Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Top 5

I hope you all have a Happy New Year! Here are the top-five read posts from 2016:

Target Conversational Behaviors and Scripts with Plotagon

Valentine to Doodle Buddy series Part 1, 2, 3, 4

Readworks Provides Access to Handy Text Passages (note that there is now also a Readworks Digital which is more accessible/engaging on devices)

Google Apps: Collaboration, Consultation, and Supervision

Enter Vacation Mode with Toca Life: Vacation

See you all in 2017!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Tech-ing up Communication Books

I read a helpful post this week on Edutopia- 15 Questions to Replace "How was School Today?", which I think is a good resource to share with parents. It is often a concern of parents of children receiving speech and language services that their kids seem not to be able to answer this question, and the post provides a) the important perspective that many typical kids struggle (or refuse) to respond to the question and b) good ways to scaffold and break it down to focus on more specific topics.

The post got me thinking, however, about the practice of using a home-school communication notebook to facilitate these kinds of discussions (and monitoring other issues) for some students. Although I'm not in the day to day of being involved in this communication in the school setting currently, I remember being so, and I wondered, why does that have to be a notebook, which:
-is a physical object that needs to be found by multiple people on both sides and
-cannot easily contain photos, which are a terrific scaffold to get kids to talk about their day (color printing is very expensive and involves a number of steps).

In my consultation work with groups and at a few schools, I have been working with teachers to explore more and varied uses of simple tools like Google Docs, which it seems would address the above problems. Google Docs is available so many ways I am not going to provide a link (via the web or apps for any device) and most districts provide accounts to educators. Via an in-person discussion, this idea could easily be floated to parents and a document created and shared on the spot for training (maybe make a new doc every month so they don't get too long). A format can be agreed upon (e.g. for separating dates, class, or service delivery entries) the use of comments encouraged, and conventions to preserve confidentiality according to district standards can be ironed out.

In addressing the two issues above, all service providers can have access to the docs-based "notebook" from any device, so they don't have to go hunting for it during a busy day. And the best part, just tap the + button within a document from the mobile device app, then Image, and you can photograph any context throughout the day. If appropriate, you can have the student work on writing the captions!

Google Docs app on iPhone, identical features available on iPad

So, are you using Google Apps for parent communication? What successes or difficulties have you encountered?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Using Google Slides in Language Intervention

ASHA 2016 in Philly was a whirlwind, and given a few other busy weeks following it, I am still sort of flummoxed that it has come and gone! I enjoyed presenting with Nathan Curtis and Amy Reid of Waldo County General Hospital in Maine on resources that can be used for co-engagement and co-creation in interventions both in-person and via telepractice. One of the resources we discussed was Google Slides, which is part of your Google Apps available through personal or school accounts, and I wanted to share a video I made demonstrating some possibilities:

(email subscribers please click through to the post in order to see the video)

Some main points here:
-Google Slides is a free tool you can access from your Drive page, just click New to start a new slide series.
-The tool can be used like a Book Creator (in fact, like the Book Creator app itself) to combine pictures and text to make a "book"- think a repeated line book or any book used to convey a narratiev or expository topic.
-The Explore tool under Tools>Explore allows you to search for images and simply drag them into the presentation (these are copyright-friendly)
-One advantage of Slides particularly for telepractice is that you can share the file with anyone with a google account and they can continue working on it.
-You can create and edit Slides presentations from the iPad as well, but the Explore feature to search images is not available (you'd have to leave the app, go to Safari, search and save images to add).
-Check out this post for good ideas on how to use Google Slides in "unusual" ways!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Come See Me at ASHA 16!

I have an insanely busy few weeks...hope to see some of you at ASHA 16 in Philly!

Here's the info:

Presenter(s) (click the names to view bios and disclosures):
Sean Sweeney, The Ely Ctr, LLC/ (presenting author) |View Advance Handout

Instructional Level: Introductory Read more
Abstract Type: Professional Education Read more

Another “sequel” to this presentation with installments at ASHA 2012-2015 brings all-new pairings of picture books and inexpensive, easy-to use apps with suggestions for interventions. The presentation provides research-supported strategies for contextual language therapy, blending picture books with apps for visual, interactive, and curriculum-related post-reading activities targeting specific objectives.

