Ever since we were given a chance to check out the app Comprehension TherAppy last June, we here at iSPeak App have come to equate Tactus Therapy Solutions with excellent, highly-specialized intervention apps. Close at the heels of Naming TherAppy is their third and latest release: Writing TherAppy. And given our experience with the two apps that preceded Writing TherAppy, we have learned to not underestimate this new member of Tactus Therapy’s app family.
Despite its name, Writing TherAppy is not an app that helps one on writing per se: this is not an app that requires the user to physically write on the screen using a fingertip or a stylus. This app was designed to work on the spelling aspect of writing, in other words, putting letters together to spell out a target word. This is a boon for individuals with language difficulties such as aphasia: by taking out the need to use a writing instrument in order to spell the name of a picture, they are free to focus on the graphemic aspect of writing and less on the graphomotor aspect.
Fill-In-The-Blank: a picture is shown with its label spelled out under it, except for 1-2 missing letters. Tap on the correct letter from a selection of letters to spell out the target word.
Copy: a picture is shown with its label spelled out completely above it. Below the picture are squares onto which a client can drag letters from a letter set provided in the bottom of the page.
Spell What You See: a picture is shown in the middle of the screen, but instead of written label, below it are squares representing the number of letters that the target word has. Tap-drag the letters from a letter set provided in the bottom of the page. Tap on the picture itself to hear its label said out loud.
Spell What You Hear: this activity involves spelling to dictation. No picture is shown. Instead, in the middle of a page, a sound icon is shown. The page plays the target word out loud, and the client is to tap-drag the letters onto the squares to spell the target word. Should the client wish to hear the word again, the icon may be tapped to play the audio clip once more.
As with the past apps that we have done review articles on, we invited some of our clients to give Writing TherAppy a go. While we helped them use it, cued, prompted, and eventually let them take the helm, we saw more and more of what the app could do.
Awesomer and awesomer:
- lightweight! Quietly hums in its little imaginary machine: any speech-language pathologist will tell you that setting up any therapy task for a client requires a lot of performance-oriented thinking. This app can deload any clinician a lot of that work. A light bantamweight packing a mere 8.7mb, it’s barely there in your iDevice’s memory yet it was able to take over several functions: going through and mixing pictures from pre-selected categories, selecting foils depending on the level of difficulty, repeats / plays back the audio clip for the client to hear, etc. It did all of these so effectively that our adult clients were intensely engaged in each task.
- clean user interface: the developers have lived up to their name and for being known for clean, compelling interfaces. The crucial buttons were likewise present: the Home icon, Correct and Incorrect Responses indicator, progress bar, Settings button, and the Information button. Two new buttons grace the activity screens: a Hint button on the left of pictures and a Check button on the right.
- sounds remained appropriate, crisp and clear: this app shared the same audio characteristics with its older siblings: a light, non-distracting ping for correct answers and a soft thunk for incorrect ones.
- practical options under Settings: the ability to allow some tweaking is usually the very thing that extends an app’s usability across clients. We didn’t expect any less from the developer, and we were right. The musts were present:
- maximum number of trials: choose from 10, 20, 30, 50 trials, or an infinite number of trials
- maximum number of letters: ranges from 3 to 10
- default e-mail address for results: allows one to enter an email address to which a brief results page will be sent to
- child-friendly mode: toggle this on and certain pictures are eliminated, such as pictures of beer or wine
- 12 Categories, 497 pictures: this app’s picture stash is beautifully sorted under categories, with the number of pictures under each category thoughtfully specified. Tap on the checkboxes of the categories you want to include in your stack, and tap the arrow to proceed. It will present the pictures in random.
- the Check button: we consider the inclusion of a Check button as something very crucial. First, the app does not automatically accept/reject letters placed on the squares. If it did, then one can simply swipe letters onto squares until the app accepts it. Second, the button gives the client a choice: have the app check his work for him right away, or he checks his own work before submitting it for checking. All our adult clients checked their own spelling first before tapping on Check to have the app score their answer as correct or incorrect. By giving a client an opportunity to critique his own work, the app tends to address cognitive issues as well, particularly self-monitoring.
- the Hint button: we have a number of observations about this button, all of which deserve two thumbs up:
- There are two types of Hints, depending on an activity’s chosen level of difficulty: one is that it removes several foils and narrows the client’s letter options down. Tapping on the Hint button can also put a letter in the first box of the target word, cueing the user with what letter the word starts with.
- Hint has slightly different functions across activities and across difficulty levels. For example, in an easy Fill-in-the-Blank activity where there are four letter choices, there is no Hint button for the client to use. However, in a medium Fill-in-the-Blank activity where the entire alphabet is presented for the client to choose from, tapping Hint will remove majority of the foils and will leave only four letter choices.
- Again, depending on the level of difficulty, there are limits as to how many times the Hint button can be used. The Hard levels gives the user three chances to use Hint, and one can use Hint only once in Easy levels. Once the client has learned this, he is compelled to save his Hint button until he has exhausted all his resources coming up with the correct answer.
- the Spell-What-You-See activity: otherwise known as the written naming when shown a picture, a client is to select from a set of letter choices to spell out the picture’s label. The beauty of this particular activity is that the client may opt to tap on the picture to hear its label said out loud. In other words, a client may have difficulty retrieving the picture’s name and may want an auditory cue. The app allows that, letting the client spell given both visual and auditory cues.
- the Spell-What-You-Hear activity: contrary to the cueing options that the Spell-What-You-See activity has, this activity allows only spelling after a dictated word is played. A sound icon occupies the space where a picture usually appears. A client can tap on the icon as often as he wants to in order to play back the audio clip as he spells the target word out.
- foils increase across difficulty levels: do note for the following descriptions of the app’s difficulty levels, the Hint button gives the client options to reduce the number of foils or to cue him with the first letter of the target word.
- in the Easy Copy, Spell-What-You-See and Spell-What-You-Hear activities, all letter choices are to be used in the target word, and all the user has to do is to unscramble these in order to arrive at a correct answer. An Easy Fill-In-The-Blank asks the user to choose which letter was missing from four letter choices.
- In the Medium difficulty level, the client is to choose the correct letter from the entire alphabet in Fill-In-The-Blank. For the rest of the activities, two letter foils are added in the letter choices.
- In Hard levels, the Fill-In-The-Blank takes away not one but two letters from every target word, and the client must choose which letters were these from the alphabet choices. The rest of the activities also require the client to choose from the entire alphabet.
What we would love to see as updates:
Since it was important for us to critique the app from an adult client’s point of view, we made sure that we interviewed our clients who used the app about their impressions on its ease-of-use, visuals, and usefulness in therapy. They only seemed too happy to participate in this app review, thus we will list down their comments here:
- bump up the letter size in the tiles: our clients liked the font and the letters’ tiled presentation. Placing the tiles further apart can compromise word reading, and putting them a bit too near each other will make touch-dragging a challenge for our fine-motor challenged users. If increasing the fonts by a few points won’t hurt the layout of longer words, then it would be a welcome upgrade. Slightly bigger letter tiles can also be a boon to clients with fine-motor impairments.
- picture size is adequate: we were happy when our clients liked the picture size (especially when we figured we may have gotten a bit spoiled by Naming TherAppy’s big pictures).
- options for taking out specific letter positions: this applies to the Fill-In-The-Blank activity. Some of our clients preferred to be presented with words whose middle or final letters were missing, and would wish to tackle missing initial letters as a slightly more difficult activity. One client however expressed that he did not mind the randomization so much.
- written word retrieval
- copying letter-by-letter (focused attention)
- learning and relearning spelling
- spelling shown a picture
- spelling to dictation