Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spell Blocks

I found the Spell Blocks app to be a useful tool for helping kindergarteners reinforce letter-sound correspondence and word-building skills. Students listen to a word, and then build the word by dragging and dropping the scrambled-up letters of the word into empty spaces. We do similar work in our classroom with sets of letter tiles, but the advantage of doing this type of activity with the iPad is that it could be used at a more independent work time, because the student is prompted by the computerized voice and gets feedback as to whether he/she has built the right word -- without the teacher needing to be present. This means that a child who needs extra reinforcement with letter sounds can easily get practice without waiting for a teacher to be available to give feedback.

Features I liked about this app:
  1. The user (teacher or student) can specify the difficulty level and whether extra letters are added. That way it can be more or less customized to each child's word-building skill level.
  2. Also, the user can adjust whether the screen advances automatically to the next word, and whether the words appear in a pre-set order or randomly. I think the random option is very useful for a child who may be working repeatedly on the same level, so that he/she does not just repeatedly build the same words, and instead gets a different set of words to build each time.
  3. Also, I liked the simple way that the app deals with student responses. When a child puts a letter in the wrong place, the letter simply bounces back to the bottom of the screen; when the word is built correctly, a burst of fireworks appears on the screen.
Features that I didn't like as much about this app:
  1. It was sometimes hard to hear the target word. The volume never got particularly loud (even when set as high as possible), and the target word was spoken quickly. When we do this type of word-building activity as a teacher-led activity, we make sure to stretch out the sounds to give students the scaffolding they need to break down the word and put it back together with tiles. That kind of support isn't offered by Spell Blocks.
  2. Also, I think the program would be better if the word were said in a sentence, to emphasize the meaning and put it in a context. We use this approach when we do teacher-led word-building activities.
I watched one of our lower-level readers try out the Spell Blocks app in our classroom. She clearly was very motivated to work with it, and she reported that she had fun and was learning a lot about how to spell words. She quickly got the hang of the app, and she learned to deal with the difficulty of hearing the target word by getting in the habit of pressing the "repeat" button and then saying the word out loud.

Students can get the hang of this app quickly, and I think it'd be useful in a kindergarten class during an independent work time or choice time. Students may need a little support from a teacher in understanding the computerized voice and in utilizing the repeat button.

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