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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So Much 2 Say

So Much 2 Say

by Close 2 Home Apps, LLC ($25.49AUD)

So Much 2 Say is an alternative augmentative and communication (AAC) iPad app which incorporates picture systems. Picture systems are used in many special and general education classrooms (and beyond) when a student has a limited capacity for speech. Every individual has the same desire to communicate and participate in the world around them. Although communication needs vary from person to person, there are four main reasons people communicate:

  1. To refuse or reject items that we do not want or activities that we do not wish to participate in.
  2. To obtain or ask for items that we want or request activities we do wish to participate in.
  3. To engage in social interaction with our peers, friends, educators, family and the community in which we live.
  4. To provide or seek information about our peers, friends, educators, family and the community in which we live or to seek or use information in the educational process.

So Much 2 Say can be used for people with a range of communication needs. It is designed to generate communication, initially by teaching the user to request a single item, and then adjusting as the user masters that level of communication. The administrator can change the settings to include more features as the user’s communication improves and they become more proficient at using the app. Cards can be added so that the user can comment, refuse, obtain or seek information.

What’s included in So Much 2 Say:

  • Flexible layout options – card or category-based navigation and  the option to have 1, 2, 4, 6, 9, or 12 objects per page (depending on the user and their specific needs) – this is good news. I can customise the layout to suit my own needs!
  • Simple and fast card creation – using symbols, your library or taking a photo – so simple and easy to use!
  • Nearly 9000 SymbolStix® symbols – this is fantastic!
  • A sentence strip for beginning sentence building – an exciting new feature to help with conversations!
  • The ability to Drag ‘n Drop to share card/categories between multiple iPads – this is a big positive!
  • The ability to customise the Homepage using Drag ‘n Drop gestures – this is very easy to use!
  • A scroll-lock button to prevent unintentional swipes between pages – this also prevents frustration!
  • The option to record your own audio – I am Australian, so this suits me perfectly!
  • Card filtering – great! I can show only cards I want to use for now!
  • An option to put a passcode to protect the ability to edit – what a good idea! This will stop the user from changing my settings!

It is great to see that So Much 2 Say is developed for both the Learner and the Administrator who both use the app. The learner is the person who needs to communicate through the device, and the administrator is the person who makes changes to the app’s configuration as the Learner progresses (such as a parent, teacher, or professional working with the user). When a user first enters So Much 2 Say, there are two picture cards showing – this is the card layout option. The administrator can edit from here by clicking the edit box at the top of the page. Settings will appear on the other side of the page and this is where you customise the app. As an added bonus, Close 2 Home Apps, LLC are dedicated to supporting users of So Much 2 Say and have a website which is packed with useful information, video tutorials and a FAQs section to assist with starting up and maintaining the app for optimised communication success.

As an administrator using the device, I found it quite easy to navigate. Within 15-20 minutes, I had set up some new cards using symbols and my own audio, changed the layout to categories (instead of cards), added some new categories, added the sentence strip, and created some simple 2 card sentences.

I really enjoyed making new cards because they are fully customisable. I could use Australian spelling and terminology. I chose to use symbols from the nearly 9000 or so in the SymbolStix library. If it is a symbols based picture AAC app you are looking for, then you won’t need any other library to supplement your needs. If you want to use real images, there are some photo cards in the pre-existing categories; however, you can create your own cards using your own photo roll or by taking photos using the iPad camera. This makes So Much 2 Say a tailored solution for each individual user. Existing cards can also be edited by changing the audio or text.

While using So Much 2 Say as the end-user, I found it easy to navigate and select cards in both card and category layout. A beginning user will need a little training to understand how to use the app and the sentence strip; however, this type of initial training is required for any new AAC device or application.

