Google has recently released the Autodraw AI for some fun and games for the casual artist. This tool, however, can serve as power assistive technology for students with disabilities who struggle with drawing and expressing, themselves especially in the early pre-writing days. For those who haven’t tried it out, Autodraw lets the user start to draw some basic shapes or lines and the AI will attempt to guess what the user is trying to draw providing options of icons. The user can then tap on the desired icon to insert it into their drawing.
For young learners, especially those with visual- motor, perceptual or motor planning difficulties drawing can be quite a frustrating challenge. Most early grade writing standards have some requirement of drawing and labeling the drawing based on a classroom topic or reading. The Autodraw tool can be a great support. Just check out the results:
In a bid to continue supporting struggling student, Microsoft has introduced OCR functionality with the added benefit of Text to Speech (TTS) to its document scanning app, Office Lens . Office Lens works in tandem with your other Microsoft apps and requires an account. At this time, users do not need a Microsoft 365 subscription and can use a free outlook.com account.
The scanning app is straightforward to use and provides options to scan a business card, photo, document, or whiteboard.Automatic page detection is available however the user still needs to press the camera button to capture the image.The next step is to select the “Immersive Reader” option. The app will then OCR (Object Character Recognize) the image and produce a screen with the text extracted from the image.
Some standout features of this app include its simple user interface and the option for “Wide Text Spacing” which increases the line spacing for easier reading.TTS is easily activated through the play button and reading speed is adjusted through a slider in the toolbar.While reading, the screen is grayed out while the word being read is highlighted. This allows for easier scanning and reading. On tried scanning, the OCR accuracy proved significantly accurate.
Drawbacks of the app include limited ability to modify the font style and color options. Additionally, navigating through the text is a bit cumbersome. Original formatting of the document is removed from the scan which might be disorienting to readers.
See the video below for a quick walkthrough:
Phonetic Word Prediction Using Google Input Tool
Word prediction has become a commonly available tool on current mobile devices used to increase typing speed using the onscreen keyboard. This functionally, however, has been used by students with dyslexia for many years especially using flexible spelling or phonetic spelling predictors. Most operating system and mass market word prediction rely on the context of the writing versus phonetic spelling patterns and often do not support students with significant dyslexia.
Google’sInput Tool is both a setting and a Chrome extension that helps support this spelling pattern. The traditional use of this tool is for keyboarding in multiple languages with transliteration available for some languages. This support, for example, allows a Hebrew writer to keyboard “shalom” using the roman keyboard while the Input Tool will then translate the entry to “שלןם”. This same support can be used while writing in English within Google Drive apps.
Select English from the checkbox menu and save the settings
To test: open a Google Doc, upon loading you should see “En” icon at the end of the toolbar to the right of the “Tx” icon. Select the suggestion icon.
When typing, you should begin to see a suggested word list that follows the cursor and adapts to the letters being written.
To enter the desired word, either click on the word or enter the corresponding number.
The accuracy of this support for phonetic spelling has beenfairly accurate for longer words.It falters however for homophones or shorter words. These, however, can often be corrected by Google Doc’s built-in spelling and grammar checker.
There is a bit of a lag between when the tool is enabled and the time it shows up within the Google Apps. An additional workaround to try is adding an additional language and then removing it once the tool is available.
Occasionally I like to support crowd sourcing projects that won’t break the bank and may have the potential of providing a new tool to my toolbox. The Rocketbook Wave has been just that kind of project and has become a staple in my work bag. It can also serve as a powerful tool to those students who struggle with organization but prefer the low tech pencil and paper.
Here’s how it Works
The notebook is available for purchase in two sizes and comes with a free accompanying app. The user then uses heat sensitive Frixion pens to take notes as needed.The best part is that a student can use one notebook across multiple subjects and does not need to worry about skipping pages. Each page comes with 7 icons at the bottom. The student can then “tag” which subject the note belongs to by coloring in the appropriate tag.
When finished note taking, the student thenscans the notes using a mobile device. Scanning is actually extrememly fastand effective given the notebook’s darkbrown border. No cropping or re-sizing needed like other scanning apps. Once all the pages are scanned, the student then sends the notes to its given cloud storage folder in either a PDF or JPG format. If writing using multicolor pens, these are preservedin the scan as well.
