TapSpeak Choice

TapSpeak Choice

by Ted Conley ($159.99AUD)

There are a great number of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) apps available on the market for people to purchase and download. Mobile digital devices, such as the iPad, are becoming the most popular vehicle to enable communication in adults and children with communication impairments. TapSpeak Choice is an AAC system designed for the iPad. It can be used for children and adults with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, or any other disability or impairment that affects a person’s ability to communicate. TapSpeak Choice is an ideal solution for people that can’t afford to purchase a dedicated AAC device but want something that is just as good, if not better for their needs.

I was very excited to review this app because it is one of the few AAC apps that are designed to be used with or without a switch interface. In special education settings, I see a lot of young children and teenagers that would be given a voice if they could just access an app such as TapSpeak Choice. One and two-switch scanning using RJ Cooper’s iPad Cordless Super-Switch and iPad Switch Interface can be selected by simply selecting the Settings icon and then the Scannings Settings option. This is also where you can select to use one-switch scanning with just the iPad screen. For the purposes of this review, I have tested the app from a one-switch scan using the iPad screen.

When you first open TapSpeak Choice, a great deal of the initial set-up has been done already. You can quickly and easily create a communication board with buttons so that it meets your individual needs, from a beginner AAC user to an advanced AAC user. The board can be customised to grow dynamically with the user and can house up to 56 buttons on a board. I think this feature is great, it means that the user or caregiver does not have to create a new board as communication expands. All they have to do is find and add appropriate buttons from the extensive library or create their own using meaningful and relevant photos from the iPad photo library. Alternatively, the board can be configured to a set number of buttons in different grid layouts.

The board can be customised further by changing the background colour and changing the name. Prior to setting up TapSpeak Choice, I went to the TapSpeak, LLC webpage and viewed the many short videos that are available to support a user or caregiver to successfully implement this comprehensive AAC. I recommend that if you have purchased or intend to purchase TapSpeak Choice, go to the website and look at the information and videos there. As with any AAC system, you will need to know how to use and edit it effectively. This information helped me in my ability to create boards and individual buttons easily.

To create my custom board I simply clicked the Boards menu and then the + icon. This prompted me to label and edit the board to suit my needs; however, all of these settings can be changed quite easily at any time. I selected dynamic to allow the board to grow with me as I added buttons. Once I had the board title and button layout selected, I tapped saved it and went to my board. I still had to add buttons. To do this I chose the Libraries menu. You can choose from some preloaded categories or you can add your own category. As I was creating a board for indicating food preferences, I chose food. Some pre-selected choices came up, which I was happy with, so I swiped my finger down the page to get back to my Favourite Food board. After this it is quite simple, I could tap the rectangle or swipe down from the top of the board to bring up the food options I had just viewed. They appeared in a slider bar across the top of the screen and I just dragged and dropped the choices I wanted and my board grew bigger and bigger.

Some of the buttons were not quite what I wanted because they were not the correct words or spelling that I use in Australia. This was quite easily fixed. I tapped the button I wanted to change and then went to the edit icon. I could edit the image, the speech or delete the button. I chose edit image and another menu came up. From here I could see some image and name alternatives (for example, mom vs mum). I could also search for images from the database or add my own image/photo to the button. A really great feature when editing buttons was the ability to change the size of the text. This is quite important for people that may have vision difficulties or for small children that often need to see the word written in a larger print to help make the connection between reading and speaking.

As a user of TapSpeak Choice, I liked the ability to use the sentence strip for longer sentences. The voice speech and rate could be customised to suit an individual user’s needs, which is important for the user as well as other people involved in communication interactions with the user.

What could be included in future updates?

I had a little difficulty when I first set up my board when adding the buttons to the board. Adding the first button was quite simple; however, the other buttons needed to be dragged right over the other buttons to be added. it would be great if this could be adjusted so that the button could be added to anywhere on the background of the board instead of just on other buttons. I had a similar issue when moving the buttons around on my board in edit mode as well. I had to make sure that I dragged the button right over the top of the target button I wanted to swap it with.

Further Thoughts

As I sit here writing this review, I know an important update is coming up which I am excited about. Pixon symbol set will be the new image library; however, existing users will still have access to the Dynovox image library if they need to re-enable it. There will be new access modes to enable users with varied fine motor capabilities, such as anti-stem mode, detect touch on release, and touch averaging – to support for handling with multiple fingers on the screen of the device.

Another new and exciting feature will be the ability to add buttons to a board with just two taps. Although quite easy to do, it was a little labour intensive and sometimes a little confusing for a novice user to add buttons from different libraries. I am quite excited to see this new feature implemented and will update my review when it comes through. Other new features include the ability to back-up the system to drop-box to make management of them easily accessible from anywhere in the world. A new Australian voice will be added, and I know I will not be the only Aussie that is excited about this! These are just some of the new features. Ted Conley is passionate about making TapSpeak Choice the ultimate option for an AAC user and this is reflected in the upcoming update.

