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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Blending hi-tech and low-tech for optimal learning

The world of technology is developing at the speed of light, and the advent of good touch screens and affordable well-written software that takes advantage of the direct visual interface brings new and wonderful possibilities into classrooms, therapy rooms and family homes. Putting an iPad (or android tablet) into the hands of every child seems like a great idea. But there are challenges: how do you choose good apps? how do you integrate the use of a touch-screen device into your current programming? how do you develop practical aptitude on devices that only existed in the imagination when you were growing up?

Today's post addresses the second challenge: "How do you integrate the use of a touch-screen device into your current programming?" I will give some examples (with illustrations from recent therapy sessions with Kevin and Adam) of how you can use both iPad apps and "real world" tasks together in language learning activities.

First a little background:

Comic Strip stories allow a visual person to create coherent narratives (see blog post ... it's all about stories ). As my students become adept at drawing stories, we use the visual story format as a "scaffold" to teach traditional written language (initially the picture is drawn first and then a sentence is written to go with it, some students have moved on to writing a simple sentence first then adding extra details in the comic illustration).

Scrambled Sentences is another general type of learning activity that I use to teach grammar without the extra challenges of spelling and fine motor (see blog post Scrambled Sentences - using drawing to support language development and teaching video Drawing as Communication - Scrambled Sentences ).

Recently, I broadened both of these learning contexts by adding in some iPad apps.

Comic Strip Story:

Word Wizard is a spelling to speech app by l'Escapadou. On the "movable alphabet" function, you can drag letters to the board and the program will sound out both the individual letters (as you select them) and the letter combinations that you spell. You have the choice of several voices, and you can have the entire phrase/sentence read aloud when you touch the speech bubble icon:

I started Kevin out with the words "mister bean" and he wrote the rest of the sentence (his own words and ideas). Then we switched from high-tech to low-tech, and Kevin drew out the meaning of the sentence to start his Mr. Bean story. Subsequent story events came from sentences spontaneously written by Kevin using the Word Wizard app:

all pictures drawn by Kevin 2013

I'm not concerned about the grammatical errors in Kevin's written sentences, since the point of the activity is for Kevin to express his own ideas using a combination of written language and drawing (I actually like to see grammatical errors - it's an indication that I'm getting novel generative language rather than phrases and sentences copied verbatim from another context)

(and on another note, this looks like a pretty good plan for a post-secondary learning program!)

Scrambled Sentences:

Word Mover is a creative writing app by ReadWriteThink (National Council of Teachers of English). It works on the same premise as magnetic poetry for your fridge. You have the choice of starting with a pre-existing "word bank" that provides you with a collection of words that you can use in your writing, or you can start from a blank screen ("My Own Words"). Additional words are added with the "+" function.

During the same session as Kevin wrote his Mr. Bean story, I set up a traditional "scrambled sentence" using the Word Mover app (I selected and wrote the words, Kevin unscrambled them into a sentence):

Then Kevin drew out the meaning of the sentence using markers and big paper. (the second sentence "Kevin and Raymond are making an art project" was independently written by Kevin, using the Word Mover app, based on the structure of my initial sentence):

drawn by Kevin 2013

The benefit of adding the apps into both of these language activities was an increased ease and flexibility in the writing process for Kevin. I'm hoping that this will stimulate further development in his functional expressive written language.

Two more quick examples of "Scrambled Sentences" from Adam's recent work:

1. Adam's mom gave him the words "boy", "girl" and "snowball" on a Word Mover screen. Adam added more words and unscrambled the sentence to read "The boy and girl is fighting in the snowball.", then he illustrated his meaning using markers on paper. With the picture making his meaning clear, his mom was able to show him (using Word Mover) some minor changes that made the sentence grammatically correct.

drawn by Adam 2013

2. Adam's mom started him off with the words "baby", "dragon" and "fire" on Word Mover. Adam added more words and created the sentence "The baby this is fire the dragon". With the support of the picture Adam drew to illustrate his intended sentence meaning, his mom was able to help Adam modify his sentence (on the Word Mover screen) so that his written words matched what he meant to say.

drawn by Adam 2013

(love the expression on the baby's face)

Technology is a great tool that can be used to enhance the learning environment - it works best when you use it to augment your current effective techniques, rather than using it to replace traditional play and hands-on learning.