Speech-Language Pathology Topic Area: Language and Learning in School-Age Children and Adolescents
Learner Outcomes:
Learner Outcome 1: Identify 3 picture books with intervention-related language structures and contexts within text and illustrations
Learner Outcome 2: Evaluate 3 apps for key features indicating applicability in language interventions

Learner Outcome 3: Describe session plans pairing books and apps based on contextual congruence

To be honest, doing a tech presentation as a poster is not ideal, but I did my best to translate this topic into a visual format. Come check it out and I will also be providing a link to the previous 4 years of book and app pairings...a trove of ideas!

Session Code: 1438
Title: Building Language & Literacy Skills in Telepractice: Combining Routines, Authentic Materials & Client Engagement
Day: Friday, November 18, 2016 Time: 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Location: Pennsylvania Convention Center Room: 105AB
Session Format: Seminar 2-hours PDH(s): 2 Hrs

Presenter(s) (click the names to view bios and disclosures):
Nathan Curtis, Waldo County General Hosp (presenting author) |No Advance Handout Uploaded
Sean Sweeney, Ely Ctr (presenting author) |No Advance Handout Uploaded
Amy Reid, Waldo County General Hosp (presenting author) |View Advance Handout

Instructional Level: Intermediate Read more
Abstract Type: Professional Education Read more

Utilizing technology to co-create contextual materials within telepractice or in-person therapies facilitates engagement and additional opportunities to practice targeted language and literacy skills. This presentation demonstrates examples of integrating routines with authentic materials for preschool to secondary students to maximize outcomes. Participants will leave with resources and ideas for implementation.

Session Chair: N/A
General Interest Topic Area: Telepractice
Learner Outcomes:
Learner Outcome 1: List three types of language and literacy routines for use in telepractice sessions
Learner Outcome 2: Describe three engagement techniques to support language and literacy activities in telepractice sessions
Learner Outcome 3: State four app and web-based resources that can support language and literacy skills within telepractice

I do in-person therapy, but as a tech specialist have had a wonderful collaboration with the experts at Waldo Country General in Maine. I loved working with Amy and Nathan on this presentation. Note that the ideas discussed and apps, websites, and clinical routines demonstrated will be applicable to in-person therapy as well...

Friday, November 4, 2016

More on mapping expository texts through tech, Part 3

In the past several posts I have been discussing resources for visually mapping expository (and by extension, narrative) topics. In the last post I outlined the use of Kidspiration's Super Grouper feature for sorting ideas into categories--it can also be used for sequencing. Kidspiration and its older brother Inspiration (again free to try, $9.99 for full app, also available for Mac or PC and even on the web) are better known for their mind-mapping or diagramming features. Like Popplet (described in this post), these apps can be used to create graphic organizers showing the connection between different ideas. Unlike Popplet, however, the text within the idea bubbles can be exported to other apps so students can see planning activities as being helpful toward actually getting their writing done.

In Kidspiration, create diagram activities by selecting Diagram from the home screen. It's fairly self explanatory to map connections between pictures and symbols using this feature. The diagram can be used to create a discussion web as displayed below. Discussion webs in language intervention are discussed in Hoggan & Strong's excellent article The Magic of Once Upon a Time: Narrative Teaching Strategies (and also this "how to"), which has served as an inspiration for my "Pairing Picture Books with Apps" presentations. A number of other narrative teaching visuals demonstrated in the article can also be created with Kidspiration and Inspiration.

Inspiration in all its versions is particularly appropriate for upper elementary through adult learners, and is often recommended as an Assistive Technology (AT) tool. Inspiration shares many of the features of Kidspiration including the picture library, ability to add photos, and helpful templates; Inspiration does not have the Super Grouper feature described in the last post.

Both Kidspiration and Inspiration allow you to create a graphic organizer with students and export the contents in outline form to a word processor, thus bringing the initial planning work to a place that it can be continued (e.g. a word processor such as Pages, Word, or Google Docs). The blank-slate nature of these apps as well as the availability of connecting bubbles and arrows make it ideal for instruction in the methodology of using expository text structures to plan writing and show the flow of ideas in a topic--making these both comprehension and expression tools. See Teresa Ukrainetz' Strategic Intervention for Expository Texts: Teaching Text Preview and Lookback (another good reason to have an ASHA SIG membership so you can access Perspectives journals) for another helpful discussion of expository text structure and other strategies.

