Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Reflection of the last day of class Dec 3rd

     Our last class on Saturday Dec 3rd was very interesting and informative. The presentations by the class for our final project focused on children of varying ages - from preschool to the upper grades. It was apparent that assistive technology played a key role in supporting learning outcomes; applications that introduced the letters of the alphabet and phonemic awareness to applications that addressed higher level literacy skills were highlighted.
Smartphone ‘apps’ from the iTunes store (Apple) and the android market (Google) were part of many students’ presentations. Some of the apps used and discussed by classmates included  ABC lite, 123 numbers, DoodleBuddy, Pictello, iPrompts, and  iRewards.

The app ‘ iPrompts’ is explained in the video below.

I also used iTunes apps in my final project as well. Below are some of the apps that were a ‘hit’ with the child I interacted with for the project.



In addition to the phone and iPod apps that were discussed in the final project presentation, there were other ‘software’ assistive technology programs used with students that were designed to assist with interaction with the written word.
Dragon Naturally speaking:
WordQ & SpeakQ:

It really was a lot of information to take in on the last day of class as everyone did such a great job on their final projects with their respective children and/or students. This final project essentially highlighted the many ways in which AT can assist with introduction to  language (decoding, encoding, phonemic awareness etc. - such as for young or preschool children) and also assist with helping someone who is facing challenges with spoken language and/or the written word (also with learning English as a second language).

      I hope in the future I will be able to utilize what I have learned about Assistive Technology in this course to make a difference in someone's life. This course was definitely worth taking if one is aspiring to become a Resource or Learning Center teacher in a school environment! However, the knowledge that is acquired from this course is not only useful for those positions - any teacher would benefit from the knowledge of how to assist students in their classroom as the focus for learning assistance changes from the domain of the resource specialist to the homeroom and/or subject matter teacher.  Today the philosophy of the educational community is that teamwork involving all teachers and school staff will best serve the needs of a learner. I think that is a philosophy worth embracing!
I’d like to end my blogging with this great parody of Goodnight Moon: Goodnight iPad

Friday, 25 November 2011

Making the AT match in the Writing Process

The start of the writing process involves attending to task and having an idea. Students who need assistance for ideas can use idea generation software such as:

MyStudyBar:  (free) contains a planning tool called Xmind which mind maps an idea

Inspiration/Kidspiration: also a mind mapping tool; the class used this software to create a map of the reading process. I really enjoyed using this program - too bad it's not free.

Draftbuilder Solo: teacher will preplan the lesson and guide students through organizing and draft-writing strategies

Assistive Technology for the writing process:

The fushion keyboard: offers text to speech and word prediction as well as a full word processor with adjustable font size, thesauras and writing prompts.

TYP-O: an app for the iPad - word prediction software. The write-up for this app states "Dyslexic, or just not that good at spelling (yet)? Typ-O is for you!" It was noted in class that word prediction is good for students who can predict phonemic awareness and who are still fairly able to spell and thus will write more with prediction(by reducing key strokes).

Clicker 5: a reading and writing tool that is good for children with cognitive delays.
The top of the screen is a word processor called 'Clicker Writer'. At the bottom of the screen is a 'Clicker Grid'. This 'grid' has ‘cells’ containing letters, words or phrases that you can click on, to send them into Clicker Writer – so children can write sentences without actually writing or using the keyboard! Clicker Grids can also contain recorded sounds that record  voice so that a teacher or student can create a talking book.


Includes speech support and customizable prompts. The use of symbols can be adapted for students of all abilities while students who need symbol support can be  included and involved.

WriteOutLoud: a test to speech real time word processor which includes a talking spell checker. Good for students who are reluctant to write and have moderate spelling and grammar challenges.

Co:Writer Solo: a word prediction program based on the creation of custom dictionaries (usually set up prior to the assignment by a teacher); can be individualized for each student. Students who use this program would have beginning literacy skills but difficulty with written output. An ability to read through or listen to a word list and select the intended word is necessary.

Dragon Naturally Speaking: voice recognition software (voice to text software). The user speaks into a microphone in order to set the voice recognition to a user's voice. The words appear in print in real time as it is spoken - a personal favourite of mine as I have used it since 2008: I use it when I have long research papers to write and I find it saves so much typing on my part. Expensive though although it is gradually getting less so. One drawback is that I cannot put it on more than one computer that I own.

MyStudyBar: a free text to speech program much like Dragon naturally speaking. The user needs to set up sound speech recogition files much like Dragon. A really good accomodation for its price.

