Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Clicker Docs - Review
Bottom Line: a powerful, fully customizable tool for writing support that makes technology previously only available to schools accessible to individual families, teachers and therapists.
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The ability to write well has been my bread and butter, first as a litigation attorney and most recently as an app reviewer. It's an area that many students, especially those with special needs and learning differences, struggle with. Crick Software has for many years been providing programs like Write Online, Clicker 6 and Cloze Pro to enable students to improve their reading and composition skills. Parents' access to these programs has largely been limited, though, due to the hefty price tag of licensing these modules. The Clicker Apps have leveled the playing field.
Clicker Sentences is for users just beginning to express their thoughts in complete sentences or those who require substantial modeling of language. Think Rainbow Sentences with a dozen more features, including the ability to make your own sentences on any subject. Clicker Docs, on the other hand, is the whole enchilada. It's one part Abilipad with its word banks and one part Verbally Premium or Predictable with its text to speech, phonetic spellcheck and contextual word prediction. Given that these other apps sell for $19.99, $99 and $149 respectively, Clicker Docs is a tremendous bargain.
The essence of this app is that it's a Smart word processor. It has an easy to use keyboard with powerful word prediction AND text prediction based on what the writer has input so far. Poor spellers will have the assistance they need and those without the basics of good grammar will get a boost as well. The wow feature of this system is that once the student enters a period, the app reads back what is written with word by word highlighting. Hearing the text read back gives the author the chance to self-correct if something sounds funny. There is also an ability to hear a word from the prediction bar before it’s selected so writers can edit as they go. The app sadly does not learn nicknames or other words not in its dictionary.
Students requiring more support with the writing process can take advantage of word banks which can give hints about what to say next, make for more descriptive writing and keep the student focused on the topic. I tend to let apps requiring lots of setup, board making and upkeep gather dust. Clicker Docs offers the best of all worlds with regard to its word banks. Parents and teachers can create their own using any word list they want. Even better, you can copy text from Wikipedia or some other source, paste it into the app window and voila! it peels away the “am is was were a an the” filler and leaves you with the important words in an A-Z series of grids.
The how-to on this magic process is a little lacking, and I’m still struggling with figuring things out, but there are videos on Crick's website and YouTube that provide additional guidance. Word banks can be further customized with different color backgrounds, and they can be organized alphabetically or by subject tabs. Speech therapists working on story recall may benefit from using this app. Paste in part of the story, get a word bank and let the student verbally retell the story with visual support.
If you don't have a particular topic in mind for a writing assignment, then by all means take advantage of the ready-made Learning Grids. These are available to download at no additional cost from the Crick website once an account is set up. Subjects available cover just about any typical school topic. As the screenshots show I was using this app for my son’s Thomas Edison report. The Learning Grids, I discovered after the fact, had a pre-made Wordbar on famous inventors that included a Thomas Edison specific tab with key words like incandescent, lightbulb, Menlo Park and phonograph.
If that isn't enough to get you started then take into account the Dropbox synchronization. Word banks can be shared. No need to reinvent the wheel. Dropbox connectivity, as well as email and AirPrint capabilities, also means finished papers can be shared and printed.
The app itself has many customization features beyond determining content of the written exercise. There are American, English and Australian voices from which to choose. Word prediction can be turned on or off. The number of words in the prediction database can be set from 250 all the way to 60,000. Even the number of words shown on the prediction bar can be adjusted up or down. The sometimes maddening autocorrect tendencies of the iPhone might learn a thing or two from this app.
Pretty much every goal on my ASD son's IEP could be addressed using this one app. It is a tremendous time saver for teachers, parents and therapists. It supports those with a wide range of abilities, and as confidence increases, the level of support can be dialed back. Even those without identified special needs can benefit. Young writers often have a tendency to plagiarize whether consciously or not. Distilling original sources down to their essence with word banks forces the student to use his own words to complete the essay or report.
It’s Teacher Appreciation Week and rather than flowers, a stale, dry, homemade muffin from a mix or a Starbucks giftcard, I am giving this app to my son’s special education teacher. I’m also giving it five stars, but it really deserves to be Grand Marshal in Mickey’s Electric Parade at Disney. It’s a grand spectacle on that magnitude.
Always save the best for last. This is Jill Goodman’s final review for Smart Apps for Kids.