Product Reviews

Articulate It!

Articulate It!

I love using the iPad for speech sound therapy, and Articulate It is my go-to app. If you are still using an articulation drill book, consider switching to this! It is much more efficient, as you can find your therapy targets at the touch of a button and student data is recorded and stored for you. Plus, students enjoy flipping through the pictures (these are either real pictures or color drawings) and playing the memory game much more than the simple line drawings found in many drill books. 

Articulate It has several features that make it one of the best of its kind. First, you can choose your therapy target not just by phoneme, as in other similar apps (e.g., Articulation Station and Pocket Artic), but also by phonological process, manner of articulation, and number of syllables. This is very useful when working with students who are targeting fronting, stopping, cluster reduction, etc. There is also a recording button to save speech samples, as well as a small "mirror" (the iPad camera) that can be turned on so that students get visual feedback as they make their sounds. Another nice feature is the large array of homework sheets - words and pictures containing the targeted sound - that can be printed out and send home.

Drawbacks to this app are relatively minor. Word lists have not been carefully edited to ensure that words contain targeted phonemes or sound classes (e.g., the following words are listed as containing fricatives: bongo, England, jungle, kangaroo, lung, marching band, ring, tango, wing). Another error: the word "wreath" is listed as a consonant cluster word (orthographically it is, but as a spoken word it is not). Other occasional mistakes in spelling and IPA (e.g., /y/ where /j/ is intended) detract from the overall quality of the app. 

One improvement I'd really like to see in this app regards how therapy session results are presented. Currently, results are only given in percentages. I like to keep track of the total number of trials and the student's number of correct responses. Similar apps, such as Articulation Station, display this information, and I wish Articulate It did, too.

Even though the SLP has to occasionally dodge some bad items, the convenience of Articulate It makes it well worth the money, as it replaces stacks of articulation cards and drill books. It can be used for every articulation student on caseload and has a number of other little features that make it enjoyable for students and the SLP alike.

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Conversation Builder

Conversation Builder

Conversation Builder has received numerous awards and currently has a user rating of 4 1/2 stars on Itunes. The concept is fantastic: students with pragmatic communication difficulties (e.g., children with ASD or Asperger's) learn topic maintenance and increase number of conversational turns through guided practice in a variety of realistic contexts.

This is how it works:  

Before the conversation begins, parameters are chosen (number of exchanges, topic, and the student's role as either the initiator or the responder). Students then begin guided conversation with the "people" in the app. During the student's turn, three comments are presented, one of which is more socially acceptable than the others. The student selects the correct comment and is then prompted to record it. The app's conversational partner then responds to the student's comment. This continues until the conversation has ended, at which point the student can play back the entire conversation to hear the flow of exchanges and progression of topics.

My students love this app to the point of giddiness (but beware, until the novelty has worn off, the temptation to record silly remarks and farting noises has to be carefully reigned in)! What I really like is the variety of conversational topics, the simplicity of the conversations, and that the students have the experience of hearing themselves take part in socially appropriate conversations.

I wish this app had more structure in terms of general pragmatic concepts that could be explicitly taught to the students. It would be great if each module could target one social conversational skill (e.g., if the conversational partner introduces a topic, the student's next response has to relate to that topic) that could then be reinforced if the student chooses an incorrect response. As it is, the app doesn't offer the student much insight into why incorrect responses are incorrect. The students using this app would benefit from explicit feedback that relates to previously taught rules for conversations.

And sometimes there is more than one socially acceptable response (in my opinion). For example, in the screenshot showing the boy reading a book, the student needs to choose a socially appropriate response to the comment, "They have a bunch of cool new books". I personally think that either the responses, "What makes them cool?" or "Where are they?" are acceptable (even the first comment, "I want to read the cool new books" is on topic, though the wording is somewhat stilted). 

Overall, this is a very good app for practicing pragmatic language skills, given that the SLP guides the student carefully at each conversational turn.

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See. Touch. Learn

See. Touch. Learn

If any app deserves a five star rating, it is See.Touch.Learn Pro. Its overall quality, particularly its extreme versatility, is unparalleled in the app world. In a pinch, you could use it with every single student on your caseload. 

To date, I've used See.Touch.Learn Pro with students from preschool to fifth grade for articulation, receptive and expressive vocabulary, categories, object associations, synonyms and antonyms, and object descriptions. I especially like the variety of high quality photos it offers (there are over 4,000 downloadable images), as well as the ability to upload my own images.

