This article was published in B.D.A. Dyslexia Contact magazine January 2015. Links to more information about all of the Apps mentioned can be found by clicking on their titles.
Apps, iPads and Learning.
British Dyslexia Association New Technologies Committee (B.D.A. NTC).
A mixture of both interest and criticism heralded the first release of a new generation of mobile computing a few years ago: the iPad. There were those who felt that the emergence of this lightweight device was about to transform learning and replace the existing laptop or netbook with exciting new possibilities. Others took a more cautious approach and expressed scepticism of those who placed so much emphasis upon a device with seemingly limited functionality. Since then iPads can be seen in use in many different settings: the workplace, educational institutions and in the home. In this article two members of B.D.A. NTC. describe some of their own experiences, observations and reflections into the use to which these devices have been put.
Anytime, Anywhere Access to Learning.
Author: E.A. Draffan.
With the introduction of tablets into schools and colleges, there has been a general buzz around the idea of working online and with digital text. Many students who find reading difficult have discovered that text to speech and coloured highlighting of words, along with the ability to mark important points and make notes, has helped their understanding of texts. However, for others, there has been the frustration of finding that their eText books are not always accessible and some do not even allow speech output.
Let’s begin by exploring some Apps that have been used by Marion Teiwes who teaches English at Portsmouth College and has kindly shared the way she has used some of the 900 iPad minis given to new students at the start of this current academic year.
An example lesson may begin with the use of a Flashcard App that can offer a chance to go over key terminology. It is also useful for revision and can be followed by the use of Padlet for class discussion. Everyone can add items they have found on the web relating to a particular topic; drag and drop images, add notes and categorise ideas that are instantly available to all.
Some of these ideas can then be added to slides on Keynote (which is the equivalent of PowerPoint); an App that also works well with video clips and photos for a presentation. It costs £6.99 whereas some of the other Apps used are free. Alternatively, you may want to try Prezi and zoom around the slides as it moves between ideas by magnifying them and moving on.
York Notes are useful for studying the key texts for GCSE English and Show Me allows students to work independently with pre-recorded audio from the teacher and can act as an explanation for a particular piece of text. The latter can also be highlighted and annotated making the experience interactive with results that can be shared online, at anytime.
Finally if teachers want to find out how their lessons have been received or how someone feels about what they have been learning; it is possible to get immediate feedback using ExitTicket.
Other more general apps that can help students include iTune U. This has a wealth of educational courses with free videos on an amazingly wide range of subjects. The iMindmap App can start the organisation of ideas into a web-like diagram and Popplet offers the chance to shuffle cards made up with images and ideas around the screen. When satisfied with an outline, the student can then use Adobe Voice. This provides the ability to record narration, dictate the lines that have been transcribed into text as well as an opportunity to add video, backgrounds, colour, icons and many other features.
However, as mentioned at the beginning, not all is rosy in the garden of Apps or eReading. Students may have ‘access’ to a textbook in a screen format but this does not necessarily mean that all of the text, including that which is used in diagrams and images, can be accessed with speech support and this is an essential tool required by many students with dyslexia. There is more to accessibility than providing a book that can be seen on a screen.
The author would like to thank Simon Barrable and Marion Teiwes from Portsmouth College for sharing their experiences of using iPad Minis with their students. More information on their work can be found at: http://www.portsmouth-college.ac.uk/new-learning-strategy.
Using iPads to Support Literacy.
Author: Cheryl Dobbs.
Since the emergence of the iPad and an ever-increasing number of Apps that have appeared for it, I have tended to refine my focus to those that specifically support and develop students’ reading and writing. With younger children, I tend to choose Apps that I want them to use. Older students are encouraged to think about their own personal needs in the various contexts in which they work and I then explore some examples of Apps with them. With facilitation, I want each student to try these out for themselves, over a period of time, and then come to a decision about whether or not a particular App meets their needs sufficiently (for both purpose and situation) or whether we should look for alternatives. The student has to be actively involved in the process of choice and to take responsibility.
The iPad has certainly not taken over from the laptop in offering support, but has merely become one of many technologies we are fortunate to have available. However its particular benefits have included the mobility of a device (because of its weight and size) as one that can be used in many places. It can provide immediate access to knowledge sources via a webpage or by communication with others, a camera and video recorder at the touch of a button and a battery that will last for prolonged periods. The iPad has also provided some students with the opportunity to try out specific types of technologies such as: speech to text (by using the inbuilt recognition on newer models), text to speech and assistance from specific reading and writing support packages. Some of these are technologies that they perhaps would not have tried because of lack of opportunity or knowledge in their educational settings, the cost involved or simply because they had not wanted to appear “different” in the classroom by using a specialist piece of equipment or software.
