World-class literacy apps make their debut for digital tablets at BETT 2013
iPad users are first in line for a new range of world-class literacy tools from Crick Software designed specifically for digital tablets. The first two apps are Clicker Sentences (£14.99) and Clicker Docs (£17.99).
They complement Clicker 6, the latest version of Crick's acclaimed literacy software which has generated 54,000 activations since its launch nearly a year ago. The new apps are already available in Apple's App Store and Crick will launch them to the international education community at BETT 2013 at London's ExCeL centre. More apps are planned (all available through Apple's Volume Purchase Programme, and BETT special offers are available – see below).
While the first products have been created for the iPad, Crick is understood to be considering the possibilities offered by the new generation of tablets emerging with the launch of Microsoft's Windows 8. Apps for Android are not, currently, a possibility.
Crick's Clicker software brings highly focused support to the crucial point where learners need it most, when they start to build words and sentences. Thoughtful and appropriate help is provided by the technology at every turn. And the availability of these Clicker functions on tablets means that they can now be implemented practically anywhere and at any time, amplifying their already proven effectiveness.
Learners get their own tools, like ready-made sentence sets and word banks with sophisticated features like words that are spoken back in natural voices as soon as they are clicked and sentences that are read out as soon as the full stop goes in place.
Teachers get their own tools too, for example for creating their own sentence sets and word banks (some come ready-made, along with the products). These can be contextualised for specific areas of the curriculum. Teachers can even take a section of a book or poem and scan in the real words to make the word banks.
Powerful combination of clever literacy software and mobile technology
Crick has already been showing the apps to advisers and customers and the response has been overwhelmingly positive as they see the tablet outcomes of Crick's expertise with software for supporting literacy and appreciate the immediacy and sharing aspects of mobile technology. Attempting to bring all the functions of Clicker 6 to any one one app would be futile and work against the whole point of apps. The titles of the first two apps – Clicker Sentences and Clicker Docs – indicate how Crick has broken down the functions into the areas they are needed most, with progression between the two apps. As John Crick puts it: "The whole point of an app is to do one thing and do it really well."
Clicker Sentences is focused on supporting early and emerging writers' first written constructions, developing basics like left-to-right direction and spaces between words. It gives teachers the tools to bring together the facilities learners need to create those sentences. Teachers can do this for groups or for individuals so personalisation becomes a reality. It means that learners can create their sentences visually and get immediate audio feedback. While these tools supports all learners, they also allow teachers to provide targeted support for those with specific difficulties. Features can be turned on or off as desired so that learners can be presented with the exact challenges and tasks that they require.
This aspect is what makes Crick products such powerful tools for literacy generally, but particularly when it comes to inclusion and special needs. With the new apps, learners simply press on words with their fingers to add them to their sentences. If they are unsure of words they have a little blue button to turn on "sound shift" (the iPad version of 'right click' on a PC) which allows them to listen to a work to check that it is the one they want before adding it to the sentence.
The app exploits the common gestures of tablets, allowing users to "swipe" between sentences and resources. There are the smooth animations that users have come to expect from digital tablets too.
Another plus is the massive learning community that Crick has developed online. Learning Grid is where teachers can download any materials they need rather than create their own every time they need something new.
What is most impressive is the fact that almost every aspect of the apps can be customised. Font size and background colours can be altered to support learners with visual impairments. And speech feedback can also be changed – like voice and speed of playback (the natural voices in Crick products never stop improving.)
The company has produced all sorts of materials so teachers don't have to waste much time learning to produce their own. One of the samples, "Jack and the Beanstalk", even had pop-up model sentences that disappear again before they can be copied or memorised. While this is a standard literacy tactic – to look and remember – that is in common use with paper materials, it is part of a range of tools here that provide hugely open ended opportunities for the classroom and for learning elsewhere.
