Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Setting Up Read&Write for iPad App

I know more and more teachers and students who are exploring and utilizing Texthelp's Read&Write products everyday.  Some kids are using it to have text from Google Docs and internet articles read out loud to them, some kids are using the premium word prediction feature for writing assignments.  Teachers are using it to create vocabulary lists to share with students, allowing the kids to see a picture representation of a vocabulary term, as well as the definition of the term.  They have been very comfortable with setting up and using the Chrome App Extension for quite awhile; but this school year with more and more students using iPads as part of their assistive technology plan (and more and more students bringing in iPads for their BYOD time) it was time to really conquer the use of the app. Once Read&Write for iPad is set up and ready to go on your iPad, it's pretty easy to use...but the set-up requires multiple steps and I found that many teachers were struggling with getting things going on their own.

I have created a cheat sheet to help you through the process.  Right off the bat, the first issue I see parents and teachers struggle with is how they search for the app within the app store.  If you are interested in downloading this free app, search for "Texthelp" or "Read&Write" and you will see the app right away.  I believe the biggest misconception about the Read&Write for iPad app is that people believe the app itself is where you go in order to access the reading and writing tools; however, the app only allows you to adjust settings for the tools. Read&Write for iPad actually works more as a third party keyboard, and must be turned on as an "Activity" within your web browsing app.  Sounds complicated, but I promise it's not!  Just follow these step by step directions and get yourself set up with a super helpful reading and writing support tool for the iPad.

Read&Write for iPad App Directions

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

3 Apps for Reading and Writing Success

March is the month where our 4th grade classes embark on the great "Famous Hoosiers" writing project.  Students are asked to research and write a paper on their chosen Hoosier.  I get a lot of calls this time of year from 4th grade teachers.  Their comments usually go something like this:

"He has a lot of great ideas; he just can't write them."

"She hates to write.  We can't get her to put anything down on paper."

"He loves to write.  I just can't understand anything he writes!  The spelling is SO bad, the letters are so entangled..."

This is a fun time of year because usually we see at least one student who struggled before become a great writer with the use of technology.  This year was no different.  With the help of three wonderful apps and an iPad, we are seeing some real magic from a couple of kids who were deemed "struggling readers and writers."  Below are the magical apps we are using.

Voice Dream Reader is an app that allows students to have text read out loud to them, highlighting the words as they are being read.  For a student with a vision or reading disability, it's like a life boat for someone swimming in the middle of the ocean. Winston Chen, the developer of the app, has an amazing story (read about it hear!) and is one of the most diligent and helpful developers I have ever come across.  He is responsive to his user's needs, makes frequent updates to the app based on those needs, and is open to your suggestions on how to make it even better.  If that's even possible.  This app is providing our students who have below grade level reading abilities a way to "read" the research on their Famous Hoosier from the internet (the app also provides access to Project Gutenberg books, PDF files, Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, Bookshare, etc.) It's also providing our students with Dyslexia a way to listen and read grade level books with a preferred font.  

This app has been such a game changer for those worksheet loving classrooms!  Snaptype allows you to take a photo of a worksheet (anything, actually) and edit over that photo with text.  This means that students who struggle with fine motor challenges, a student who struggles with visual impairment and can't see the text on a worksheet well, or a disorganized student who loses worksheets regularly can now have a digital tool that snaps a photo and makes the document accessible in seconds.  This is key to filling out a graphic organizer for the Famous Hoosier project.  Our students need to participate in a planning process for their papers, but more worksheets and more handwriting trips them up.  This takes away those barriers.

The Word Prediction App
Notice I am not including a picture of any particular app in this section.  I don't have a favorite word prediction app; I let my students preview and play with several different word prediction programs and allow them to choose one based on their preferences.  There are several that I like but when it comes down to it most are offering great support and just have a few cosmetic or features differences that sometimes don't make a lick of difference and sometimes make ALL the difference.  Which is why I let the student choose.  So rather than discuss one specifically, I'll let you be the judge of what is the best fit.  Here is a chart that compares several that I am a fan of and have had student success with: Word Prediction App Comparison Chart
Word prediction apps allow a student to get their words into a document by removing the spelling barrier.  Sometimes spell check or the native word prediction on an iOS isn't enough.  Sometimes a student really needs a heavier program to predict their words based on a more phonetic approach to spelling.  Instead of spending five minutes trying to spell "pharmacy" correctly, a student can type in "farmo" and get the correct word into the document ASAP.  These apps also provide text to speech so the student can listen to their writing being read back to them, allowing them to listen for errors.

A Happy Ending
For the last three weeks I have been checking in everyday to see the work that three different students are producing after putting these apps into place.  I have "before" samples, and comparing them to the Famous Hoosier reports is astounding.  It didn't take a long time to teach them how to use the tech, and it didn't make more work for the teacher to put the tech in place.  It's magic!  I'm so proud of all three students (and their teachers for advocating for them!) but the real water works came when one of the 4th grade students was initially introduced to the tools.  This is a kid who is reading at a Kindergarten/1st grade level.  You can imagine how difficult the task of researching Jim Davis (author of the Garfield comics) was going to be for him.  I wasn't too surprised he choose Jim Davis, as he had told me comics were the only thing he could read independently.  I introduced him to Voice Dream Reader, using the book Peter Pan (because it was free and available to quickly upload to the app through Project Gutenberg.)  As I explained to him how the app worked, he interrupted me to ask, "What's this book?"  I told him it was Peter Pan.  "The REAL Peter Pan?"  

