It wasn’t so very long ago that smartphones, tablets, and all the apps we currently take for granted were the stuff of science fiction. In the ‘90s and even the early ‘00s, we could hardly imagine all the clinical possibilities of the apps available now. But even at that time, research was offering evidence that pointed to the clinical value of incorporating technology into practice, and we looked at this evidence in a previous article.
Today’s Interactive Technology
Many current apps offer engaging contexts that are ideal for speech and language therapy in a school setting. At the same time, the language within the apps is minimal, and the pace can be set by the child and the clinician.
These features create an opportunity for clinicians to interact with the child and target clinical objectives such as responding to questions, describing, storytelling, and using morphological or grammatical structures.
Many apps provide a great value for both child and practitioner and can be effectively used in a therapy setting, including these five:
- Wonderkind GMBH—Including gems such as Tiny Airport, this app collection allows students to interact with scenes that come alive with just a tap on the screen. Clinicians can scaffold verbal descriptions from students as they tap to animate the characters and walk them through in-app activities like check-in, security screening, boarding, and flight.
- Toca Life–With more free-ranging choices, this series includes apps that simulate a town, city, school, vacation, and farm. Within these apps, students can choose characters and interact with objects within multiple scenes. For example, the school offers a “getting ready” scene that takes place at home, as well as classrooms and a playground. Using these interactions, the student can tell a story and even record it via screencast.
- MarcoPolo Learning—This company’s mission is to create apps targeting science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In the MarcoPolo Weather app, students can manipulate weather conditions such as wind, temperature, and precipitation in order to see the effects on chosen characters, providing a context for description and sentence formation.
- TinyBop’s The Human Body—Moving toward interactive apps for older students, this app along with other “sandbox” open-ended explorations of science and social studies topics allows students to play with models of body systems. Countless hidden interactions, described in a provided handbook, animate sequences related to the circulatory, nervous, digestive, and other systems.
- GoReact—Interactive apps can make more advanced topics come alive for students while providing language development opportunities in context. This free app, created by the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, invites students to “become virtual chemists.” Pictures of real-life applications for every element of the periodic table are provided, along with the opportunity to create “reactions” yielding practical chemicals related to everyday life.
Incorporating App Use into Therapy
In addition to providing a context for discussion while using the app, these apps also lend themselves to additional activities following app use that target speech and language goals. For instance, clinicians can consider using graphic organizers to sort information related to the app, having students write or act out stories, or scaffolding sentence construction activities.
It often doesn’t matter what the app itself does; it’s what we do with it to bring it into the context of therapy and our own creativity in how we use it!