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Entries in Special Education (8)
Last month, Mobile Education released Conversation Builder, the newest addition to the Builder family—a series of language-based apps designed to meet the unique intelligence and learning styles of children with high-functioning autism and Aspergers. Billed as a conversation simulator, Conversation Builder is designed to teach elementary aged children how to have multiple exchange conversations with their peers in a variety of social settings. As a Speech Therapist, working directly with this target population, I have experienced the frustration of trying to provide meaningful conversation skills therapy within the staged awkwardness of traditional “role-play” to children to whom the very concept of “acting” is beyond their logical mindset, uncomfortable and strange. There is no script for real conversation and even the unspoken rules of conversation are malleable—changing based on context and conversation partner. Based on my disappointment with traditional social skills therapy, I was thrilled at the possibility of having a new way of addressing this complex issue. Conversation Builder does not disappoint. From the very first time my students tried it, they took to it like ducks to the water. It is engaging, personalized, and easy to use. Check out the link below for a brief video of how it works:
I absolutely LOVE this app for about a hundred reasons, but I will do my best to be succinct for the sake of the reader and focus on what makes it different from other social communication/conversation therapy approaches I have tried:
By creating a Profile for each user, conversations become personalized to the individual student. This information is weaved in naturally and used throughout the game. By allowing the child to enter their name, the app is able to provide practice knowing when and how to introduce oneself. The app also encourages children to use communication styles similar to that of their peers. When introducing himself, in the context of the game, one of my students chose: “My first name is Joe” which was technically correct, but is as narrator prompt informed him “an unusual thing to say.” He was encouraged to introduce himself using the phrasing a neurotypical peer would use—“Hi, I’m Joe”—instead.
Interest is an especially valuable piece of info to have included, as many children on the Autism Spectrum have a special and compulsive interest in a topic which they tend to bring up and discuss without regard for the listener’s interest or how it relates to the conversation as a whole. One of my students loves dinosaurs, for example, and had provided this info for his Profile. During a simulated conversation, one of the three choices provided for a response was, “I like dinosaurs,” and he impulsively chose this response, although it had nothing to do with the situation or conversation at hand. When he did so, the game’s narrator gently guided him by saying: “It’s not quite time to change the topic,” and prompted him to choose another response.
Most of the conversations that I have completed with my students have been created using the individual setting, in which the student records their half of a conversation in response to peer-voiced audio clips and an accompanying photograph. The innovative interface of Conversation Builder mimics the pattern of natural conversation, using a visual and auditory format proven effective for teaching children with ASD. The flow back-and-forth between responses is incredibly intuitive and natural, keeping the student utterly engaged while providing just the right amount of feedback and encouragement to guide them throughout. After completing the final exchange, the student is prompted to playback the entire conversation. This is a simple, but amazing feature. My students love hearing their own voices intertwined with the voice of a peer in a fluid and believable conversation.
The whole process generally takes no more than 5 minutes to complete, providing plenty of time to discuss, review, and complete multiple conversations in a single therapy session. Additionally, this time frame provides the opportunity for small groups of students to take turns creating conversations, while their partner observes, without anyone becoming bored or impatient for their turn. In a twenty minute session with two students, we have had time to create, listen to, and discuss up to six unique 8-exchange conversations (three per student)—an amazing feat in itself! After listening to the full conversation, another button then appears, allowing the SLP or child to “Save” the conversation to the student’s personalized archive. As an SLP, this is an incredibly functional and wonderful feature to have, resulting in a beautifully recorded speech/language sample that can be saved, replayed, and even emailed to an interested parent or teacher!
Beyond the Basics: Conversational Nuances
Conversation is made up of many subtle and intrinsically linked elements. As “neurotypicals,” we do all of these very complex things simultaneously, with little conscious thought or effort. Because of this, it is difficult for us to break them apart, analyze or explain them in order to teach to those who do not naturally “get it.” At the younger ages, therapy efforts are often focused on curbing undesirable behaviors—e.g., talking out of turn and rudeness—that affect the child’s ability to perform in the classroom. While this is important, going beyond the basics and accessing the kind of conversation that leads to friendship is often left by the wayside, perhaps believed to be too difficult a skill to teach. Yet, I believe many of our students are capable of understanding these more complex conversational nuances, if given a way to do so.