He went on to explain that he had read lots of versions of Peter Pan before.  Baby versions.  He then explained that he loved to read stories, but he was "very busy in school.  When the other kids read for fun, I have to work.  I have to leave the classroom with other teachers and I am so busy." With all the intervention groups, resource room support, and extra time needed for assignments he's right; he's a busy boy.  I asked him if he ever read for fun at home. "Well, I can't read.  The letters are too mixed up for me.  Sometimes my sister will read to me, but her books are for older girls.  Mrs. Ashton...are you telling me I can read the REAL Peter Pan?  By myself? I can keep this?"  I told him he could start reading right after he chose a font that made the letters on the page look the best.  Without guidance, he went straight to Open Dyslexic.  Imagine that.

The "before tech" writing samples I had been provided from his team of teachers included mostly four word, single sentences.  Below is one of his more successful paper/pencil attempts at a paragraph.  The thought of him writing a full research paper without it taking the rest of the school year seemed impossible.  Just two days into using SnapType to plan out his writing within a graphic organizer and using a word prediction app to write the paper, he was writing three detailed paragraphs on Jim Davis.  His teacher sent them to me beaming with pride, "I didn't help him hardly at all!  He's doing it by himself.  We are all crying over here!"

As he walked out of the office that first day we looked at the apps he turned around to say to me, "Mrs. Ashton? This is going to be really good for me."  So it's really not a happy ending, but a happy beginning for a 4th grader who will now begin to read and write. All by himself.

Before Assistive Technology

With Assistive Technology

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Don't Miss the 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!

One of my favorite resources for finding apps, Smart Apps For Kids, is celebrating the season by hosting their 12 Days of Christmas Giveaways!  Check out their Giveaways tab and sign up for a chance to win apps, gift cards and other accessories for your iDevices.  But while you are there make sure to subscribe for their Free App Alert emails, read about their featured Free App of the Day, and check out their suggestions for apps based on age/subject.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Apps for Creating Social Narratives

Social narratives, video modeling, social stories...which app do I choose?  I get this question from time to time and my answer is always the same..."It depends on what you want to create."

Do you need to add video?  Do you want to add audio?  Do you just need something simple with a few pictures and some text? Do you want your student to develop the social narrative with stickers, picture symbols and drawings?  Once I have created a social narrative, how am I going to share this with the student?  There are several apps available that can be used to create a social narrative.  Deciding on which app to go with can be tricky.  Last week a colleague of mine used an app to create a social narrative with some video modeling embedded into the story.  She loved the app she was using but was frustrated that she was forced to record audio onto each page; she just wanted the audio from the video clip to act as her audio within the book.  The app she was using was great for creating stories where you needed to add audio to each "page" of the book, but wasn't really fitting her need for this particular social narrative.  Wouldn't it be nice if we had a comparison chart of social narrative apps to see which app would fit the need of the task at hand?

This wasn't an easy process.  There are so many story creator apps available through iTunes that it would be impossible to include each and every single one that could be used to create social narratives.  I made my comparison chart with one qualification in mind- it HAD to have the ability to add text to the pages.  The comparison chart below does not include every app that can be used to create social stories; it does include apps that I have used and think are worth taking a look at. Their features vary, their sharing options vary, their costs vary.  Hopefully this will help guide others as it has helped guide me in choosing the perfect app to create that specific social narrative you have in mind for a student.

Social Narrative Apps Comparison Chart- Download Here

**Information within the Comparison Chart is subject to change at any time.  This document was developed in December of 2014; prices and features of apps may change over time so please follow the link within the chart to view the apps in iTunes to view the current features and prices.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

iPhone Apps vs iPad Apps

Searching for apps on the app store can be...difficult.  If you don't know the exact name of the app you are looking for, it's sometimes like going on a wild goose chase to find it.  Other times you know exactly what you are looking for but the app isn't showing up in the store.  Here is a tip that might alleviate your troubles.

Some apps are developed to work on iPhones.  Some are developed to work on iPads.  Apps that are submitted to the app store as "iPhone apps" can be loaded and used on iPads.  Apps that are submitted as iPad only apps cannot be loaded and used on iPhones. (You can move up, but you can't move down.) When searching for an app in the App Store, you can specify which type of device you are using.  If you are working on an iPad, the app store will automatically search for iPad apps.  The 5 Point Autism Scale app is an example of an app that you might want on your iPad but you will have to search for it under "iPhone apps".

When I search for "5 point scale" in the app store on my iPad, I see the app Social Scale appear.  But I am trying to find a free 5 point scale app in the app store.  At the top of the screen (see red arrow in picture above) I am set to search for iPad only apps.  

