When Opportunity and Resources Meet = Success Happens

newyear2015Connecting a ‘just right’ opportunity to engage in independent deeper thinking and a resource that allows that to happen is a challenge. When the two meet, it’s almost magical, especially when it can include students who struggle with reading and writing. For these, time is spent mostly on the mechanics of reading/writing, leaving little cognitive energy for deep thinking. While some resources require a strong commitment to mastering the tool (I’m thinking Kurzweil 3000 – still the master of all reading/writing supports – click here for information), others may offer similar experiences with less need for front-end learning.

I wrote about Rewordify before in a previous post so I won’t go into the ‘how to’s here.  Upon first blush, the online site may look rather simple. Dig a little deeper and you will find other layers worth exploring. Its basic premise is that any text can be pasted into the box and it will return a simplified version – very quickly I might add. One of the options deserves highlighting. Retaining the original word within the text, while offering a simpler form provides two things: increase of comprehension and increase of vocabulary. Sitting side by side, relationships between the difficult term and easier one is visually connected. As well, the integrated dictionary allows access to almost all of the words in the selection. And finally, the content can be printed and stored.

rewordify_result

If you have not had a chance to explore this application, you may be surprised at how useful it can be for many students. It is free, though it requires access to the internet. (*Note: You do not need to register to use the site.)

Writing is another challenge that some of our students struggle to get their thoughts down on paper. While I believe that access to computers provides a wider range of choices, there is an application using ipads that offer a basic level of support with regards to word prediction and integrated reading (*this is not speech-to-text).  For those of you already using the computer version (you’ll see this as similar), GoQ Software has developed an ipad version. Named iWordQ Ca (I’ve been waiting for the Canadian spelling and French is included!), the cost of $25 may be worth it. iwordq_writeIt offers a very simple text editor (no images) for writing connected with anticipatory word prediction software. Definitions with examples, pop up with a tap of the finger. You can even add your own words into the lexicon thus including any specialized content vocabulary (think science, social studies). Typed words and sentences can be read back giving you a bit of quality control on the actual writing.   Reading mode gives the writer a chance to do some more proofreading as well as revision.  You might also use it for oral practice by speaking alongside the reading mode, if the end goal is a presentation. (*Note: Speech recognition is only found on the newer ipads. Need wifi access for this app to work.)
For those of you who know me really well, you’re waiting for why I like this app over the many that are out there. That can be seen in the Export feature – multiple ways. Writing is a complex form of communication needing opportunities to engage in a variety of other formats. iWordQ Ca can save files in the app, send to a Dropbox account as well as open in many other apps such as Google Drive! Our Google Apps for Education accounts marry nicely with this process, thus allowing for the inclusion of collaboration and dialogue, images, hyperlinks, charts or slides. Oh, did I forget printing too?

question mark personOur goals drive the use of any application. These apps add to the communication realm. However, I wonder if we should be asking wider questions such as… how will these serve to enhance deeper thinking processes, how will they create independence for the student, how will they bring connectedness and collaboration with classmates, how will they support self regulation?
Hope you get a chance to explore these or cause you to ask more questions. I’d love to hear how you’re using these applications or other apps in your classroom.

App #7 of “10 Apps to Countdown Season”

app_haikudeckApp #7:  How do you present information from research projects?  Usually we default to PowerPoint.  Another option is Haiku Deck for all platforms. I wrote about this app for the iPad before (click here).  The presentation software offers a beautiful, yet simplistic way to to share information.  Each slide offers options for layout, format (bullet points), images (including charts).  While images can be imported from drawings or camera photos, a search of the web will pull up images that are copyright free (licensed under Creative Commons).  [This would be a great time to practice the value of refining search terms.]  And now you’ve struck on the secret of powerful presentations – spectacular focused images that resonate with emotion and bring words to life. It is images that the brain gravitate towards and remembers.

haikudeck_ppt

Other features of Haiku Deck include a Notes section where you can record additional information as a memory jogger for your speech (very handy as this does not show up on the projector screen when you present). Of course we can’t forget the multiple ways that it can be published (on the iPad, synced to the web, as download, email attachment, or opened in another app.  And double yes – it is device agnostic, meaning that the program can be created on any device. As a teacher I won’t need specific programs on my computer to launch the student created decks, just access to the web.

How can you use this in your work or in the classroom?

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App #5 of “10 Apps to Countdown Season”

App #5:   Many of us have our students write stories and then illustrate the text.  While the artists in the bunch do flips and cartwheels (and I’ve had those students),  what happens to those who struggle with drawing the simplest shapes.  You know what I mean… somehow my tree just doesn’t quite look like a tree. Having a teacher say, “just do your best” doesn’t make me feel any better when I stare at my ‘stick tree’.  How about giving the gift of storytelling without the struggle of drawing?

Storybird is a site that captures the imagination and allows a writer to focus on writing.  Starting with selections of beautiful images (drawn by artists), you craft your story.  The images serve to anchor your ideas as they unfold.  A slider at the bottom of the screen shows the sequence of each page – handy for keeping the flow of beginning, middle and end.  The finished products are short, art-inspired pieces of text that can be shared on any device.

storybird

Teachers can create free class accounts without the need for emails (please be careful about using student names). Options for sharing allows the story to be published on the site or embedded in blogs, wikis, or other platforms.

How can you use this site to grow your writers?

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App #4 of “10 Apps to Countdown Season”

App #4:  “I hate Google Docs!” stated a student in an advanced writing class.  The teacher being stunned by this emphatic state turned my way with a “now what!” look.  After probing, it became clear that this writer liked the thesaurus dictionary in MSWord.  A quick introduction to online visual dictionaries opened a whole different world not only to the group but also for the teacher in expanding to other classes. Here are two of my favourites:

lexipedia

Lexipedia provides a visual display connection of words (nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and relationships fuzzynyns, synonyms, antonyms).  Hovering over the term offers a definition.  More importantly, this tool has an embedded audio option of the text. You can see a definite plus for those students who need this type of support.

visuwords

 

Visuwords, another online visual dictionary uses colours and a variety of line shapes to define relationships  and connections much like a concept map. Type a word in the box and see the connected terms come alive.

What are your favourite tools for expanding vocabulary in writing?

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Accessible Reading and Writing with iPad Apps

For those of you with access to iPads, you might wish to consider using the following free apps.

Reading text online is just as challenging as reading a book if your students struggle with reading.  Try Voice Dream Reader Lite.  This handy app reads online webpages, documents, pdf, text, powerpoint, ebooks, Pocket, using text- to -speech technology.  Words are highlighted as they are spoken making this a great app for your readers who have difficulties.  Articles identified are stored locally so you can read them anytime, making this very useful when you are offline.   [Adding additional voices are part of the paid version.]

Paperport Notes is “digital notetaking” gone crazy.  Text can be written with a keyboard, stylus or by voice.  The speech-to-text is amazingly accurate, even with low level background noise.  [The ipad must be connected to wireless for this feature to work.]  As if this wasn’t enough, it  can also  import PDF, PowerPoint and image files for annotation.  Add your sticky notes and scribbles to increase understanding. Options for sharing files are email, pdf, as well as exporting to Dropbox, Google Docs, and Box.  All a teacher needs is to create a general Dropbox, Box… account and all your students upload to it.  The integrated ability of this app is worth checking out.