Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The iPad as a Window...

This post originally appeared on SpeechTechie.

Picking up a caseload of, say, 35 kiddos can be a bit daunting.  You do your best to schedule and group, skim IEPs, and then you have your first sessions.  Actually working with the kids is at once a reminder of why we do this work, and also sort of scary...that many kids at that many different grade levels and developmental zones- I have found my iPad to be a huge help.

An app can provide a language-enhancing activity, but it also can provide a window through which you can assess the child and decide where to go next. In my first couple of days of therapy, I found Smarty Ears' House of Learning to be an invaluable interactive context in which I got to know many of my students better.  House of Learning lets you choose from 12 scenes-various rooms of a home, and also a classroom-and then position a huge array of objects and people within the scene. The app allows you to customize families in a multicultural manner, and when tapped, each object in the scene or scene menu is named aloud, though this feature is a bit robotic and could be improved (though certainly, you'll be doing much of the talking). The ability to change the position and poses of people in the app provides the opportunity to develop verbs, play skills, concepts, sentence formulation and preposition use, while the variety of rooms and objects available is a great context for vocabulary and category growth.  The app was pretty much a universal hit with the kids I tried it out with, and while they were engaged, I got a lot of information about:

Endurance/attention span: How long the students stayed engaged helped me get a sense of therapy planning.  Some students added one or two objects to the room and attempted to switch to a different room, while others happily decorated for much of the session.  This let me know how many activities I might need to plan within a session: a lengthier activity that hits on many goals, or more discrete tasks?

Level of structure: Some students will be able to independently do "hands off" the app in order for you to use House of Learning as a direction-following activity, while others will need more physical structuring (e.g. visually presenting the screen while delivering the direction, then providing physical access).

Social interaction: A valuable window into a child's social skills can be provided by using an app such as this. Do they focus only on the screen or establish joint attention with you, commenting and questioning? Are they able to respond to your comments and questions while using the app?

Syntactic, semantic and organizational skills: Students' ability to respond to your suggestions or comments about specific items or items in a categories can be gauged with an app such as House of Learning. What they say (or don't say) when using a visual exploration app can be hugely revealing! Additionally, the end result can say a lot about the student's organizational skills and, well, their ability to accept cueing:

House of Learning by Smarty Ears is available in the App Store for $6.99.  This iPad-only app is activated by tapping and dragging items into the scene, and will operate without WiFi connection once installed. Overall, in addition to being a great informal assessment activity, I am sure it will serve as hours of therapy and fun!


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