Dragon Dictation: a free app from iTunes for the ipod, iphone or iPad (iOS 4.0 or later). Again similiar to the previous two for voice recognition. Allows the user to speak and instantly see text or email messages. Can be five times faster than typing on the keyboard.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Handwriting without Tears

A program developed by occupational therapist Jan Z.Olsen. According to the LinkedIn website,, Jan responded to her son John’s tears over handwriting in first grade: in 1977 Jan Olsen set out on a mission to help her son. Jan used her occupational therapy training and background to develop strategies to facilitate his handwriting. John’s teacher noticed his progress and asked Jan to help other students in the class. Soon Jan became known in the area as the tutoring solution for handwriting, and her ideas became the basis for the first therapists’ guide, Handwriting Without Tears®.

"Handwriting is so important, it's the primary means (with which) ... students really display their knowledge....if students don't have legeble handwriting it really impacts across the board as a student."  OTR/L  (Occupational Therapist, Licensed)

"Everyone needs to be able to write legibly, neatly and quickly." OTR/L (Occupational Therapist, Registered, Licensed)

"It's not just for special needs students, it's for every student."

The program involves starting young students with wooden pieces that form letters, then progressing to 'Mat Man', then the wet dry slate -where a letter is traced by chalk and then erased using a sponge repeating the same physical  motion (kinetics) - and finally a  'Get Set for School' sing along music CD. A multisensory approach encompassing a joyfull introduction to letters is the focus of this No Tears program. Older students learn how to print and write in cursive with the help of carefully designed workbooks that use 'child friendly' language. In the States, where this program was initiated, many schools are using it and finding it cost effective at $5.00 per student. It is noted that the cost of this school-wide program more than pays for itself by reducing the need for and costs associated with evaluations, referrals and individualized remediation programs.
Handwriting Without Tears website:

Developing Body Awareness: Building and Drawing Mat Man

Wet Dry Slate usage

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Saturday's class: Writing analysis, OT videos and profiles on misunderstood minds LD

Occupational therapy video: Sharpening up on pencil skills by Joanna Buttfield -An occupational therapy perspective.

This video addresses the child’s ability or inability to produce acceptable handwriting.  It is discussed that an occupational therapist supports learning and addresses fine motor skills that are associated with handwriting.  Typical development for a child is explained using a pyramid model where sensory input is at the bottom followed by an understanding of the body, purposeful use of body and cognition at the top.  It is noted that handwriting requires so many skills put together and that many children can do each skill individually but putting the skills together can be difficult for some children - it is explained that a child needs to recognize what its body is telling it so that they can’ use their body better’.  The phrase ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ was said to be used by OT’s and educational psychologists as well for children ages three plus to assess handwriting skills as this phrase contains all the letters of the alphabet . The OT presenter in this video goes on to explain the intricacies of handwriting which very much depend on two key factors:  core trunk muscles and finger strength.

It is described that children lacking in stability have several coping mechanisms in the classroom at a school desk (or table) and tend to:  1. extend two arms out over the table and slump their body over it ‘like a puddle’, 2. lean on one elbow, 3. position their body so as to tuck their tummy against the table, or 4. twist their leagues around the bottoms of chairs.  Students using these positions are attempting to correct for their lack of core trunk muscles.  It is noted that occupational therapists look under the desk as well as on top of the desk for clues to positioning which indicate poor core strength.

Equally as important is finger positioning and strength.  The video discusses pencil skills as a significant indicator of future handwriting outcomes noting that not only is it important to pay attention to children who produce illegible handwriting at an early age, it is equally as important to observe how a child holds a pencil as a child who produces legible handwriting now but holds the pencil incorrectly may eventually turn into a poor writer as the demands of speed and quantity increase.  The ‘How do I do it?’ becomes as important as the ‘outcome ‘of legible handwriting.  The video spends its last few minutes in an interesting demonstration by the occupational therapist showing how finger strength is crucial for developing proper handwriting technique.  The proper way to hold a pencil is shown – the grip requires a rounded web space when holding a pencil which visually forms the letter C.  If a pencil is not held correctly it’s often an indicator of weak fingers: pencil Olympics (attempting to move quickly from the bottom to the top of the pencil while using your fingers) is an exercise that will give clues to finger strength.  The baton twirl with a pencil will also indicate finger strength and dexterity; also mentioned is looking at how the thumb holds the pencil -holding a pencil using the thumb joint as opposed to the thumb tip (the correct way) will indicate weak thumb and finger strength.

