Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms

Advanced Phonics logo Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms

by Pyxwise Software Inc

(Release date 7th December 2012 – Special intro. price of $0.99 – before rising to $4.99USD)

Receiving a copy of Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms was very exciting for me. As an educator, I recognise that it is important for an app to have the right content and features so that it can be incorporated into my planning and teaching to optimise student learning. Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms exceeded my expectations.  As soon as I opened the app, I was immediately in awe of the design and educational thought that has gone into this product.

Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms is a complete package and has the following features:

  • A full years worth of lessons to compliment your curriculum.
  • 52 lists containing over 750 high frequency words. These are organised by spelling patterns and difficulty levels.
  • Each list has a lesson to guide the user and help cement spelling knowledge, including syllables, sounds, spelling rules, and some of the more advanced English phonograms.
  • An introductory lesson and help menu with clear instructions, audio narration and feedback.
  • The ability to have multiple users.
  • Settings which can be customised to suit American, Canadian, or English spelling.
  • The ability to customise the keyboard layout, select upper or lower case letters, and more.

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The ability to read and write is fundamental to successful learning at school. Literacy skills influence a person’s chances of finding and retaining employment, achieving financial independence, and having a positive self-esteem. When learning to read and write, children benefit from provision of systematic structure, and direct guidance or scaffolding. Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms does this very nicely. The program can be customised for each of your users. This includes the ability to change the number of correct attempts at a word before the score reporting recognises that the student has mastered the lesson and all of the words within it.

Click the images below to enlarge and view them in slideshow mode. They show the introductory lesson.

I really like how the app scaffolds students for successful learning. At any stage during the lesson, your students can get help by pressing the buttons on the screen. This includes:

  • an explanation – for the sound that the student is currently working on;
  • a play button – to hear the word separately and in a sentence;
  • a syllable button – to  hear and see the word broken into its syllables; and
  • a hints button – to get extra help for spelling the word.

Depending on the lesson, other buttons might be displayed. Explanations of all of the buttons can be found by tapping the top-left arrow and then tapping the “?”. The images below show how a student can work through the spelling of a word. I like how the student is provided with positive reinforcement at the completion of each word, regardless of the number of hints that they required or errors that they made when completing the task.

Pyxwise Software recommend that Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms should be used for students that are at least nine years of age. I agree with this statement; however, if you have younger students that are at a higher level, you should definitely use it with them. Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms is designed to extend the knowledge that your students have already acquired by working through the complete lessons on other apps in the Pyxwise series. They are Simplex Spelling Phonics 1 – English; and Simplex Spelling Phonics 2 Syllables – Spell To Read.

What do I like about Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms?

I can write all day about Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms. I love it that much!

  • It is a great app that is crafted beautifully.
  • It could be used in the classroom by a teacher as part of a literacy block with all students or as a specialised instruction tool to help specific students gain mastery in spelling, contractions, syllables (including multisyllables) and more.
  • It could also be used by a speech language pathologist in a therapy session or at home under parental guidance.
  • Every word is broken down into its syllables both visually and auditorily to help students build phonological awareness skills.
  • Pyxwise Software promote deep understanding by using a “reverse phonics” hint feature to break each word down further into individual phonemes to improve phonemic awareness, a critical skill for literacy development.
  • The ability to have multiple users is highly valued by educators (and therapists), and essential for classroom use.

What would I like to see in future updates?

I don’t have very much to add here. The only thing I would like to see relates to reporting of student results and progress. At the moment, I would have to go into the app and view each user profile and then check the statistics for each lesson to see how my students have performed. It would be fantastic if there was an option to upload (for individuals and in batch format) to a CSV or Dropbox format or have the ability to import the information when syncing the device to iTunes. Note: I understand that Pyxwise are working on this feature to include in future updates (fantastic!).

Final Thoughts…

Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms is one of my favourite spelling and phonics apps. It is great to see an app that focuses on spelling for students in the upper primary years that still need this type of instruction and scaffolding. The concepts are taught and reinforced to enable students to gain mastery levels. As I investigated the app, I thought to myself “Finally, an app that can actually be used in the classroom!“. I recommend Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms to educators, speech language pathologists, and parents.

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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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