Now here comes the best part, when the notebook is filled up, the student can then place the entire notebook in the microwave, the ink will disappear, and the notebook is reusable once again!
I have been using my Rocketbook Wave for the past 2 months and fell in love with it. It has been a great tool for helping me organize my notes. Notetaking has been one area where I still treasure the kinesthetic pencil on paper experience and no touchscreen stylus will replace that feeling. Not yet atleast. A variety of writing implements are available through Amazon ranging from multicolor thicker markers to .7mm and .5mm pens. The markers also come with an eraser (friction heat) for on the spot editing.
Third party keyboards have given iOS users the ability to use customized keyboards across apps. Until recently, the powerful Co:Writer word prediction had been locked within it’s own app limiting the user’s ability to use the support on any app. With a recent update, Co:Writer Universal now provides a 3rd party keyboard option giving writers the ability to use this support across any app (Notability, Notes, Google Docs, Safari, etc).
The settings for auditory feedback carry over from the Co:Writer app as well as the topic dictionaries created. These can be toggled on and off directly within the keyboard.
This is a great and well needed update! For more information on how to enable 3rd party keyboard see this Apple support documentation.
The variety of web apps and Chrome extensions has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. Many of these tools are available to students either for free or offer lower cost alternatives to what traditionally was considered cost prohibitive support. I complied a Coggle infographic to organize some of the apps, extensions, and add-ons I use most frequently to support my students. Know of a good tool that’s not on the list? Be sure to comment.
More schools are beginning to integrate the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) tools into their curriculum and instruction which is a great step forward for students who use assistive technology. No longer are these students the only ones keyboarding in class, having to modify classroom materials to meet their learning needs. While this is tremendously helpful, some of these students continue to struggle with organization and executive skills. Having a Drive full of random documents is slightly better than a backpack full of misfiled papers. Much the way that students are unable to put away physical papers into correct folders the same begins to happen in digital form.
Microsoft’s OneNote platform is able to provide students with a binder equivalent of file managment. The student only needs to open one file (Notebook) and all the subjects for that semester are laid out in tabs and pages. This is a tremendously helpful system for students who struggle with organization by giving them one central location for most of their writing. This organizational support however is lacking (hopefully only for now) for students on the GAFE platform.
OneNote Binder Layout
There is however a workaround using Google Doc’s Table of Contents structure and available add-ons which place the organization structure in the tools tab on the righthand side of the document. Currently, there are two add-on available Table of Contents and Document Navigator. If students are able to use the heading structures effectively in Google Docs, these tools provide easy navigation across one document for multiple subjects. Here is a starter doc where the classroom subject holds the ‘Heading 1’ formatting and each classroom task holds the ‘Heading 2’ formatting. Subsequent dated entries can hold the ‘Heading 3’ formatting and so on. Color coding can also be applied by subject.
Add- ons are a great feature of Google Doc. They provide additional functionality through a side bar beside the document. To find and install add ons, navigate to the Add- ons dropdown menu and select Get add ons… On a recent look around I ran into two new add- ons to help support writing.
After installing the add-ons be sure to provide permissions to the microphone and press start. You can select which language to dictate in. Speech recognition works similarly to other dictation supports in accepting voice commands for periods, commas, etc. Giving it a test run, I must say I was impressed by the accuracy of the dictation. I also gave it a try in Spanish with some good results.
Check it out in action:
This add on allows a teacher to create a word bank with definitions which can be viewed to the side of the document. Using word clouds or word banks are a great way to guide reluctant writers and provide visual and memory supports for what should be included in the document.
I just ran into this new add-on keyboard and am very excited to share. Add-on keyboards are a new feature available when updating your iOS to 8. The general process of getting a keyboard involves purchasing it through the App Store. Once downloaded, you can customize settings within the app and then a user needs to activate the keyboard in the iOS system preferences (General>Keyboard). Almost all the keyboard apps I’ve seen provide very detailed information on how to go about doing this. Once everything is set up, no matter what app you are on you can call on the keyboard of your choice by tapping, holding and selecting your desired keyboard.
Now, onto the keyboard… this one is made by AssistiveWare who has been making some great accessibility software for Mac for quite some time. Their keyboard, Keeble is a pricy $14.99 as far as apps go but in my opinion is well worth it. This keyboard allows students to have the support of word prediction and auditory feedback (letter, word, and sentence) across all apps. They no longer need to stay tied to one app for writing which is huge!