Be sure when using Inspiration and Kidspiration to avoid creating webs unless your topic is a descriptive one. Create an organized structure by adding new detail bubbles to your topic heading shape (see above with List, tapping on the arrow button will create new connected bubbles you can drag into position). Naturally, you will want your detail bubbles to contain content related to the topic as opposed to just key words for organization. As below, switching to Outline view will then make your work result in a useful outline rather than too much hierarchy. See below, tapping the Share button will allow you to export.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

More on mapping expository texts using tech, Part 2

In a recent ASHA Leader article I discussed intervention activities centered around social studies and expository text, and am continuing to discuss expository language in part one of this series and in this post.

One of the most useful apps for categorization and other expository language activities is Kidspiration Maps (free to try, $9.99 for full app). I truly believe this app should be in every SLP's and reading specialist's library as it has so many contextual uses. Pair this app with a picture book, textbook passage, video, discussion, information from another app or website...the list goes on. Kidspiration has been around for many years as a software resource and is still available also for Mac or PC, but at a higher pricepoint than the iPad version that shares almost all of its features.

I will talk about the diagramming features of Kidspiration (and its older brother Inspiration) and expository language in the next post, but in this post I would like to highlight Kidspiration's terrific Super Grouper feature. Super Groupers allow you to create an activity where you sort words and pictures into categories. Again, I find that these activities can be created to accompany any book or topic, and students enjoy taking your "wordsplash" or "picturesplash" and putting it in order. In the process, you can ask them to verbalize categories and descriptive attributes that serve as rationales for their sorting.

To offer a contextual example, students of mine were reading Iron Thunder by Avi- this is the story of the fateful battle of the ironclad ships Merrimack and Monitor during the Civil War. As we reviewed the first chapters it was clear my students were not so solid on the concepts and associations around the North and South at this time. I constructed a simple Super Grouper activity to address this:

The Super Groupers are the large blue and gray (color coded purposefully) rectangles in this case, with ovals containing information about perspectives, characters, synonyms, geographic information, actions, and so on, to sort. The student interacts with the activity by tapping and dragging the items (which can be pictures also, see below) into the Super Groupers. Once completed, you can also switch to Outline view (tap on outline icon in upper left) to see the information in a linear fashion:

One great feature of the Inspiration Software apps is that diagrams and outlines can be exported- from Outline View tap the share button and you can export as text to other apps such as Pages or even Google Docs, where students can expand on the language.

To create a Super Grouper activity, select the Super Grouper option from the home screen. The Super Grouper menu (highlighted at top) lets you tap and drag shapes into the work area. Double tap at the top of your shape to label it. Tap to select your shape, then tap the paintbrush at the bottom menu to change the background color.

The picture library is accessed from the "frame" icon. Browse the categories to tap/drag items to be sorted; you can also search the library or add photos, making even the visual contexts of Kidspiration limitless. You can add audio support to your activity or have students record sentences as they sort by tapping any picture, then the microphone button at the bottom, which allows you to record an audio note.

To make a more text-based sorting activity, use the Shapes menu. Double tap on any shape to type in it.

A very helpful feature of Kidspiration is that activities can be duplicated, so that in the event you complete the sort with multiple groups, you don't have to keep unsorting the items! From the Open Document menu, tap Edit, then tap to select an activity, and tap the Copy icon. This menu also allows you to share your created activities with colleagues who have Kidspiration. From the Open Document menu, tap Edit, then tap to select an activity, and tap the Share icon. From there you can mail the activity, send it to Dropbox, or tap More to send to Google Drive (where you can share the file with whomever). It's a great idea for a group of colleagues to work together creating and sharing activities that would be useful to all.

Friday, October 21, 2016

More on mapping expository texts using tech, Part 1

In a column I contributed to August's ASHA Leader, I mentioned expository text structures as providing an important framework for organizing language for comprehension and expression, in this case around social studies topics.