However, and on a less positive note, it has not always been easy to find Apps of sufficient quality, nor to accept that the App versions of some respected and regularly used software cannot provide the functionality that one has come to accept in full versions, on other operating systems. Additionally, although some students may like to use the onscreen keyboard, others (and especially those who need to write for sustained periods or have fine motor/visual difficulties) have found this difficult and frustrating. They have needed to explore and then carry an additional Bluetooth keyboard separately or as part of a folio-case.
A number of useful Apps for older students and adults can be found on our website (www.bdatech.org) so I have concentrated here upon some of those that I regularly use with younger students. Some of these children have already been identified with (or at risk of) dyslexia, so early intervention prevents some of the unnecessary frustrations that learning to read and write may prompt. However, these ideas are useful activities for many children.
I place great emphasis upon providing opportunities for young children to practise essential early literacy skills but feel that structured phonemic and phonic activities, or spelling Apps of sufficient quality and format, are still in short supply. WordBuilder is one (of only a few) that I now use regularly to supplement a structured, synthetic phonic approach. This App offers practice with the recognition and manipulation of sounds and the essential skills of blending and segmenting: skills that some children find difficult to acquire and need plenty of opportunity to practise in a multisensory format.
Access to structured books and texts that provide a synthetic phonic approach are also essential. There are a number of these to choose from in paper versions but, at this stage, there are still only a few available in App format or that can be accessed through an online source.
In the initial stages, it is essential that children share these with an adult, but then relish the opportunity to use the books independently. Some different examples of support can be explored by looking at Fitzroy Sounding Readers, Little Learners Love Literacy and Dandelion Launchers. Each offers structured text but vary in their presentation or the functions they provide. Some offer a choice to narrate the text as it is highlighted and synchronised whilst others provide support by specifically demonstrating how selected words can be segmented and blended.
The children regularly make use of the inbuilt camera on the iPad to record their own activities and interests. These provide a stimulus for both talking and writing and create an opportunity to introduce and extend essential vocabulary. Writing can seem a daunting task to writers of any age, but by encouraging the child to use an image, photo or video, most seem to find the activity a little easier and can find some words to describe what they see. Incidentally, access to a camera, with the immediate ability to view what has been recorded, also provides an opportunity to help some children review specific learning opportunities. A photographic or video record of an important classroom activity, social expectation or learning task provides a means to view such events again or even as many times as required. This offers some the chance to pick up on key learning points that might have been missed on their original introduction or who benefit from its repetition and reinforcement.
As an essential component of developing functional literacy, creating books with children using their language, talking about people, places and events that are of relevance to their lives, is important. The iPad has made this task infinitely easier and provides a means to make a finished product look so professional. There is nothing like watching children’s faces as they proudly show others their latest title!
Ideally, I would prefer that all children have access to text to speech in any App used to create books, but it is not available in Book Creator. However, I use it as an introduction because it is so easy to combine voice, photos and videos onto a page and then simply publish and share within iBooks. Most children also learn to quickly use it.
Text can also be added, but because of the lack of speech feedback; we have tended to write with alphabetic text in other Apps. These include those that provide greater support such as Pictello and Clicker Books. Both of these Apps provide keyboards with lowercase letters, text to speech and word prediction. More recently, simplified lowercase keyboards that can be used within any App have emerged (Keedogo and Keedogo Plus). These provide keyboards with options for highlighting the vowels on keys with a colour, an ABC layout as an alternative to QWERTY as well as text to speech feedback and word prediction. We are only just beginning to explore the support these offer; but the early indication is promising.
However, it is important to be aware that regardless of what writing App is used, the necessity for fine motor skill can still make the editing of text, an essential skill that we need to teach and encourage, difficult for some children on the iPad screen. A stylus might help some to pinpoint an area they want to work specifically upon; but it still requires fine motor control. Sometimes the screen appears to move around unpredictably but this is usually the result of a child’s unintended touch or the way they hold the iPad. Simply using a tripod or wedge for support may help to avoid problems that cause unnecessary frustration. Finally, if expecting young children to use keyboards, they need to be able to locate the letters efficiently if this is to be of any benefit at all.
All young children learning to read and write need as much support as possible and we know that for those with dyslexia this may not come easily and may take longer to develop proficiently. These children require structure, sensitive teaching and varying multisensory formats; but we also need to ensure that there is enjoyment in the process. With thought and careful selection, some Apps on the iPad can help to provide a variety of activities that support, encourage and motivate interaction and learning.