In addition, to these writing supports for struggling writers, Keeble also offers a variety of touch modification options for those with fine motor delays that have a difficult time with on-screen keyboards. Options such as customizing hold duration, backspace repeat rates and select on release.
Visual supports, allow for extensive customization of colors and provides some basic keyboard layouts for the young learner. Vowels are also highlighted to help support literacy.
So far, it has been a great asset in allowing my students to produce writing on their iPads on Google Docs with the needed supports. The only con I have ran into so far is that their predictive spelling engine is not as robust as other providers of word prediction supports but does a pretty good job for most.
As more schools are turning to cloud and subscription based solutions, another assistive technology company has developed their text prediction software to meet this model. Quotes are available for school site licenses and are an extremely affordable option to provide all students not just those with IEP’s or 504’s technology supports. This is a great tool to add to a school’s Universal Design for Learning toolbox.
Don Johnston recently released Co:Writer Universal and it offers some lovely features. When a school signs up for a site license students and teachers can create individual accounts. This account can then be used to log into the Co:Writer Universal web app , download the Chrome extension, download a PC or Mac version of Co:Writer and just announced today use Co:Writer as an iOS device.
The web app also opens as a separate window in a browser and has a very similar interface to the iOS app. Previous documents are autosaved in the home menu and can be further edited. Functions such as inserting images, text formatting, customizing the word list, and speech feedback setting are available. Another helpful feature is the topic dictionary support. If the writing is related to a book for example, you can search for a topic dictionary related to the book title and the word prediction will start including character names and other book related vocabulary. Written work can then be sent to Google Drive or Dropbox accounts.
Co:Writer extension in a Google Doc
An added benefit to this tool is that it can also be downloaded as a Chrome extension and work directly within Google Docs or websites with text boxes to complete. I had tried using it within Slides but the performance in this app was varied. This is a great feature that is not available on other cloud based programs (see previous post here).
Co:Writer universal can also be downloaded as a stand alone program on a Mac or PC. Many of the features discussed above are available in the program with the addition of the word cloud window. A word cloud is also available to help guide writers with recommended words to include in their writing. The words appear in a separate window but coordinate with the word prediction to have words listed.
Just announced today, Co:Writer is also available as a free download from the app store. There is a stand alone version of Co:Writer for $20 however this does not link to the Universal account. It is important to download the Universal version of the app which works in tandem with the student’s account.
What is and why use word prediction and auditory feedback anyway?
Word prediction is often used for students who struggle with spelling and may be reluctant writers because of this difficulty. There are varying qualities of word prediction algorithms and use of “flexible spelling”. If the student types “tdy”, can the program predict “today”?
Auditory feedback can be used for students who struggle with grammar and produce writing sampled devoid of punctuation marks or omit words without noticing even if attempting to edit your work. Hearing back one’s writing helps students catch these errors. Some option for this feedback include hearing each letter typed (emergent writers), each word typed (assisting with sustained attention), or each sentenced typed. These are personal choices that a teacher and student can make to see what best benefits the writing.
Adobe has recently release its own story telling app. Although there are many in the app store this one offers a few unique benefits for teachers and students. Following the Universal Design for Learning model, using Voice can help provide students with a means of expression.
Voice follows a familiar “slide” format however it has pre- made templates for the following: Promote an Idea, Tell What Happened, Explain Something, Follow a Hero’s Journey, Show and Tell, Share a Growth Moment, Teach a Lesson, Share an Invitation, or Make Up My Own. Each template comes with a range of slides (5-8) that asks the user to answer a particular question on that slide. This is great for students who just don’t know where to start and what to say.
Within each template, students may add icons (provided by The Noun Project), photos, and text (No video). They are then able to record audio narration that follows the visual support. Once all the slides are built, the presentation can be customized by themes and background music can be added to run throughout. The great benefit of this app is that it provides rich variety of content within it. When adding photos, a student may search and Voice will only provide images tagged as having a Creative Commons License.
Once you are ready to publish, the project can either be public or private and all attributions are inserted automatically. This is a great pro for this app in getting users to give credit where credit is due.