Saturday, September 14, 2013

Syllables Splash - Review


Bottom Line: An excellent app for teaching syllable segmentation, but with a price that might be out of reach for many families. Teachers and SLPs will love the customization, and kids can’t resist the wrong-answer-eating shark and clapping turtle.

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Prolific developer Smarty Ears has added yet another well-designed app to their family, this one targeting segmentation of words into syllables, an important phonological awareness and early literacy skill.  Like most of Smarty Ears’ apps, this one is targeted toward use in speech-language therapy, but pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers will also find it useful. The activities are also great for parents to use at home, but the current price of $9.99 is a little high for an app that targets just one skill.

The true beauty and value of a Smarty Ears app comes in the data collection and integration with their Ss3 Therapy Report Center, allowing data to be easily tracked between all of the Smarty Ears apps for one user. This feature is, of course, more useful for SLPs than families.

Syllables Splash uses a cute ocean theme, with underwater creatures swimming around, seaweed swaying, user avatars presented in a water-pipe porthole, and images or words shown in a submarine. One of the strengths of Smarty Ears apps is the ease of use and customization, and Syllables Splash doesn’t deviate from that. There are a total of five options to customize under settings: how wrong answers are handled; the number of wrong answers presented; automatic change in level difficulty with student success; fish and shark animations; and the type of words presented.

The nitty-gritty of app use is easy to learn on the app itself — under the support section, accessible on the home screen, is a video tutorial explaining exactly how to use Syllables Splash. Even without the tutorial, the navigation isn’t complicated, and most users with any familiarity with apps will have little difficulty.

The app includes nearly 1000 words to practice, and the words are clearly depicted in the color photographs or illustrations. Most of the words were familiar to my students, though a few required explanation (such as Thebes, pictured as a map of Greece).

Two of my favorite features are the clapping turtle, shown when the help star is tapped, and the shark who “eats” the number when the wrong answer is selected. The turtle claps the number of syllables at a slower pace than the word was spoken, and separate from the word. I would have really liked it if the turtle clapped along with the spoken word, but I found I could replicate this by saying the word as the turtle clapped.

As many as four users can use the app at the same time. I would have preferred six, since my large caseload makes for larger group sizes when I’m making up sessions. Most users will find four at a time adequate, however. I like that Smarty Ears apps allow for use of an avatar or a photo — while the kids love photos, for confidentiality reasons I use avatars for any therapy students.

The words can also be sorted by syllable length. I have several students who have speech sound goals to Ss5 use multi-syllabic words, and I adapted Syllables Splash to target this goal. I used three- and four-syllable words, and had the students repeat the words. When they repeated correctly, I tapped the correct syllable number. When they repeated incorrectly, I tapped the wrong choice. This made it easy to keep data in the app. I did wish for the ability to add a note to the data, but I transferred my data to my paper notes where I could note the goal.

Aside from the option to jot down a note for each session in the app data, I also wished for an option to record. I know the focus of this app is a receptive skill (hear the number of syllables), but I have found speaking and dividing into syllables can help students learn the concept, rather than just making it a “drill and kill” activity. It would also be nice when using the app to target production of multi-syllabic words.

And I may be a little picky on this one, but the intonation of some of the spoken words by the narrator was just . . . off. Sometimes the intonation would rise, like a question was being asked, and sometimes the first syllable seemed to be too heavily aspirated. With other word,s it was hard to determine exactly what sounded wrong, but it just did. This was minor, though — if a word wasn’t understood by a student, I simply repeated it myself so he or she could hear my intonation.

There are no social media links within this app, but there is a list of other Smarty Ears apps linked to the App Store. There is no option to turn off this automatic linking to the store, so parents and teachers should be sure to turn off access to purchases if this app is used independently.

Overall, I’m glad to have this app added to my therapy collection. It would be even better if there was a lite version for families at a lower cost, allowing for use with just one student, with no data collection. All kids benefit from this knowledge, but at $9.99 the price is too high for most families, especially for an app that is used for just a short amount of time with most kids.

Heather bobbleheadHeather Hetler challenges everyone to say “Syllables Splash” five times fast. was provided with a free copy of this app for review. No other compensation was provided.

Originally posted on Smart Apps for Kids.

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