Conclusion

Overall, I am very impressed with TapSpeak Choice. As a special educator, I know the importance of communication and making sure that it is supported for our students with communication difficulties. I am pleased to see switch interface supported. Well done Ted Conley!

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TenseBuilder

 TenseBuilder

by Mobile Education Store ($20.99AUD)

I was really excited when I first saw TenseBuilder. I knew right away that this app could make a difference for our learners who have learning difficulties, special needs, or just simply do not understand the concepts behind time and tense. I think that the most exciting features of this app are the mini animations which help set-up the context for the sentence and learning. Like all Mobile Education Store apps, this app begins with the settings screen. This is the heart of the TenseBuilder app, where nine different adjustments can be made so that it aligns to your learner needs, including:

  • The audio instruction, correct answer reinforcement and record correct answer features can be turned on or off;
  • The level of play, and number of level choices (between 3-7);
  • The tense you would like to focus on (past, present, future, or all);
  • The types of verbs (regular, irregular, or all);
  • Individual verbs can be selected;
  • Long or short lesson; and
  • It is also where you can find a comprehensive Video Tutorial about how to use and customise the app.

I really like the fact that this app has two levels. Level 1 aims to improve receptive language skills. It features short animations and then the user is presented with a tense sentence and three image choices. The user is required to tap the correct image which corresponds with the tense sentence at the top of the screen. I have set the app to have long lessons, future tense, and level 1. The following will happen, depending on the user’s choice.

  • If they answer correctly (and you have audio and correct answer reinforcement turned on), the user will be praised, the sentence will be spoken, and the user will have the option to record and save the sentence for review by an educator or parent at a later stage.
  • If they answer incorrectly, the app brings up a pop-up animation showing the correct tense in action. The user is then guided back to the selection screen to choose again.
  • If the user is unsure they are able to click the Play Full Lesson button. This will bring up the short animations of each of the tenses. The app uses audio and visual cues to show each tense and how it looks in written form. I think this feature is wonderful!

Level 2 aims to improve expressive language skills. The user is shown a short animation. A partially completed sentence will appear in the sentence strip and the user will be asked to complete the missing part of the sentence so that it aligns with the stated tense (selected via the settings menu). A selection of between 3-7 answers will be displayed at the bottom of the screen. The user drags their chosen verb to the top sentence and the app reads out the sentence. The following will happen, depending on the user’s choice:

  • If they chose the correct verb tense the user will be praised, and they will be given the choice to record and save the sentence for review by an educator or parent at a later stage. They can then move on to another verb animation and lesson.
  • If they choose the incorrect verb tense, the app brings up a pop-up animation showing the correct tense and word structure for the sentence. The user is then guided back to the selection screen to choose again.
  • As in Level 1, if the user is unsure they are able to click the Play Full Lesson button. This will bring up the short animations of each of the tenses. The app uses audio and visual cues to show each tense and how it looks in written form. Did I mention previously that I think this feature is wonderful?

What do I like about TenseBuilder?

I like how you are able to skip verbs lessons and go to the next one without having to complete each and every lesson in a particular order. This is really important because it could help keep learners engaged and on-task. In addition, particular verb(s) can be selected to work on from the settings menu.

I like how particular attention is paid to irregular verbs, which are hard for many students, with or without special needs, to comprehend. The visuals support these concepts nicely. The app features 48 video lessons, which is ideal if you want to work on 1 verb each week.

I really love that TenseBuilder incorporates animations to help set the scene and show how past, present and future tense actually works for each verb. They say that a picture tells a thousand words, if that’s the case then this app must tell a million!

As an educator, I like that you can be emailed results and track a user’s progress; however, you need to ensure your device has an enabled email account attached to it for this feature to work.

What could be included in future updates?

I think that the ability to switch between accents would be a great compliment to TenseBuilder. Although it wouldn’t be realistic to expect every accent to be included, incorporating a male/female option and up to five different language accents would be great.

As a classroom educator knowing that I would need to use TenseBuilder with anywhere up to 28 different users, I think that having the capacity to input multiple user profiles which can be stored, tracked and accessed by selecting a user from a list would be ideal for assessment and reporting purposes.

Conclusion

Overall, I really like the animations. They are what makes TenseBuilder stand above other apps on the same topic. Both expressive and receptive language skills are important for everyday communication. TenseBuilder helps to improve, maintain and generalise these skills so that the user is effectively scaffolded for conversations using the correct verb tense and form. As an added bonus, the humour within the animations can be explored in detail with learners who have Autism and other special needs.

TenseBuilder is one of the best apps I have come across in the language arts area. Educators, Speech Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, and parents should consider downloading this app to help their children/learners understand how to use tense and verb form properly.

To look at TenseBuilder in action, please view the slideshow below:

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