 I found this video to be extremely informative as I didn’t realize body positioning and finger strength, of all things, played such an important role in producing accurate and legible handwriting.  I imagine it can be awkward for some children to hold a pencil properly as it is for some adults to master the skill of holding chopsticks in order to eat a meal.  As an adult, one can always give up and get a fork instead but, early on, children are not usually offered an alternative option for writing in school.  There is no ‘fork’ until many struggles and poor outcomes occur.

Low Tech Handwriting Aids: Tech tips from INDATA at the Assistive Tech Lab at Easter Seals Crossroads.

The following video is very informative as it shows "how you can use all kinds of different things to make handling a pen or a pencil more independent": many 'low tech' assistive accomodations for students  are demonstrated by Carol. Some such featured accomodations include a slip on writing guide, a pencil inserted into a wider "cork-like" object, grips, fingertip pens and a 'writing bird' that functions somewhat like a 'mouse'. I really liked the practicality of this video as it shows how to help one's own students with less money when school budgets are an issue. Of note is the writing grips, my children and myself love to use them as a 'comfort' feature with the added bonus of 'gripability'.

In addition to the preceding two videos, we also watched a couple of videos about two children, Nathan and Lauren.

In Nathan's case, he appeared to be a very bright young child who loved books and who presented as highly functional entering school . Once he started school, problems with text and reading occured to the extent that he needed  to repeat 1st grade. After testing, it was discovered that he camoflaged his inability to cope with print by memorizing books in his early years and thus could not cope with the demands of school and new material. Even a tutor hired by the mother for Nathan prior to entering second grade did not 'solve' Nathan's inability to properly decode and understand print. Nathan ended up in a separate resource room for supsequent grades for specialized, tailored instruction, much to the initial disappointment of his mother.  However, with continued resource support, Nathan was able to slowly learn sound - letter relationships and make gains with decoding print. Using his strengths such as memory and attention to detail, plus a scribe for oral responses, Nathan was able to excel at end-of- year 5th grade promotion testing and get a perfect 4.0 score. Nathan and his mother understand his differences and are pleased with the progress. Additionally,Dr. Levine indicates that testing for dyslexia is not enough to understand a child like Nathan and complex neurological testing is needed.

In the second profile on Lauren, her parents sensed something was amiss as she often lost her train of thought at home and her parents indicated her mind wandered when she was actively involved in a task. Sadly, it became apparent that Lauren had great difficulty with social skills and did not have any friends. Additionally, her lack of other skill sets that are important contributors to success in school such as such as attention to task and organization, contributed to a situation where Lauren could not cope with the academic demands of school at all. Upon testing it was found that although Lauren was described as fanciful and creative she needed assistance medically with Ritilin to help her concentrate as well as assistance from a coach for social skills and organizational skills - Lauren did not have the ability to distinguish between quality school work and garbage papers in her backpack. Lauren's father did not want to 'drug' his daughter and initially dismissed the recommendation of Ritalin and instead changed his daughter's school which only worked for a few weeks until the newness of the situation wore off and his daughter once again performed horribly with the demands of school life. The end of the video showed Lauren's parents accepting that their daughter's brain neurologically needs medical compensation to help her cope with school. Lauren seemed resigned to her situation and happier that she was receiving assistance to co-exist in a school system that for most of her years was a puzzle to understand.

This Saturday’s class also looked at writing task analysis much in the same vein as the task of reading was analyzed. We looked at the Writing task analysis chart developed by Barb which indicated that writing was a very complex task indeed, to no one’s surprise.
Barbara Welsford's Writing Task Analysis Chart

Although the individual details are difficult to distinguish, the above picture by Barb Welsford shows the scope of the processes that need to work together to produce written work. In class we brainstormed and discussed some of what is involved in the writing process: attention to task  first, followed by visualization of ideas, planning, filtering and attending to body position, proprioception, and pencil grasp, language issues, knowing the word, vocabulary, conventions of writing, processing memory, mechanical skills, prior knowledge, spelling, speed, self-regulation involving executive brain functions.