Close 2 Home Apps, LLC have a real understanding of the needs of beginning communicators and have included great features in So Much 2 Say, to enable users to have successful communication interactions. The founders of Close 2 Home Apps, LLC, Kirsten and Eric Ferguson, are committed to creating apps and online resources that will support effective and meaningful communication, strengthen cognitive skills, provide behaviour support, provide developmentally appropriate leisure activities, and offer tools designed to facilitate instruction in the home as well as in the classroom. Close 2 Home Apps, LLC believe in supporting both learners using the device and administrators configuring So Much 2 Say for the learner.

The only suggestions that I have for future updates and improvement to So Much 2 Say is the ability to store frequently used expressions, comments or questions that would be used in the sentence strip on a regular basis as a one-swipe gesture. I like the way that Close 2 Home Apps, LLC listens to the suggestions of their customers and makes changes to improve their product. For example, I know that some users requested the sentence strip functionality for communication. The latest update to So Much 2 Say included this new and exciting feature.

Overall, So Much 2 Say is a total communication solution for beginning communicators. It is suitable for young children and adults that need to communicate with a single picture right through to small sentences. So Much 2 Say is different to other communication apps in that it is based on a ground-up approach. It is introduced as a basic communication tool that gets built as the user’s communication needs grow. So many other apps available require a lot of time and effort to configure them to suit the individual user. So Much 2 Say is highly appropriate and suited for home and school use.

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Disclaimer: The opinions on this blog are entirely the authors.

Rounds: Franklin Frog

Rounds: Franklin Frog

by Nosy Crow ($5.49AUD)

Rounds: Franklin Frog is a non-fiction interactive app which looks at the lifecycle of a frog in a fun and appealing way. The genre is a simple narrative, and is well designed with lovely graphics and music. This app is suitable for children in primary and special education schools. It is easy to use and navigate and has a help section. Rounds: Franklin Frog begins with the home screen where the user can view information about how to use the app or select their preferred reading option. There are two reading options:

  • Read and play – this option is read by a child narrator. Words can be highlighted as the text is being read or this feature can be turned off.
  • Read by myself – this option allows the user to select different transition speeds.

The Read and play section is fantastic because the user plays an important part helping the characters through the frog lifecycle. They help Franklin get food; hibernate; swim; find a mate; and help Felicity lay frogspawn and protect them from hungry fish. After this, we are introduced to Fraser, who we help get out of his egg; eat food and grow into a tadpole, froglet and a frog. Users are then taken through the same cycle until we meet Fletcher, and then it all repeats again. Throughout this learning journey, interesting facts about frogs and their lifecycles are given to the user in the form of comments by the character(s). The correct scientific terminology is used and communicated in such a way that it doesn’t confuse young learners.

Rounds: Franklin Frog is a perfect way to teach children about the biology of frogs using the metalanguage of science, at an appropriate level for children up to about age 10. It is interactive and fun for young learners, with enough science facts to promote deep knowledge and understanding. The app features 100s of facts about: habitats; food chains; predators and prey; mating; and the actual stages in a frog’s lifecycle. The ‘rounds’ nature of the book is great for two reasons: 1) it shows the repetitive nature of the lifecycle of a frog, and 2) the repetition helps students understand and learn the lifecycle stages more deeply.

While reading the story, I accidently pressed the home button on my device. When I re-opened the app, the help screen popped up and asked me if I would like to continue reading, change my settings, or restart the story. This feature is great because a lot of children may tap the wrong button in error.

Future Educational Recommendations: I think this app could be rounded off with some simple activities so that the user can demonstrate their understanding of the frog’s lifecycle. For example, putting together the stages in a frog’s lifecycle on a circular chart, or a quick quiz. However, the learning content in Rounds: Franklin Frog makes this app well worth the download.

Overall, Rounds: Franklin Frog is exactly the type of app that makes mLearning fun and motivating for young students. The simple narrative genre hides the fact that students are actually learning.

Check out my screenshots of Rounds: Franklin Frog and the official trailer below:

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Disclaimer: The opinions on this blog are entirely the authors.