First, to elaborate on expository text structure, this is the informational "sibling," so to speak of teaching story grammar--parts of a story and the connections of character, setting, initiating event, response, plan, events, and conclusion. Expository text structures can be located both in narratives and informational text (e.g. a news article, textbook, lecture or video) and include list, sequence, description, compare/contrast, and so on. An excellent recent tutorial article (Lundine & McCauley, 2016) provides more information and research tie-ins for these strategies; commercial products targeting the use of these structures include Mindwing Concepts' ThemeMaker®* and Thinking Maps.

Another good resource providing a venue for teaching these skills and strategies is Popplet Lite (Free, the full version of Popplet allows you to have multiple drafts), with built-in graphic organizers in a visual creation tool where students can combine photos, text, and drawings to explain an idea or topic.

With Popplet Lite, you can:
-tap to create "popples" to contain your ideas for the topic
-color code main ideas
-connect ideas in lines demonstrating text structures (e.g. list, sequence, cause-effect)
-add images (copy/paste from Safari is easiest) or drawings
-export your creation in several formats.

In several followup posts, I'll be discussing other resources for mapping narrative and expository text.

*Disclosure: Author provides blog content for Mindwing Concepts, Inc. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Amazon Prime Ads: Good context for teaching narrative structure or problem-solution

Video versions of ads can be motivating ways to target students' understanding of narrative and expository text structures. I have recently enjoyed the series from Amazon Prime in which people solve animal-related problems. Here's one featuring an adorable little horse:

As the ads are wordless, they offer an opportunity to work on student narration and also interpretation of nonverbal information.

Westby and Culatta's recently published article "Telling Tales" offers a tutorial on assessing and intervening on narrative skills (primarily personal rather than fictional), and as you know I am a big fan of (and consultant for) Story Grammar Marker® to break down and produce narrative material. I also highly recommend Dr. Anna Vagin's books (and mailing list) for terrific information on how to use video to target narrative and social cognition skills.

Here are two more in the series of ads:

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Little Alchemy- a fun game-based context for describing objects

A key feature that is required for games to be useful in speech and language intervention is an appropriate pace-- meaning a controllable and slow pace. Little Alchemy (free, available for iOS, Android and on the web) will let you pace the game with plenty of room for discussion, which would be the point of using it! The goal in Little Alchemy is to combine objects to make new objects, at first in nature but veering into weather, geographic features, engineering and inventions.

You start with earth, air, fire and water, naturally. Combining fire and water makes steam, earth and water make mud, and so on. In the process, many language targets will arise naturally or with your cueing:
-causals: Water is wet so...
-conditionals: If I combine air and fire...
-descriptors: Lava is melted rock...
-academic vocabulary: solids, liquids and gases, and so on

Little Alchemy is simple and easy to use. It could make a good reinforcement tool at the end of a lesson or serve as an interactive lesson to target language around science and chemistry. The app allows students to sign in and save progress via a google account, and you can also reset progress within the settings to use with a different group or student. So you know what combinations create what, giving you the power to control the discussion a bit more as students play, a walkthrough is available here. Hints are also available in the game.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Tap Roulette- A useful therapy tool

Whenever including games or any situation where someone has to "go first," it can be a challenge even among students who don't have social learning challenges. We don't want these decisions to eat up our precious and limited therapy time. I do find that Social Thinking® and 5 Point Scales promote useful self-talk around this:
-Play involves 3 Parts: Setup, Play, Cleanup. Who goes first is part of setup and we don't want it to use up our time playing.
-Using a 5 Point Scale of Problems, going last should be thought of as a small or tiny problem.

However, we still sometimes come to a stalemate over who goes first.

Tap Roulette offers a free, quick, and fun solution that I think superior to the human-error-prone "Rock Paper Scissors" technique. Participants in whatever it is simply place one finger on the screen, tap PICK FINGER and after a roulette-style animation, a choice is made!

Tap Roulette also provides a fun way to work on categories; have students name items in a simple or complex category and run a contest to see which one "wins."

Friday, September 23, 2016

Kahoot! Create game show style activities!

Kahoot! is a website that allows you to create quizzes that are presented in an extremely engaging fashion, for free. I had seen Kahoot! used a number of times over the past few years, and recently I decided to use it with my social cognition groups. The kids who had used Kahoot! in their classrooms had a huge, excited response when I said we were going to use it!