By touching the down arrow, I can decide which type of apps I want to search for.  See picture below.

By switching to iPhone apps I will see other apps appear in the store, depending on what's available as an "iPhone" app.

Now that I've switched to the iPhone store, the free Autism 5-Point Scale EP will appear.

Once you have downloaded and open an app made for an iPhone onto your iPad, it will appear small on your iPad screen.  See the photo below for an example.  Tap on top of the 2x icon in order to blow up the image to fit your iPad screen.

So the next time you are searching for that great app that you've heard about and can't find it, remember to adjust your settings and check out the iPhone apps, as well as iPad apps, in the app store!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Differentiate Reading Material with

Whenever I am presenting to a group of educators, I like to end our time together by showing a web tool that is easy to use, free, and can immediately impact a classroom.  Typically, I show them

What does it do? basically makes material that is difficult for students to read (due to vocabulary content) easier to read by changing some of the wording within the text.  For example, if your class is reading an online article that uses the word "celestial", once "rewordified" with the free online software, the software will replace the word "celestial" with "heavenly."  The word "humbling" is changed to the phrase "making a person realize that he or she is not the greatest thing in the world."
Webpage viewed through Rewordify

How does this work? is a free on-line software program.  Just visit a website of your choice, copy the URL, then visit  Paste your copied URL link into the yellow text box located at the top of's webpage, and then select "rewordify text."  Your article will now appear on screen.  You will notice highlighted words or phrases- these are the words and phrases that have been modified.  Not using an online article?  No worries! also lets you copy and paste text or type in your own body of text to be can then print or save and share your product with others.

One of my favorite things about is that you do not have to lose access to original content of a piece of text.  Customization settings allows the user to decide how they would like their re-worded words to appear within the text through display settings.  If you choose a reverse highlighted display setting, you will see words highlighted that the software believes might be hard for you to read or know the meaning to; just hover your mouse over those highlighted words to see a modified vocabulary term or brief explanation of the word.  Two-column viewing will display your article/text into two columns; the left hand side of the screen will display your original content, and the right hand side of the screen will show the "rewordified" version of your text.  Choose from nine different display settings to customize your view of the reworded text.

Customization can also be set to different levels, depending on how much of the vocabulary you would like reworded.  Level 1 will reword almost all "hard words"; Level 4 will reword the top 40% "hardest words" detected within the text.  Want to get really fancy?  Within the customization settings you can even specify which words you would like reworded, and provide the word or phrase you would like to take it's place.

View of customization settings

In the Classroom Setting
An educator can either teach their students how to independently use to customize their own reading material, or the educator can create a piece of text ahead of time and save the rewordified URL and their customization settings to use with students for later.  I love this option because it allows a teacher to quickly customize a piece of text for students depending on their needs in the classroom.  For example, you might have a piece of text that contains many metaphors or idioms.  This might be difficult for a student with autism to read and interpret without support.  But with rewordify, a teacher can type in explanations of the metaphors and idioms through the customization settings.  When the student later goes to read through the piece of text, they will have access to the hidden meanings behind the metaphors and idioms on the page.

Did I mention that they have a Classics section, which provides access to public domain books?  Many of these titles are literature works assigned to classrooms.  Students just need to click on the Classics icon, then click on the link to their book in order to access a reworded version of their assigned text.

Under Classics, choose a book to be reworded

View of a novel that has been reworded is easy to use and includes demonstration videos to help you get to know the product.  But just in case you need an extra helping hand, here is access to cheat sheets I have created for classroom use:
Using Rewordify to Customize Internet Text
Using Rewordify With Your Own Text

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Word Prediction iOS Apps

Students who struggle with spelling, language or physical disabilities sometimes find success in written tasks with the assistance of a word prediction program.  Several iOS apps tailor to this need.  Many offer a great word prediction feature, but they all differ in their additional features.  And sometimes these additional features make all the difference in finding an app that is right for you or your student.  I often refer to a word prediction software comparison chart made available through the Spectronics website (a wonderful resource!) when I am looking to purchase computer software.  But I had yet to find a comparison chart for iOS word prediction apps.

Recently, I humbly tried to put one together.  I chose a few apps that I think have nice word prediction capabilities.  Each app offers a little something different in features, exporting options, and appearance.  These are important differences to note because in the school setting, there is more to evaluate when choosing an app than just "does it offer word prediction?"  For example, in my school district we are very conscientious of digital citizenship- we do not allow underage children to use email accounts on our devices.  Therefore, if I am purchasing a word prediction app for an elementary aged student, I am looking for an app that exports products to the student's Google Drive app (this way they can share their work with teachers securely through our school provided Google Doc accounts.)

You can find my word prediction comparison chart of iOS apps here: 
Word Prediction iOS Apps: Features Comparison Chart

*This is not an all-inclusive list of word predictions apps; the features listed for each app are subject to change as updates are made available through the app store.

If you are interested in purchasing word prediction software for a computer, check out Spectronics comparison chart here: Literacy Support Software Comparison Chart

Apps featured in the comparison chart:


Clicker Docs

App Writer