Rainbow Sentences

Rainbow Sentences

by Mobile Education Store ($8.49AUD)

The Rainbow Sentences iPad app helps students build grammatically correct sentences. The parts of a sentence are colour-coded according to a pre-set template or they can be customised according to your own system of colour coding. The app starts off in the settings mode. This is where students are added; line and word colour-coding is changed; the difficulty level is adjusted; a customised colour theme can be added; and other items such as audio, reinforcement, and word grouping can be turned on or off.

Rainbow Sentences helps students who have trouble understanding the different parts of a sentence by grouping words into chunks. Once you have set up the app for a user, you can hand it over to your student and they can start right away. There are 55 sentences within each of the three levels:

  • Level 1 focuses on who the sentence is about and what they are doing. An example of this would be ‘The frog (who) is swimming (what)’. As the user becomes more proficient, the colour-coding can be turned off.
  • Level 2 builds on level 1 and includes who the sentence is about, what they are doing, and adds where they are doing it. An example of this would be: ‘The monkey (who) is sitting (what) next to the bananas (where)’.
  • Level 3 builds on levels 1 & 2 and includes who the sentence is about, what they are doing, where they are doing it, and adds why they are doing it. An example of this would be: ‘The dog (who) is jumping (what) toward the Frisbee (where) to try to catch it (why)’.

Check out the video below, or the images at the end of this blog, to see Rainbow Sentences in action:

The parts of the sentences are presented at the bottom of the screen out of order. There is an image depicting what the sentence is about as a visual reinforcement for the user. If you have line and word colour-coding turned on, the parts of the sentence will be in a matching colour to the lines presented at the top of the screen. The user has to drag and drop the parts onto the sentence strip at the top of the screen. The words are spoken as each part is dragged. If they are correct, the sentence is repeated back to them. They are then given the choice to record and playback their sentence and save it for later review.

The app also features a ‘show’ button in which the app will build and speak the sentence for them if they are experiencing difficulties. If the user incorrectly builds a sentence the parts are placed back down to the bottom of the screen. After a second incorrect attempt, the app will demonstrate it for the user. As the user becomes more proficient, the colour-coding can be turned off to enable full mastery of the concepts.

The user receives positive reinforcement and encouragement throughout the building process. Correct answers will result in an added bonus of a puzzle piece. The more answers that are answered correctly, the more pieces will be added. Rainbow Sentences is designed in such a way that the beginner right through to the advanced user can navigate and respond in an appropriate way for their own academic level. The colour-coding of words and lines is a fantastic way for the user to understand the concepts of grammatically correct sentences and to build them successfully, which is important to early literacy development and self-esteem. There is a section within the app called ‘Stats’ and this is where the user can view and email their performance to an educator or parent.

As an Australian educator who utilises functional grammar in the classroom, I can easily see this successfully implemented in my classroom. There were some minor issues with the custom colour-coding prior to the latest update; however, Mobile Education Store responded to my inquiry, fixed these issues, and updated Rainbow Sentences through Apple within two weeks of my original query. One little voice was heard and action was taken – thank you!

In the ‘Settings’ area there is an option to change the colour themes, which is what I have done to align the app with Australian functional grammar. Functional grammar utilises 3 colours: red for the participant (who/what), green for the process (what they are doing), and blue for the circumstance (where/why they are doing it). Check the images below to see how I set this up in Rainbow Sentences. I was delighted to find that my custom colour-coding worked perfectly and aligned with the way that I teach grammar. I know many educators will be very pleased with the ability to change the colour themes to suit their needs.

Overall, Rainbow Sentences is very easy to use, is really great for language and grammar use, and provides visual and audio stimuli for different styles of learning. The incorporation of positive reinforcement helps promote successful learning outcomes. The default format is clear, easy to use and easy to understand. The user(s) are guided by the program and they can obtain help if they need it. I really love Rainbow Sentences because it addresses curriculum statements. It also makes it easier to have successful lessons which integrate the iPad, fulfilling the need to use ICTs and mLearning in education today.

I recommend Rainbow Sentences to educators, parents, and other professionals for regular and targeted use with their students or children.

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Disclaimer: The opinions on this blog are entirely the author’s.