At you can create your free account and build quizzes, discussions and surveys- all great ways to target language and have students explain ideas. Compose questions and accompany them with pictures (great for vocabulary or social cognition), then write multiple choice responses. You also can try some featured Kahoots if you don't want to reinvent the wheel or just want to gauge your students' response to this type of activity- there are searchable pre-made quizzes on a large variety of topics.

image from

Playing a Kahoot works like this:
-From, launch a particular activity.
-On screen will appear a PIN, and students can use their own or provided devices* to navigate to and enter this pin and a nickname for play (they love that part).
-You control the pace of the game as students respond to the questions, results are displayed and you will have moments to discuss (an important aspect that makes the site good for speech and language activities)
*Kahoots are best created on a desktop or laptop as you'll need to type and possibly add pictures or video. Students can play on any device that has a web browser- I like to use "Team mode" in bigger groups to foster collaboration. Devices do not need the Kahoot! app, but this app directs you immediately to enter the PIN, so it takes the web navigation part out for the student.

As I mentioned, Kahoot! is a great resource for vocabulary review or creating quizzes where students identify expository text structure key words, subordinate clause markers, or demonstrate morphological awareness. I have also transformed a number of "Thinksheets" from the Social Thinking® resources into quiz form. This was also a great context to work on skills while playing the game (e.g. Defeating DOF- The Destroyer of Fun from Superflex®)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

4th Generation Apple TV provides additional options for clinically useful content

Many school settings have incorporated Apple TV as an option for visual displays in classrooms, and the same possibilities can be applied in clinical settings. Apple TV is not a TV set, per se, but a internet-enabled "set-top" box that can be connected to an HDTV or a classroom projector/interactive whiteboard. The previous generations of Apple TV, as I have written about, offer the opportunity to use content within the software (e.g. YouTube) and to wirelessly display ("mirror") an iPad, iPhone, or Mac screen to the TV. This can be very handy in instruction or therapy using apps as all students in the group can see the visual, while interacting with the iPad as usual.

The fourth generation Apple TV*, released last fall, retains these possibilities and the accessible price of previous releases, while adding an App Store. Note: this is not available unless you upgrade to the newer Apple TV device; it is not just a software update. The App Store, along with the upgraded multitouch remote which serves as a controller for interaction within apps, unlocks a new world of content and interaction. A few examples:

My constantly recommended EPIC! Books for Kids is also available as a free app on Apple TV, and you can of course sign in with your free educator account. This offers the ability to display a huge variety of books (some with audio) on a TV screen (email subscribers, be sure to click through to full post to see videos below).

A video posted by Sean Sweeney (@speechtechie) on

Also, look for @speechtechie on Instagram!

Though the interactive potential of Apple TV is just being tapped, apps such as those from Sago Mini (I wrote about the language and play potential of its iPad apps for Mindwing Concepts) provide great interaction through the remote control.

A video posted by Sean Sweeney (@speechtechie) on

The App Store for Apple TV has nice finds in the Education, Kids and Family, and Health and Fitness categories (particularly if you are using any mindfulness training for self-regulation or fluency).

In short, if you are in a private clinical setting or have the potential to influence purchases at school, the 4th Generation Apple TV allows you to facilitate engagement among a group by displaying all your iPad apps on the big screen, plus the opportunity to shortcut the mirroring process and engage in a different way through its developing library of apps.

*Note: you can buy an HDMI cable for $5 on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

One for us: Hit the Trail with Alltrails

Our jobs are stressful. There are many aspects of our work that we take home and let spin in our minds, which is not so healthy. I have long been an advocate of work in mindfulness both for us and our students, but recently I have also discovered hiking. Something about my love of maps, a good view, staying mindful, and the nice little rush that comes with some cardiovascular exercise comes together when I hike. Before I lose some of you, hiking can range from walking beside a beach or in a gently graded field to scrambling up or down rock piles, so there is something for everyone. In the past several years, this interest has re-awakened as I had opportunities to hike up Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Diamond Head in Waikiki, and a bunch of awesome trails this summer in Acadia National Park.