Friday, 18 November 2011

12 of our Favorite Apps for Enhancing Learning

We spent lots of time investigating the many educational apps at the iTunes store. So many choices....
It was hard to pick just 10 so here are 12 of our favorite apps:


Released September 30, 2011

$ 0.99
compatible with iphone, iPod touch & iPad
This colourful app is an interactive picture book which is designed to help children learn the alphabet in a creative manner through the use of colourful clay animation. It involves an interactive touch experience that encourages the user to search for items on a page that begin with a letter of the alphabet. Users open to a screen for a letter of the alphabet: For example - C is for…. with animated objects that begin with C: pictures below show a car, a cow, carrots, circles, a caterpillar, celery & corn. Upon touching the object the word is spelled above the object. There are at least six objects per page and a countdown that shows how many objects are left to find. Voice activation (which can be enabled) will introduce a letter and repeat the name of the object as it is touched. What makes this app unique is that the handmade clay pictures are very attractive and colourful. This relatively new app has been very well received with many five star positive comments in the iTunes store.
This app is suitable for young and old alike. It can assist in developing pre-reading skills: learning the alphabet, development of a rich vocabulary, awareness of print and skills associated with decoding such as creating a mental picture of a word.

R U APT? Parts of speech

Released November 10, 2011

$ 0.99

compatible with iphone, iPod touch & iPad

This app is designed to help users learn and reinforce the parts of speech used in spoken and written English such as; nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns prepositions conjunctions and interjections.
A game format is used for this app whereby a question is posed and a multiple-choice list of four responses is listed below. Selecting this correct the answer results in moving forward in the game. Three wrong answers ends the game in a high score is recorded as the game is played over time. Students need some prior knowledge of the parts of speech and an ability to read independently.

Very beneficial for a student to learn about writing conventions in the English language. Especially beneficial for Language Arts and English courses for middle school and high school students.

Sight Words

June 28, 2011

$ Free

compatible with iphone, iPod touch & iPad

Spelling Notebook Free

Released November 4, 2011

$ Free

compatible with iphone, iPod touch & iPad

This app is designed to help children learn the most common words used in the English language otherwise known as the Dolch words (sight words). Edward William Dolch PhD compiled this list containing 315 "service words" that he determined to be necessary to know in order to achieve reading fluency in the English language. It is recognized that many of the Dolch words can't be "sounded out" using common sound-to-letter implicit phonics patterns and have to be learned by sight. Although the app is aimed towards pre-primary, primary and upper elementary grades, it would be very suitable for students with exceptionalities and ESL students alike. Features include the ability to add new words and make your own cards using your voice (as opposed to using the programmed voice). A multi-sensory learning app using audio, voice and written words that is designed in a fun, game style manner. Five out of five stars at the iTunes store. A really fun app for all learners.

A very helpful app for assisting with spelling skills, this app allows creation of individualized wordlists. Additionally, the app contains a built-in spelling dictionary, a database of over 100,000 words with the option to individualize by adding more words, text to voice as well as the ability to record one’s own voice for practicing words and a feedback system whereby stars are given for correct spellings. Many, many features in this app that would assist in learning to spell the written word.
This app was designed to replace the pencil and paper method of learning to spell new words and encourages independent learning. A really great new free app in my opinion.

This app is very useful to prepare children to read; it helps to develop an awareness of print, rich vocabulary, and decoding skills. Also, voice to text helps with auditory learning.

This ‘learn how to spell’ app can promote an awareness of print, a rich vocabulary and assist with decoding skills. Also, voice to text helps with phonemic awareness though auditory learning.

Math Bingo

Released March 10, 2011 from


compatible with iPhone, iPod & iPad, a universal app

From the critically acclaimed website, Math Bingo offers children math practice in a game format that includes player profiles and rewards. There are four categories: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division; three levels of difficulty – easy, medium and hard; choice of eight different avatar cartoons; and a personal scoreboard. The object of Math Bingo is to get a pattern of five Bingo Bugs in a row by correctly answering math problems. The score is determined by the amount of time it takes to calculate a correct answer plus a two second penalty for incorrect answers. Animated, interactive Bingo Bugs are rewarded for achieving a high score. Engaging sounds and animated effects.

Math bingo usage

Effective app for practicing basic math functions. Player profiles and timekeeper ability document student progress over time. Three levels of difficulty provide for differentiation of instruction. Lessons not included.

Rocket Math

$0.99 and free version

Compatible with iPhone , iPod & iPad, a universal app

An educational app that reinforces math functions by building an online rocket with 56 fun math missions that are different every time, 90+ colourful rocket parts, engaging sound effects and music, three levels of difficulty, choice of 15 space-themed avatars; create 5 player profiles; rocket simulator is powered by realistic physics engine. Math functions include: numbers, fractions, decimals, counting, telling time, money (US), shape (2D, 3D), patterns, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, square roots, etc). Interactive animations have touchable objects floating in space.

