Monday, 30 April 2012

School Writing - An iPad App Review

I was lucky enough to be given a copy of the School Writing app by demografix to trial with my class. After only two weeks of playing around with it, I feel I am only beginning to uncover the possibilities of how this fantastic app can be used with my students.

School Writing is a well-designed and thoughtfully planned app that can be used to assist children in developing handwriting, word recognition and spelling skills.
The app is comprehensive and packed with useful features but is still simple to use.
On first downloading and opening this app I was pleasantly surprised that it allowed me to quickly and easily add enough users for my entire class, as well as a “teacher” user that I created so I could play with the app myself and become more familiar with its many features.
School Writing comes preloaded with plenty of lessons to keep a class busy for a long time, but then it also allows teachers to create their own lessons to suit a particular focus or need.
Even though the name suggests that it is for teaching and practising writing skills only, it has prewriting activities (traceable shapes, mazes and dot to dots) as well as some numeral activities.
For early learners, the app could be used to develop tracing skills, numeral and letter recognition and formation skills.
Some of the preloaded activities include lists of Dolch words, word lists based around sounds and pairs of opposites.
The font setting can be changed to match Australian, New Zealand, US and UK school fonts in both print and pre-cursive styles. For print fonts there is also a choice between solid, dotted or outlines with starting points marked in.
I used this app in my classroom with some of my struggling spellers. I was quickly and easily able to add in my weekly spelling list and had the option of replacing some or all of the letters with dashes to make it more challenging, as well as recording the spoken word, with a sentence if preferred. This gave them an opportunity to practise their writing at the same time as their spelling. As soon as they finished the lesson, the app emailed me a file that I can view on my computer to check to see how they went.
Adding the list to one iPad with multiple users was a very simple process, and with the ability to import and export word lists via the demografix website, DropBox or iTunes, adding the weekly spelling list to multiple iPads is probably relatively painless too.
My brain is ticking over with the possible applications for this app in my own classroom in the future. Having individualised spelling lists in the past has been difficult to administer and time-consuming, but with this app it would be possible to set up customised lists. If the words were entered as blanks and the word and sentence was recorded in the app, then my students could take their spelling tests on their own and they would be emailed to me once they were done. This would mean that the students who worked more quickly would not be frustrated while waiting for the slower ones to finish and the child who invariably doesn’t hear the word due to distractions and is three words behind the rest of the class every week could listen to the word as many times as they needed and not feel pressured by everyone else who needs to move on. Also, any child who was out at the time of the test could take it at another time.
I am wondering if this app would work through a VGA adaptor so that students could write the words on the IWB. I don’t have a VGA adaptor, but if I did then having students trace the words in enormous letters would be another fun way for them to practise their spelling and letter shapes, and would be a good “midline-crossing” exercise.
Lessons to focus on word families and rhyming would be a cinch to create using School Writing.
The ability to record the student’s voice enables teachers to assess sight word recognition, or oral sentence construction using a list of words as well.
Because of the number of ways that this app can be customised, its application in the classroom or for home learning is extremely flexible and I am sure that as I become more familiar with the range of settings, I will find many more ways to use the School Writing app to support my learners.
If you are interested in finding out more about this app, visit the demografix website

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