Did you know that there is some actual science behind the benefits of walking in nature? Check out this abstract:

More than 50% of people now live in urban areas. By 2050 this proportion will be 70%. Urbanization is associated with increased levels of mental illness, but it’s not yet clear why. Through a controlled experiment, we investigated whether nature experience would influence rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self), a known risk factor for mental illness. Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world. (Bratman, et al, 2015)

Travel can bring you to some great places to hike easy or harder trails, but as this study suggests, just accessing a nearby "nature experience" can make a difference in our thinking patterns. So, to bring in the tech part that you all expect from me, I'll refer you to the free (but with premium features if you want them) Alltrails website and mobile app. Create an account and you'll have access to search features to find many nature experiences near you. Filter to find easy vs. moderate or hard trails, read hiker reviews, and explore trail maps. I highly recommend having the app installed on your phone; tapping "Directions" will launch Google Maps to bring you directly to any trailhead (in hiker parlance, where you park and start) and the GPS will show you where you are on the trail map itself, should you need a little guidance.


For me, this great app has given me some ideas of places I've started to explore right in my backyard, such as the network of trails in the Blue Hills Reservation (10 minutes away from my house).

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Free Webinar: Options for eText: Facilitating Access and Comprehension Through Electronic Text

edWeb recently hosted a Webinar in which I discussed resources related to electronic text, sponsored by Mobile Education Store, creator of great apps such as Conversation Builder and Crack the Books. This webinar and many others are available to you for free on the edWeb site. If you join their community, you'll also be able to download handouts and receive other resources. 

Options for eText: Facilitating Access and Comprehension Through Electronic Text
Presented by Sean Sweeney, Speech-Language Pathologist/Instructional Tech Specialist
Sponsored by MES Publishing

If you view the recording and would like a CE certificate, join the Everyone CAN! community and go to the Webinar Archives folder to take the CE quiz.

With the advent and proliferation of mobile devices available to students and teachers has come a wide range of options for accessing text. Electronic Texts and accompanying accessibility features such as text to speech can facilitate organization of materials, richer arrays of contexts available, and comprehension of classroom content for those with reading, language learning and other disabilities. This recorded webinar will familiarize educators with a variety of options at various price points and platforms, with demonstration of apps and features that put eTexts at your and students’ fingertips in no time. These include: iOS and Mac built-in accessibility features, Read and Write for Google and iPad, eText Platforms such as EPIC! Books for Kids, the Crack the Books series of accessible textbooks, and options for creating eTexts such as the renowned Book Creator App.

This webinar will be especially relevant for general and special education teachers, related service providers (SLP, OT), technology specialists, and administrators.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Google Apps: Collaboration, Consultation, and Supervision

The productivity tools contained in Google Apps (Drive, Docs, Slides, etc) are available to many SLPs and students through your school district's likely Google Apps for Education setup, or if not, via a free Google account. I have of late found Google Apps very useful in several ways:

-Collaborating with other professionals in written products such as proposals, presentations and other documents

-Performing consultation activity by asking students to Share select pieces of their work or projects with me

-Supervising graduate students and giving them the opportunity to practice some of the important written aspects of our job (e.g. writing parts of reports or parent communication)

Part of what makes Google Apps so popular is the built-in communication tools that are available around a document or other file. First, of course, you need to click the Share button and make the document available to the other person (or ask him/her to do the same). This allows you to work on the same document in real time without dealing with the mess of emailing different attached versions back and forth.

Commenting is one key way to collaborate on Google Docs. To comment in a document, highlight some text and click the comment icon or Insert>Comment. Your collaborator can dismiss any comments once they have been seen, but the history of comments for that document can always be viewed under the Comments button in the upper right.

I discovered this year that you can change from co-editing a document into Suggesting mode. When working with grad students or clients on a document, this enables you to put more explicit feedback into the document. 

The other person will see this annotation in the document and via a corresponding comment, can accept or dismiss it. 

I hope this year you will find these features of Google Apps useful when working with other professionals, students, or graduate interns. Keep in mind that Google Apps does not offer guarantees of confidentiality, so it is best to avoid using full names when writing evaluation reports or other sensitive documents. They can always be downloaded (File>Download as>Word) and edited to add personal information such as full names, birthdates, etc.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

What does an image lead to...?

I've always been a firm believer that all students benefit from visual supports--but providing images or other visuals provides a path to language. That's the V--Visual--in the FIVES Criteria.