Recommended for all ages. Three levels of difficulty provide for differentiation of instruction; engaging and interactive practice for several math skills. Lessons not included.

Mathemagics – Mental Math Tricks

$0.99 (sale price)

Compatible with iPhone, iPod & iPad, a universal app
A fun application that teaches and practices mental math tricks. The three components – lessons, practice and play – train your brain to break down math problems into smaller more manageable pieces in order to find solutions. With various levels of proficiency, the numerous mental math calculations include: multiply as high as 20, multiply any number by 25, multiply any number by 99, squares from 41-59, sum of first n even numbers, square number sin the 60’s, evenly divisible by 7, square numbers in the 800’s, check division by casting nines, check subtraction by casting nines, etc.

An instructional and engaging practice app for all ages and grades. Mental math lessons included. A practical resource and instructional tool.

Story Builder


Compatible with iPhone, iPod & iPad, a universal app

Designed to help children write/create narrative stories. Supports three writing goals: improves paragraph formation, improves integration of ideas and improves higher level abstractions by reference. Use of audio clips promotes improved auditory processing for special needs children with autism spectrum disorders or sensory processing disorders. Children can record narrative stories using their own voices. Features include: three levels of play, simple intuitive interface, recorded answers are attached together to create a complete narrative, 50 different story lines from which to choose, 500 audio clips to use to create narratives, optional question and answer introduction support, e-mail recorded stories when finished. Colourful cartoon graphic stories.

Recommended for ages 6-10, 10+ special needs. An engaging and helpful instructional support tool for reluctant writers and non-verbal students.

Elmo Loves ABCs


Compatible with iPad.

Available in a lite version for free. Lite limits you to 3 letters but is a great way to see if the app is right for you. In the full version, (which my 2-year-old is in love with) there are 3 main activities. In one, you choose a letter to trace and 3 objects that begin with that letter appear. You can then watch videos about these objects, colour them or play hide and seek with them. In another activity, you are presented with different letters and Elmo asks you to find a certain one in upper and lower case. Then you have to choose an object that begins with that letter to be rewarded with another short video. The third activity is a variety of videos to accompany a variety of ABC songs. Kids love this app because Elmo chatters away to them throughout their tasks and they get quick glimpses of other Sesame Street characters in the brief videos. I enjoy it because kids have to work for the quick videos and because many of them are “old school” clips from when I watched Sesame Street as a kid.
Recommended for any kid who likes Sesame Street! Younger kids (or those with fine motor issues) may need a bit of assistance to trace letters. Used and loved by our school’s speech-language pathologist.

Super Why

Version 1.4 compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad

Version 1.5
Compatible with iPad

As far as I can tell, versions 1.4 and 1.5 are quite similar, if not identical. Both offer 4 different games and the chance to earn reward “stickers.” Kids can use the stickers to decorate different backgrounds on their iDevice. The games correspond with the 4 main characters on the PBS show Super Why, including Alpha Pig’s Lickety Letter Hunt, Wonder Red’s Rhyme Time, Princess Presto’s Wands Up Writing, and Super Why’s Story Saver. The games focus on letter identification, letter sounds, initial sounds, letter formation, comprehension, and word families.

I would recommend this app for pre-school or school aged children. The show itself was very popular with my primary class and I would have loved to have this available for them as well.

Beginning Sounds Interactive Game


Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

This app is a fun way to get kids to practice their initial letter sounds. 18 sounds are available and represented by pictures. The user can choose 3 sounds to work with or can have a random selection chosen. Once chosen a device that resembles a slot machine appears with 3 columns, one for each of the sounds. The user is then given 12 samples to sort. The samples appear as little balls that tumble out of the side of the device. The samples are also represented by pictures. You can click on the samples or on the sounds chosen to have the names of the objects said aloud. There is no text shown. If a sample is placed in the wrong slot, it is simply placed back in the sample section so the user can try again.

Although listed as being suitable for ages 4-7 years, this app could be used with a wider age range to help with letter/sound difficulties.

Letter of the Day Interactive Activities

Free (until Dec. 31, 2011)

Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

Great app for letter identification sounds and printing practice. The user can choose any letter of the alphabet to work with. A chant appears and can be read to or by the child. There are then 4 boxes where the user has to choose from 3 options. Incorrect choices disappear while the user is cheerfully told to try again. There is also a space to practice letter formation, with a simple demonstration of proper techniques. It would be nice to see some feedback though, in case students aren't attending to the tutorial.

Recommended for ages 4-6 years.