One of the things I love best about Conversation Builder is that sometimes the choices of responses provide some “gray area.” By this, I mean that of the 3 choices, more than one may on the surface seem good or polite, but—based on the context of the situation and the purpose of the interaction—they are not the best choice. For our kids, this is essential! Most students with ASD have been conditioned for certain types of “correct” responses. They have memorized our lessons on staying on topic and avoiding rude or unkind comments. However, in a real conversation, the best response is not simply “polite” or “on-topic.” The best response is relevant to the situation and to the speaker’s intent, engaging the listener and encouraging a response. Conversation is built on intent. If your intent is to play with a group of children, a peripherally related comment on what they are doing will not lead to them asking you to join their game.
While using this app, one of my especially intelligent 4th graders (with Aspergers) chose an incorrect response and was prompted—by the app—to try asking a question. He offhandedly commented, “It seems like [the app] wants you to ask questions.” As he finished recording his response, I asked myself—Why is asking a question often a better choice than making a comment? Almost as soon as I asked the question, it hit me: Because it keeps the conversation going. It invites a response. While commenting, “Swimming is fun,” to a group of children who are having a swimming contest is on-topic and okay to say, asking “Who holds the record?” is a better choice because now they need to answer your question! Without prompting on my part, my student made this very astute and correct observation that allowed me to think about the why of something I naturally took for granted.
I was recently reminded of the shortcomings of traditional social skills training during an interaction with one of my High School students. As I was explaining how to appropriately transition between topics in a conversation, he commented, with genuine confusion: “But I thought changing the topic was a no-no!” He’d been taught and fully taken to heart previous instruction to “stay on topic,” so much so that he honestly did not know it was ever okay to change it! Imagine how restrictive that “rule” is to any speaker! We spend so much time working on these more rote conversational skills, and our brightest students—with their black-and-white thinking and brilliant memories—have taken these rules and mentally written them—in stone. Conversation Builder gives us a chance to address the more complex nuances of conversation, to pause and discuss, review and reflect. To go beyond the basics. This is something that, in my opinion, has never been done before.
Real Teaching Moments
To some, working on conversation skills by using a technological device—no matter how advanced—may seem counterintuitive. “I don’t want my child to learn how to talk to an iPad,” one parent not-so-subtly told me. I fully agreed with this very well-read parent that children with social skills deficits desperately need and benefit from direct exposure to real live typical peers in as many natural settings as possible. The end goal for therapy of any kind always takes place outside of the therapy room. However, for children with Aspergers and other Autism Spectrum Disorders, the issue of social conversation goes beyond a lack of opportunity or simply needing more practice. Faced with a person-to-person encounter, there are a multitude of factors that interfere with a child with ASD’s ability to focus on the actual elements and flow of conversation: social anxiety, hypersensitivity to visual input—e.g., eye contact—and an overwhelming fear of being wrong. Say the wrong thing to an adult and you may get in trouble. Say the wrong thing to a peer and they’re likely to laugh in your face or call you a name or take their lunch tray to another table, permanently. To put it bluntly: If children with Autism Spectrum Disorders could learn how to communicate like their peers simply from being around their peers, it wouldn’t be a disorder.
That is why this app is so amazing. It lets a child with a social communication disorder work on the actual components of communication, separate from the anxiety and pressure induced by facing a human partner. Lets them have a minute to put a conversation on pause and think about what they want to say, without the distraction of sensing another’s real or imagined impatience or disapproval. Lets them experience the back and forth pattern of real conversations in a format they can manipulate. Lets them fix communication errors independently and rerecord misspoken responses. It not quite real life and because of this we are given multiple opportunities to teach, examine, and correct conversational skills in ways we could not do otherwise.
