I used to use Clicker by Crick Software many years ago when I worked with special needs students, so I was delighted to have to opportunity to look at two of their iPad apps, Clicker Docs and Clicker Sentences. Initially I was going to review them together, but each is a stand-out on its own, so I’m going to write about each separately.
When you first open Clicker Docs, it looks much like a standard word processor, but look a little closer and you’ll see that it s packed with features that support learners with a range of needs.
Clicker Docs is a word processor that has been designed to support learners with a range of needs. It has many supportive feature including:
- Word banks
- Word prediction
- Text to speech
- Spell check
- Accessibility features
Each of these features can be adapted to suit the needs of individual learners with a variety of needs, making it a very versatile tool for the classroom or home.
Word banks consist of grids of words, with up to 24 words in each grid, that appear on demand at the bottom of the screen. They are used in addition to the onscreen keyboard. A word bank might consist of any number of such linked word grids. I found the word banks very easy to set up before an activity but was also happy with how easy they are to edit on the go, making them ideal for the kind of “Personal Dictionaries” my children use at school. If you want to make the process even easier, copy a chunk of text (such as a paragraph of text copied from a web page) and paste it into a new word bank. Common words such as and, I, and but can be filtered out, leaving the remaining text organised alphabetically in grids. This makes it very easy to set up subject/topic-specific grids. It only took me a minute to find the text of Waltzing Mathilda online, copy the lyrics, and paste them into a new word bank to create a set of alphabetical grids with all the words. Possibly my only real criticism was that it was difficult to work out how to use this filtering feature, as it was not easy to find instructions. I only found it when I watched the YouTube video. It would be good to see instructions put more prominently into the Help files and user guide.
The way you organise each set of grids will depend on the child who is to use them in the activity. For personal dictionaries that children add to as they encounter new words, you could set up a series of alphabetical grids with one letter per grid. For other themes, such as our holiday exercise, you might set them up in groups such as people, places etc. Grammar activities might use word banks organised into parts of speech. Schools will find the Dropbox feature handy for setting up word banks on class iPads.
Crick Software has a free library of word banks at LearningGrids.com that are free for Clicker Docs users to download. You can have a look at them in a web browser, but there is a link inside the app that makes them easy to find, load and use. I love that they have organised libraries for the UK, US and Australia/New Zealand, with specific content for those countries. Some of the word banks appear in all three libraries, but they may differ in terms of spelling and content, such as a list of Australian fauna probably won’t have much relevance in the US. Although you will automatically connect to the library of your country, you can still visit the other libraries and browse and download the word banks you find there.
Word prediction and Spell Check
Word prediction is a handy feature, particularly for slower typists or those with fine motor difficulties as it cuts down the number of keystrokes you need to type a word. As you type, a list of suggested words appears at the top of the keyboard grid. The SoundShift button (see below) can be used to speak any of the suggested words before selecting them. I set the word prediction preferences to show 8 words, which is the maximum Clicker Docs will display, but you can reduce the choices to as few as 4. You can also set the word prediction cells to appear in two different sizes. When you load a word bank, the vocabulary used will appear in the word prediction cells.
Predict Next Word – In addition to predicting the words you are typing, the word prediction feature can also try to predict the next word you may use in a sentence. If your child uses the word prediction feature, it is important for them to think about the sentence they wish to write so they don’t become reliant on the predicted words, as this might distract them from what they need to write. If predicting the next word becomes a problem, you can turn off the Predict next word option. The other thing you can do is to limit the database used for prediction. Three sizes of database are available: 250, 2500, or 20000 words. I won’t go into the nitty-gritty of how to change these settings, but it is very easy to do and well-documented in the app. Word banks can still be handy for those using prediction, as the vocabulary used is added to the prediction database (while the word bank is in use.) As you cannot permanently add words to the database, a good idea is to create a word bank of commonly used words, such as names and places, that would otherwise not appear in the prediction cells.
Spelling – If a spelling error is detected, the error will be highlighted with a dotted line underneath. If the highlighted word is tapped, suggested spellings will appear in the word prediction cells. If prediction is turned off, these cells will pop up in a temporary display. The SoundShift button can be used to hear the suggested words. Spell check can be turned off.
Text to speech feedback
Clicker Docs comes with a choice of three voices, each with a different English accent: Tyler (Australian), Heather (US) and Rachel (UK). Voices can be adjusted in terms of speed. Beginners may prefer a slower speed to begin with. Speech feedback allows users to hear letters, words and/or sentences, with these elements highlighted as read in a colour of your choice. Hearing a sentence spoken aloud can give valuable feedback, for example listening for grammatical errors or identifying words that you may not be able to read.
The Sound Shift feature allows users to hear the contents of a word prediction or word bank cell before selecting it, which is very supportive of those with reading difficulties. Hearing words as they are typed can alert children to errors that spell checking won’t find such as incorrect word usage (e.g. Using bark instead of back).
Keep in mind that, although these voices are very good, there are some words they may have difficulty with, although these are fairly predictable and won’t cause too many problems. After some extensive testing (ok, after lots of fun deliberately trying to trick it), we found that most words are pronounced correctly, and Aussie Tyler even coped well with some of our more interesting place names such as Biloela, Toowoomba, Nundah and the like, although it struggled with Muckadilla and Gympie (pronounced as “gym-pee” with the soft “g” instead of the hard “g” sound.) If you have an unusual name, it might have an unusual pronunciation, but other than that I’m impressed with the accuracy of the artificial voice.
As text is read aloud, it is highlighted word by word. I love this feature because it helps children identify specific words and track text as read. It may not be the way the app is intended to be used, but I can see this feature being useful for children with reading difficulties when it comes to accessing text from other sources, for example web pages or emails. Simply copy some text and paste it into a Clicker Docs document to hear it read aloud, with the text highlighting helping students to track the text as it is read.
- Swipe Grids - allows students to swipe between grids. