Saturday, November 19, 2011

Goodbye pencils!!! Hello iPad!

If you are a parent or teacher of a kid who is resistant to writing, you'll love to hear about a partial solution to handling writing homework. 

David and I don't have kids at home anymore, but we are both mentors.   Because some of our own kids were not writing geniuses, we knew about the potential torture of a writing assignment and this is certainly true at times with David's mentee.  The homework drama began when the classroom teacher emailed David saying that a written book report was a week late.  (As a parent, I used to cringe at emails, phone calls, or notes like this.)    I hated to watch an agonizing display of writing torture unfold in our dining room,  so I suggested Dragon Dictation on the iPad as an alternative to the physical act of writing.  David jumped on it!!!  (Although it would be nice if all children could finish assignments quickly, the reality here is that this boy works too slowly when traditional methods are used---it's not best practice in education for children to spend too much time on homework when they could be outside getting some exercise or engaged in more meaningful activities.)

The book itself (The Widow's Broom, by Chris Van Allsburg)  was great--interesting plot, lots of fantasy, great illustrations .  Raul, David's mentee, had lots and lots to say about it.  When he got to our house, though, he reportedly only had two words written (we didn't actually see the two words.) 

Dragon Dictation on the iPad is free.  Essentially, you open the app, press the red button, and speak clearly and slowly into the iPad microphone.  The app converts your speech to text.  It's not perfect--it doesn't use grammar to determine word choice and may just give you a string of unrelated interpretations of what it thinks you said.  The app doesn't know peoples names, and you really need to proofread it and fix everything. If someone doesn't speak clearly, this app may not work well.  For this purpose, though, Dragon Dictation did the job.   This report was a combination of dictating and some onscreen editing with the displayed keyboard.  It was then easy to email the final notes to a different computer (with Word), cut and paste, and then edit the final project.  No pencil needed!  Raul did his editing himself.

How did this program make things easier?   My thoughts:

1.  Instant feedback/gratification----the child said words or sentences producing immediate written results
2.  Attention holding---iPad screens are easier to attend to than a piece of paper.  I saw more 'on target' working at my dining room table.
3.  Spelling---This eliminated the questions kids often say when writing which is "How do you spell ____".  Our boy simply spoke the word into the iPad and the spelling appeared.
4.  On screen editing---after dictating, it was easy to go into the text and edit on the iPad with the keyboard display.

Did it solve all of this boy's writing problems?  NO --this homework process was still time consuming, and his final product was a bit sparse by 5th grade standards.
Did he get his work done independently?  YES
Did he have most of his day to have fun outside, to work on cub scout badges, and to play soccer and ping pong?  YES

We'll be doing this again for the next project, I'm sure!  Good-bye pencil!

This is the iPad recording speech.  A little hard to see here.

On screen editing.
Final Product!!!!!


  1. Dragon Dictation is a wonderful tool! My 9th grader Logan uses it to dictate the majority of his papers and then e-mails, edits, and prints just like you said. It has been a life saver in terms of maximizing energy expenditure and independence, minimizing frustration, and getting what's in his head out fast enough that his thoughts are accurately captured. Love it!

  2. This is exactly why we just got an Ipad for my son who has mild Cerebral Palsy with hand tremors. He has a terrible time with handwriting. The neuropsychologist actually recommended an Ipad with dragon dictation to make it easier on him. We have just started playing with it, but the look on his face when it typed what he said was priceless.


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