Children with Aspergers and other ASDs need to be taught a Reason (why) and a Way (how) to communicate. The how is addressed by learning and practicing specific conversational skills—starting and ending conversations, knowing when and how to change the topic, ask a question or share personal information. Why is addressed by examining intent—your own and that of your communication partner. Conversation Builder provides a uniquely personal, flexible, and motivating way of working on the former, while innately “building” opportunities to discuss the latter with a teacher, parent, or SLP. And, as for the why—as in—“Why are you making me do this boring therapy activity?” For now, that question is no longer on my daily table. Students want to use the iPad. They enjoy playing this “conversation game,” and I enjoy being able to focus on their responses, their perspectives, and their learning. Most of all, I enjoy seeing the sometimes ear-to-ear, sometimes purposefully suppressed smile, accompanied by the insuppressible glow of a child, with Autism, listening to himself in conversation and hearing success.
YouTube sensation Mr. Thorne from London, is at it again. This time he is taking over the iPad world with his amazingly entertaining and educational videos on the building blocks of reading and spelling through the phonics model. What is Phonics? Why is it so critical for our children to learn in this manner? Phonics is teaching children how to connect the sounds of spoken English with letters or groups of letters and to then teach them to blend the sounds of letters together to produce approximate pronunciations of unknown words. By teaching the strategies behind the model of phonics, a child’s frustration level will decrease as they read and spell words. As a teacher or parent one of the many goals we have is to encourage our child to learn and to love reading.
Many might say that in order to teach children to read and spell phonically is dry and boring. A colleague of mine said at times she feels as though she needs to find ways to shake it up a bit. Well, with the help of Mr. Thorne’s video apps for the iPad- Letters and Sounds and Blends and Spelling, phonics will be shaken up. In conjunction with books, worksheets and discussions, children will begin to understand how to segment and blend words all in the palm of their hands. So how does Mr. Thorne jazz this boring subject matter up? With a great deal of modeling through body and facial visuals, repetition, opportunities to pause and discuss and examples, users will become more confident readers and spellers. Throughout, Mr. Thorne is constantly asking for your participation and providing opportunities to challenge as he changes locations, his crazy glasses, and hair style. In addition his free spirit, calming teacher voice and movement will certainly add a sense of ownership and comprehension for all types of learning styles.
In our exploration of Mr. Thorne we did find other ways of accessing his educational videos via YouTube. So why would educators or parents want to download his applications for the iPad. For MANY reasons!!! With two simple simple downloads from your iTunes Library, Mr. Thorne’s phonics videos will be at your disposal no matter where you are. Videos are a part of the application, so there is no need to have internet access. Technology is wonderful, however, every educator has had some negative technology fluke occur when they were not prepared. Whether you are being observed by an administrator, working with a small group or even your entire class, Mr. Thorne’s videos will not break up while watching or require any streaming from the internet. With a very clean and manageable menu, Letters and Sounds and Blends and Spelling can be accessible for all parties: educators, parents and children. Applicable2U also loves how videos are tailored to a users current academic needs.
As you begin your phonics journey with Mr. Thorne, you will want to start with the Letter and Sounds application. Here users will be provided an understanding of phonics and the importance of phonemes. Along the way he will share through only video coverage, Alphabet Sounds, Digraphs and Trigraphs, Tricky Words and a Challenge. Once letters and sounds have been mastered, download and move on to his Blends and Spelling videos app, where he will break up blends and spellings into two videos and share those Tricky words and apply it all together into a Challenge.
Applicable2U is very impressed with the effort that Mr. Thorne has put into modeling phonics in a fun way. BothLetters and Sounds and Blends and Spelling can be incorporated at home and in school for individual or group implementation. To learn more about Mr. Thorne, please visit Mr. Thorne Does Phonics website here. As an both a parent and an educator, you will not regret the money that you will spend on these two iPad applications. To download either from your iTunes library, please click Letters and Sounds or Blends and Spelling.
