school and have not noticed a difference in performance with the upgrade). The cost of continuing to wait is missing out on updated apps designed for the newest operating system, as well as the feature I will describe in this post.

iOS 8 has added a new iPad Essential- improved ease of use of text-to-speech tools. Text-to-speech, or the ability to have the device "read" text on screen, has been in the iOS for some time, but previously in a manner that required you to "select" the text, which requires some tricky tap-and-hold gesturing. iOS 8 has brought a new feature called Speak Screen, which is much more easily activated with a two-finger sweep.

First, you will need to turn on the feature:
1. Open the Settings app.
2. Tap General, then Accessibility, then Speech.
3. I like to keep my settings as follows, which allows me to access both Speak Selection and Speak Screen, at a slow speaking rate, along with Highlight Content (a feature that promotes literacy development).

iOS 8 also brought new choices under the Voices menu above, where you can now select the more natural sounding Alex voice (he takes breaths and uses more inflection). Be aware that the voice, if downloaded, takes up 869 MB on your device.

Speak Selection, and now Speak Screen, can be activated on any page that displays selectable text- so any webpage in Safari or other browsers, iBooks, Kindle, and some other apps. In Safari, it is helpful to use in conjunction with the Reader View. This view removes clutter (which could be "read" by the text-to-speech function and become auditory clutter) and displays only what is on the page. Note that this is not available for every webpage but only where the "lines" icon is displayed. 

So, tapping as shown above...

...transforms the page to a simpler view as shown above. Once Speak Screen is turned on in your settings, a two-finger sweep begins reading the page with your selected voice. Use the menu to decrease or increase the speed, rewind, go forward, or pause, and tap the X to dismiss it entirely. Note that if your iPad is Siri-enabled (iPad 3 or later, iPad Mini), you can also activate Siri and say "Speak Screen." 

These features are critical assistive technology for SLPs and teachers to know about, but also serve as therapy and engagement tools:
-Use text-to-speech within word processing apps or the Notes app to help students learn to edit their work more accurately. I know I am a better editor when I hear my text read aloud.
-When presenting text to students, use text-to-speech just to give them a break from your voice, or as an auditory comprehension activity. I know my students appreciate it when I shut my yap for a minute or 2!

Watch Luis Perez' quick video here for a step-by-step look, and see all of his great accessibility resources on his website. A quick view here also lets you see the gesture to activate Speak Screen.