12 iPad apps to help dyslexic learners with their reading and writing
iPads are the mobile technology of choice in education, and schools are fast seeing their potential to boost learning. Some Android devices may be friendlier on the pocket as regards size and cost, but when it comes to the range of available apps the iPad wins hands down. iPads also lead the field in antivirus protection and mobile device management, both crucial criteria for schools when making purchasing decisions. And when it comes to their award-winning design the verdict is universal: iPads are cool.
For dyslexic learners using iPads puts them on par with their non-dyslexic peers. The device’s ubiquitousness means it doesn’t spotlight a learner’s dyslexia or special needs. The iPad’s battery life means it can easily be used as a recording tool throughout the school day and its portability means it can be carried from classroom to classroom. Most importantly, iPads can effect better educational outcomes and help raise students’ self-esteem.
For the dyslexic user the iPad’s ability to support recording features such as word prediction (to aid spelling) and text to speech (so that printed material can be accessed and heard back by the user) is a big plus. The screen reading feature of apps like IntoWords (see below) mean the iPad can be used to read documents downloaded onto a school’s network, giving students ready access to source material. Having control over the way their work is displayed on screen also helps with decoding texts. Different combinations of colours for background and text are a huge help to dyslexic users. So, what can help in terms of apps? Here are my top 12 choices.
Clicker Sentences (iOS, £19.99, Crick Software)
A tool for primary age learners or older learners struggling to acquire basic literacy skills. Its beauty is that if you have Clicker 6 you can use it to create resources and these can then be accessed by the students on their iPads using Dropbox or via their school server/network using WebDAV. Grids can also be made directly on the app by using the standard Crick menu. Clicker Sentences can also be used as a talking word processor using a lower-case keyboard, something not possible using the iPad’s own on-screen keyboard.
Clicker Docs (iOS, £21.99, Crick Software)
This is a step further on from Clicker Sentences. This app gives word prediction and subject word lists in grids. It’s especially useful for 7- to 11-year-olds (KS2 in England and Wales) where more subject vocabulary is being used. Having a type face that is primary friendly with the correct a and g formation is a bonus. As is a lower-case keyboard that is clear and easy to use.
SwiftKey Note (iOS & Android, £FREE, SwiftKey)
An alternative solution for those that want to introduce word prediction at a basic level. Based on the hugely popular Android app SwiftKey it can be used with younger children to help develop their word-building skills. The original Android version, which currently boasts more features than its iOS offspring, has recently been given a make-over. Rebadged as SwiftKey Keyboard it is now available free on the Google Play Store and this enhanced version will also be available for Apple devices running its new mobile operating system iOS 8 (expected in September).
WriteOnline (iOS, £21.99, Crick Software)
Similar to Clicker Docs as a word predictor but adds a wealth of topic grids that tabulate on the screen. Ideal for dyslexic users from nine years of age upwards. it can be used in conjunction with its PC version to create Wordbar grids, which can be exported to and accessed via Dropbox or your own WebDAV (local) school server. Grids can also be made on the app so it is not dependent on its PC counterpart.
IntoWords (iOS, £FREE trial then £8.99, MV–Nordic)
This combines several tools: talking word processor, word prediction and OCR (the ability to copy and convert printed text to an electronic format). A good scanner or camera with suitable lighting conditions is needed to make the last of these truly useful. It will also read out PDF files and text within images. Hence it covers most of the study functions for older (11-16) students. It will also be the focus of academic research into the effective use of writing apps for supporting dyslexic users that I am hoping to conduct soon. Watch this space!
Evernote (iOS & Android, £FREE, Evernote)
Evernote lets the user collect and store notes, images, web clips and audio files, making them accessible from any device with an internet connection. If you are using SwiftKey Note you can even opt to have the notes you make seamlessly stored in Evernote. And the integration is two-way: SwiftKey Note draws on your Evernote files to refine the accuracy of its word prediction.
Google Keep (iOS & Android, £FREE, Google)
Google Keep does a similar function but has to contend with the fact that many schools block Google. But I like the way information can be stored on coloured stickies, which helps pupils to organise their work, and that their work doesn’t get lost as they can access it on any device anytime, anywhere: home, school or community. I see it being used for making short notes for homework or lists of jobs to follow up later.
ClaroSpeak (iOS, £1.99, Claro Software)
A rich mix of features at a give-away price including word prediction, speech and audio conversion. Also, pupils can add to the word prediction list. An additional feature, Capture Text from Photo, is available as an in-app purchase or comes included in ClaroSpeak Plus for £4.99.
iReadWrite (iOS, £19.99, Texthelp)
Provides excellent word prediction and text to speech among its features. It’s a great tool for users of Texthelp’s Read&Write Gold. With a simple, clear interface it has good options for presenting information to dyslexic users in ways they prefer including different coloured backgrounds, text colour and font combinations. Also, the text-to-speech display colours can be customised making tracking words a lot easier for the user. Writing can also be saved to Dropbox.
Co:Writer (iOS, £13.99, Don Johnston)
A word prediction and text-to-speech app that works in conjunction with your day-to-day writing tools. One of its strongest features is its range of Topic Dictionaries, which include specialist vocabulary a student may need, and its ability to create a dictionary on any missing topic using web-scraping. The presentation is simple and the output options include printing, copying and cloud storage (via Google Drive and Dropbox) as well as email. Emailing homework is often the preferred option when using an iPad in a school setting as printing can be difficult on a large school site. Also, work is stored in the cloud by the app itself meaning you can upload to other similar devices and still access your work, a powerful feature if your iPad breaks down or you need to use another device.
Thesaurus App (iOS, £0.69, Piet Jonas)
Simple apps can be the best choice if you want a single job done well. Thesaurus manages to does this with panache. A single word search will reveal a range of alternative words for a dyslexic user to use rather than the usual ones that they can spell. Definitions are given along with a range of words that will expand the user’s vocabulary.
Voice Dictation (iOS , £1.49, Quanticapps)
If you have a later version of the iPad 2, an iPad3, Air or Mini, chances are that you will have Siri, Apple’s voice directed personal assistant activated using the microphone button on your keyboard. Voice Dictation works on older iPads and is very accurate in converting your words into text which can then be copied and pasted into other applications, including Facebook and Twitter. This reduces the time spent switching between apps, simplifying the process.
This has just been a quick taster of some of the great iPad apps available for those working with students with dyslexia. All are available from the Apple Store where you will find more information and testimonials to help you make the choice that meets your needs. Increasingly, we need to be evaluating and mapping good apps so that our best and worst experiences can be shared. I have made an attempt at this at with my own app mapping database. There you can download lists of apps that are matched to a skill or a special need and what skill might be needed next. This is free to anyone and you can add your own favourite apps to the list. Remember, we can achieve more by working together than working separately. Which is what Special World is all about.