There are now numerous apps to help children who struggle with reading and writing. Sal McKeown selects her top picks.
Capture their interest
Before you purchase skills based apps such as spelling programs, try to find ways to motivate your children through appealing games. If they enjoy an app, and even get a little bit obsessive, you might see better results than you expected. I have known children move from cautiously sounding out each letter to being competent readers because of the addictive nature of the game of Minecraft. A version is available for Apple and Android at £4.50.
'Let's write a story!' is a sure way to turn children off writing but many respond to the visual nature of Puppet Pals 2 (Apple, free), Storyboard That (Android - free) and Comic Life (Apple, £3.99). These encourage creativity and often children do not realise that they are composing and writing.
For young children who are not making expected progress in reading, writing and spelling, my favourite app is probably the whole suite of Teach Your Monster to Read (£3.99 iPads and PC computers but not available for iPhone or Android). Children create their own monster and teach it to sound out letters, to blend sounds and to get meaning from text. For many children, the monster becomes a friend and takes on a life of its own. One set of parents even had a puppet of the monster made for their daughter.
Other good apps for decoding and phonics are Chimp Fu By Nessy Learning Limited (Apple and Android, £2.99) which focuses on chunking words; and Reading Eggs (iPad, iPhone and Android tablet devices, £2.29) which covers compound words, syllables, plurals, word endings and proofreading.
For older learners who are lagging behind in reading and getting dispirited, Dockside Stage 4 (Apple, £10.49) is a good choice. Many children complain that the books for their reading level are so babyish that they are embarrassed to be seen with them - but they still need a variety of suitably paced reading activities so that learning becomes embedded. Dockside fits the bill. It centres on a block of flats on the outskirts of a city where the core characters have strong personalities and the storylines are ones that young people can relate to.
Two vital tools for older children are a good text to speech app, and word prediction. ClaroSpeak Plus (iOS, £4.99) is brilliant. It not only highlights the text for reading along, but lets users convert the file to audio – great for revision. You can change the colours of text and background, and edit the word prediction facility to add in specialist vocabulary such as science terminology. It also offers Capture Text from Photo which means a reader can photograph a question paper, poster or page and have it read aloud. This is especially useful for young people out and about.
There are other good apps for writing including iReadWrite (iOS, £21.99) which offers word prediction, text to speech, different coloured backgrounds, text colour and font combinations. For learners in primary, Clicker Documents would be a good option (iOS, £21.99). It has Sassoon font, a lower case keyboard, word prediction and grids with key words for different subjects.
Sonocent recorder (Apple and Android, free) lets children record themselves reading aloud and then edit out the bad bits which get fewer over time. They can also record notes for an essay so the brainstorming is separated from the writing process.
Another approach is to use speech to text apps such as Dragon Dictation (Apple and Android, free). On many tablets there is a free Note app which features a microphone. Dictate, save and email and you have a first draft. Voice recognition is not perfect and the text will need very close proof reading but all the words are correctly spelt and for many young people that is a good start.
Sal McKeown is a member of the GSG's specialist SEN team and author of How to Help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child published by Crimson.