Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Spell Blocks is “good” and “fun”!

Or so say our students.
First off, Spell Blocks is an app for spelling words not building words. We do a lot of word building activities in our class, usually with magnetic letters and letter tiles.We have been looking for an effective app that would give our kids opportunities for further practice in the building of words and we came across this one.

Though it does not involve the building of words, we also teach sight words and so we wanted to try this one out.With this app, children can practice the spelling of common sight words from preloaded word lists.

As the very nature of sight words inhibits their instruction via a purely phonological approach, it makes sense that as you tap on each letter, the letter name is given and not the letter sound. The settings offered include controlling the background music, the sound effects, adding extra letters, automatic progression to the
next word, the use of flagging and random words. The word lists levels offered are: pre-primer, primer, first grade, second grade, and third grade levels.
A setting called “flagging” is offered but I am not sure what that is for. It also appears that you can get a “final” score for a given round to determine which words were spelled correctly and which words were not.

We tried this app out at the Pre-Primer level and the First Grade level. Children are given blank squares and an assortment of letters (this assortment can be the needed letters out of order OR the needed letters +extra letters if you choose that setting). We opted for only using the needed letters. There is no need for extra letters to confuse our already confused students.

The concept is simple and the children figured it out quickly. A word is said and you drag the letters one at a time to build the word. It will not allow you to drag a letter out of order (say, filling in the “a” in “can” before placing the “c”. It will also not allow you to place an incorrect letter in a spot. As one of our students said, “It won’t let you make mistakes!” I asked her if that was a good thing and she answered in the affirmative. As you move each letter, the name of each letter is said.

A score keeper is visible at the bottom of the screen. For every correct move or placement of a letter, points are earned. For every incorrect attempt, points are deducted. Overall, our students stated that they like this feature. Some in fact, were a little obsessed with it.

As you complete the word correctly, small fireworks go off with some congratulatory audio. The children I asked said they liked this “reward”. The next word will automatically appear if you sent that up (settings) or you can manually flip to the next word. We set the automatic next word setting.

Overall, this app is simple to use and pretty effectively does what it should do. As a replacement for using letter tiles, it is useful only for the teaching of the given words. By using the preset word lists, you can reinforce the acquisition of sight words. Since you are not able to add your own words, you cannot use this app to teach “word building” through familiar word families or patterns. Again, it is only good for the practicing of common sight words.

Suggestions for improvement: I would like for the colors of the letters to be coded. At the moment, they are colored randomly. I would prefer a color for vowels (say, red) and a color for consonants (say,
blue).Although the children overall liked this app and said that it was “fun” and “good” (somehow I think they would say that about all the apps), several commented that they wanted it to be more “challenging”.
I would say that those comments came from our “readers” group.

Nonetheless, a suggestion to make this challenging for our readers could be to encourage the use of the words in context somehow-perhaps after all the words are spelled, the user could be asked to use the various words to fill in a blank in a given sentence.

A suggestion for our non-readers or those more unsteady in their grasp of letter sounds could have a setting that allows some letters to be preset in a given word. In that way, the user has tighter parameters to work within.

In sum-we will be using this app in the future...until something better comes!

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