Reviewers website: www.applicable2u.wordpress.com
App Title: My Pictures Talk
Grade Level: Any
Purpose: A - Think "Photo Story 3 meets the iOS." A simple to use slideshow creation tool.
Program Functionality: B+ - I really like how easy it ease to create a new slideshow. It's simple to pull in pics or video synched to your device or use your devices camera (hopefully iPad2's also?) to add. It's also incredibly easy to add text and audio directly on to slides. The only drawback is, once you finish a slide, you are directed back to the slideshow home page to create a new page. I would love to see a "save and make new slide" button. Files are also shared as a zip file, not as a movie.
Overall Educational Value: A - The app bills itself as a "video modeling tool." Our original purpose for this app was exactly that - using it with special education students to work on video modeling. But the app is so flexible, I could see it being used for a LOT of different purposes in the elementary classroom.
Cost: $9.99 ($4.99 if you buy 20 in Apple's VPP)
Classroom Use/Ideas: Again, the flexibility of this tool is amazing and really only limits you to your imagination. Combining real pictures or video with the text and audio can be huge for the special education student needing extra guidance or any student wanting to share what they know. And all of the creation can be done on the iOS device.
iTunes link: My Pictures Talk
Reviewer: Josh Allen
Blog: The Tech Fridge
This presentation is a quick overview to using iOS devices as adaptive technology for exceptional students.
App Title: Princess Phonetics /Prince Phonetics
Grade Level: PreK, K, Special Ed
Overview: Princess Phonetics and it's partner Prince Phonetics is for introducing and practicing letter names and sounds. Easy to use for young children. There is also an HD version for $2.99
Cost: $1.99 Compatible with iPhone and iPod Touch
If you are looking for a center activity for practicing letter names and sounds, this will work. I'm not sure that it will hold children's attention for long.
Program Functionality: B
Simple to use for young children. Taping on the letter repeats the letter name and sound. H and Z have European name pronunciation. A and O have UK sounds.
There are options to change the background pattern, however it did not work on my iPhone.
Overall Educational Value: C
If you are looking for a center activity for practicing letter names and sounds, this will work. I'm not sure that it will hold children's attention for long.
Classroom Use Examples / Ideas: This could be used as a center activity.
Recommendation: This app could be used for a center activity or during a practice time.
App Website: http://www.jasonford.co.uk/iphone/
Developer Website: http://www.jasonford.co.uk/iphone/
iTunes Link: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/princess-phonetics/id356284280?mt=8
Grade Level: PreK, K, Special Ed
This is a wonderful tool for young children and for those who need communication support. It is especially good for special education and autism
Program Functionality: A
Simple to set up a visual schedule. Voice can also be added.
Overall Educational Value: A
Great tool for helping those who need a visual schedule to help them through their day.
Cost: Pro version for iPhone and iPod Touch - $9.99
Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.
Overview: First Then Visual Schedule provides a tool to create various schedules for those who need guidance and communication. There are stock images of basic self help skills, like dressing, brushing teeth, toilet, and more. Or you can pick images from your image library or take a photo with your iPhone camera. A recording feature allows a voice to be recorded. So the individual could record their own voice into the program.
The visual schedule can be view so that each image is viewed one at a time, or with arrows pointing to the next event.
Recommendation: This app could be used both in the classroom or for students' personal use. Visual schedules help set a child up to be successful with clear expectations by promoting understanding of upcoming events. The ease of use make this program a great solution for those with communication needs.
Classroom Use Examples / Ideas: Special needs students, PreSchool and Kindergarten students feel more secure when they know the schedule. A schedule for the day can be added to their iPod allowing them to check it as needed. This will make transitioning to the next event much easier.
App Website: http://www.goodkarmaapplications.com/index.htm
Developer Website: http://www.goodkarmaapplications.com/index.htm
Reviewer Name: Gayle Berthiaume
Reviewer Blog: What Have I Learned?