Sentence sets come with the package but creating them with learners is a rewarding activity that also produces materials that can be reused. Ann Crick explains: "Because of it's mobility you can achieve so much more with an iPad than you can with a laptop. Laptops are great when children are working on their own, and there is a place for that for sustained writing, but you can imagine sitting around a table with a group in your guided writing session.
"You can start talking about a sentence in 'Jack and the Beanstalk', and say to your children, 'Let's think about this story. How are we going to start it?' And, as a teacher, you can write the first sentence, then the second, talking to them about the language and all sorts of topics. Then you ask them, 'Who is going to write the first sentence?' They write it, then hear it spoken back. You ask, 'Is that a good sentence?' Then 'What happens next?' So there is a lot going on and at the end of it you have writing outcomes. You can pass the iPad around for children to make their own contributions."
Users can add pictures in and illustrate any sentence they are writing (the iPad camera is a wonderful tool here). It's very much the same kind of approach as with Clicker but, with the iPad, the activities are certainly more intimate and flexible and very quick for teachers and kids to create content and share interactions. Working with a laptop is more of a solitary activity, although Clicker on a whiteboard can provide classes with rich and powerful collective (and personal) experiences.
Apple's 'Guided Access' helps teachers sharpen the focus on children's tasks
So how do teachers keep their learners on task and away from the tools that could sidetrack them? Well the iPad has its own, powerful feature for retaining focus. It's called Guided Access and it became available with iOS6. A teacher just taps three times on the "home" button to start drawing rectangles around features they don't want children to access. When they have finished they just press start and enter an access code. Hey presto, the children don't have access to those features. This Apple feature adds a lot to the new apps, and any others a teacher wants to use.
From creating their own sentences through different levels of progress and support, including auditory, learners are encouraged to write without any support. That's a good point for them to start using Clicker Docs. which effectively provides them with a word processor for learning. All the features of Clicker Sentences are expanded with new ones thrown in, including a lower-case on-screen keyboard.
Also impressive is the increased power and sophistication of the word banks. As with Clicker, teachers can import fresh vocabulary for their word banks and even set up filters to exclude commonly used (and other) words. Everything you could reasonably expect to be automated has been, and more. And these materials can also be shared via services like Dropbox.
While there is more complexity it's still simple to use. As with Sentences, turning the iPad changes the screen from portrait from landscape (not consistent yet in other education apps). A single tap reads a word, a double-tap a sentence and a triple-tap a paragraph. And you can also share writing by email (included in the text or as document or text attachments).
Now writers can turn on the predictive text that is so helpful for dyslexic learners, and it's the same as the sophisticated feature set they have enjoyed with Clicker. (In fact there's a new, free upgrade to Clicker 6 that ensures full compatibility of files between the two 'platforms), Learners can also hear the predicted words – which might not even be in their own word banks – before deciding to add them to their sentences.
The nature of Apps is that they tend to have continuous upgrades of their features that are freely available in the App Store. These Clicker apps are no exception and Crick has just added s speaking spellchecker to Clicker Docs; learners now get to hear their words before making their decisions. The progress, mainly based on user feedback, simply doesn't stop, and customers get the improvements as they appear.
The Clicker product family represents UK SEN and inclusion software at its very best (in fact any software) and it's no wonder they are on the shortlist for the BETT Awards (also on that list are Widgit's Symbol Apps which are generating a lot of interest). Bringing this level of support for learners to the iPad platform adds a level of smoothness, creativity, mobility and personalisation that takes the software from very impressive functionality to captivating brilliance. You would have to be jaundiced not to be deeply impressed.
Crick Software D210
BETT 2013 special offer
Clicker Sentences costs £14.99 and Clicker Docs £17.99 from Apple's App Store via iTunes. Schools can also purchase them using the volume licensing scheme which gives them a 50 per cent discount if they buy 20 or more. When they are launched at BETT 2013 they wil be available at a special offer price of £11.99 for Clicker Sentences and £14.99 for Clicker Docs for the course of the show.