An image leads to:

...understanding of a vocabulary word or concept.


...expansion of categories.


...connections and narrative.

...causal, conditional, or other structural language forms.


(among others).

The above reasons are why I am constantly endorsing the use of the free, versatile and multiple-platform Pic Collage. This app hit a bump this past fall. The Web Search, which allows you to add photos to a thematic, contextual collage very quickly and in a co-creative process with students, lost its connection to Google (Web Search allows you to search for photos and add them from the app). The developers were communicative about it and made efforts to develop their own search tool, which gradually improved over the following months, but it was a tougher sell.

A few months ago, however, Pic Collage struck a partnership with Microsoft's search engine BING! So the results are back to being as good as they ever were.

Additionally, Web Search has JUST added "suggestions" which might help you in your in-the-moment creations with students. The suggestions are specific items within the category you would be searching for, or associations related to your search. How wonderfully language-enhancing!

Results and suggestions for "trees" and "national parks" depicted above. Tap on the suggestion to point your search in a specific direction and bring up new possible images to add to the collage (tap images, then the check mark in the upper right to add images to a collage).

This past year I was involved with a productive assistive technology and language consultation regarding a student who LOVED to be in all of his classes. He just needed support to participate verbally. My advice was focused on taking some of the language "out of the air" and giving the student more visual support as conversations and topics unfolded, Pic Collage being a key tool we discussed. For example, as his consumer education class discussed forms of payment, Pic Collage could be easily used to visualize cash, a credit and debit card, check, and cell phone.

For some of my previous posts on Pic Collage, look here, here and here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Use the Summer Olympics as a Language Context with Fiete Sports

The apps featuring Fiete, a fun little German sailor, are simple but elegant, and just this week I discovered Fiete Sports, which was featured in Apple's Best New Apps (also take a look at Fiete Farm, which has an interesting interface promoting temporal concepts around farming activities). Fiete Sports (Free!) is a nice engaging activity to pair with current events news around the Rio Olympics (hopefully the press will turn a bit more positive) or picture books about sports or sportsmanship (Mia Hamm's Winner's Never Quit is a favorite of mine, see the book or YouTube reading). This app again features a visual, conversation-spurring interface as sporting events can be selected from an opening map filled with locations and international flags. The sporting events themselves are short, sweet, and simple, such as a swimming competition that is completed by tapping one's finger on the screen. The short nature of each activity will allow you to elicit language following each turn and allow others in the group to take a turn (a good example of how pacing within an app can be important).

Edit: I had previously discussed here whether four events were enough as I mistakenly reported the app was $2.99 (for me, it was enough), but the developer asked me to correct that (Thank you, Ahoiii!). They also informed me that they had added the shot put to the existing four events: cycling, running, hurdling, swimming. Do check out the app for its simple interactions with a rich context (ripe with concepts, verbs, comparatives, causals). Enjoy the opening ceremonies this week!

Use the Summer Olympics as a Language Context with Fiete Sports

The apps featuring Fiete, a fun little German sailor, are simple but elegant, and just this week I discovered Fiete Sports, which was featured in Apple's Best New Apps (also take a look at Fiete Farm, which has an interesting interface promoting temporal concepts around farming activities). Fiete Sports (Free!) is a nice engaging activity to pair with current events news around the Rio Olympics (hopefully the press will turn a bit more positive) or picture books about sports or sportsmanship (Mia Hamm's Winner's Never Quit is a favorite of mine, see the book or YouTube reading). This app again features a visual, conversation-spurring interface as sporting events can be selected from an opening map filled with locations and international flags. The sporting events themselves are short, sweet, and simple, such as a swimming competition that is completed by tapping one's finger on the screen. The short nature of each activity will allow you to elicit language following each turn and allow others in the group to take a turn (a good example of how pacing within an app can be important).

Edit: I had previously discussed here whether four events were enough as I mistakenly reported the app was $2.99 (for me, it was enough), but the developer asked me to correct that (Thank you, Ahoiii!). They also informed me that they had added the shot put to the existing four events: cycling, running, hurdling, swimming. Do check out the app for its simple interactions with a rich context (ripe with concepts, verbs, comparatives, causals). Enjoy the opening ceremonies this week!

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.