Creating lessons can be time consuming, but one of the really nice features of See.Touch.Learn Pro is the community forum, where users can upload their lessons and download those made by others. There are currently over 2,000 lessons available.
Here's how it works:

First you download the photo libraries on the app (they are categorized by theme, such as "Food", "Action Words", and "Pets"). You can also upload your own pictures and words. Then you are ready to create your lesson. On the lesson pages, there are up to six spots where cards can be placed. You drag desired cards from your picture library into the card spots. Once the cards are in place, you indicate which card/cards is the correct answer by tapping on it. You also customize the text that appears on the top of the page (usually instructions or questions directed at the student) and have the option of voice recording it. When all the pages in the lesson are complete, the student can play the lesson, selecting answers by tapping on the pictures. Students are given auditory feedback on their choices: a buzzer for incorrect responses and a bell for correct responses (these settings can also be changed). At the end of the lesson, the student's score is given.
The biggest drawback to See.Touch.Learn Pro has been the technical glitches (I use an older version iPad; it may perform better on other devices). It has frequently crashed when I have been creating lessons, causing me to lose all my work (the workaround for this is to save the lessons every few minutes). Another minor criticism I have of the app is that it doesn't lend itself well to naturalistic practice of speech and language skills. It is structured like a quiz, in which the student selects a correct response from a group of possible answers. These drawbacks are very small, however, compared to versatility and potential for therapy this app has to offer. Without a doubt, this is money well spent!

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Speech Buddies

Speech Buddies

Ever since I laid eyes on them back in my days as a speech intern, I've wanted to try Speech Buddies. These little wonder sticks are specially designed to go into a student's mouth and coax the articulators into precisely the right position to elicit the targeted sound, reducing the amount of time needed to master the sound. As an intern, having done my time in articulation therapy with popsicle sticks, diagrams, picture cards with snakes and other funny animals on them, and articulatory descriptions that evoked blank stares on my students' faces, there was something inherently appealing about the Speech Buddies' simplicity and elegance.

What prevented me from acquiring the Speech Buddies? The price. They sell for $124 apiece or $299 for the entire set. A set finally did come into my possession this February, after I received a generous materials grant from DonorsChoose.org. What arrived is depicted in the picture on the top left: 5 tools to elicit the sounds "sh", /s/, "ch", /l/ and /r/, and a carrying case (along with an instruction booklet).

I have tried the Speech Buddies with many of my artic students, aged 4 to 16, receiving services under a variety of eligibilities (speech and language impaired, learning disabled, cognitively impaired, etc). My experiences with these tools have ranged from amazing to complete failure. Let's start with the amazing.

There are few quick fixes in speech therapy, and Speech Buddies are no exception. But for a handful of students (all boys, ages 5, 6, 10, and 14, one with a cognitive impairment), who were not stimulable for their target sounds, the Speech Buddies had a quasi-magical effect once inserted into the mouth. These students, almost instantly, were able to produce their sounds perfectly in isolation, and sometimes at the word level (once the Speech Buddies were removed, however, it was business as usual). Seeing the smiles on their faces when they heard themselves pronouncing their sounds correctly, some after many years of articulation therapy, was priceless. I have not heard the new correct sounds generalized into the students' everyday speech, but we are not yet at the point in therapy where I would expect this.

Now on to the mundane. Most students I used the Speech Buddies with (the majority being K through 3rd grade) struggled initially to get the hang of them, regardless of which Speech Buddy was used. After a few 10-15 minute sessions, most students were producing closer approximations of their target sounds, though I'm not sure whether the gains were greater than those traditional artic therapy would yield.

For another handful of students, the Speech Buddies were an exercise in futility. I tried them with 2 children with Down Syndrome (for whom their effectiveness is still being evaluated by their creators). The instruments didn't fit correctly into the students' mouths, given the special anatomical differences of these children. Some younger students (ages 4 and 6) and students with a cognitive impairment had difficulty placing their tongue against the Speech Buddy to the point of frustration. The /r/ Speech Buddy was especially difficult for them, as it requires the student to unroll a coil with their tongue while simultaneously producing the /r/ sound. Overall, my students have had the most success with the "sh" and /s/ Speech Buddies, which are easiest to position against the tongue, and the least success with the "ch" and /r/ Speech Buddies, which are the most difficult.

Overall, I would recommend Speech Buddies for students, ages 5 and up, for whom traditional therapy methods have proved ineffective. 

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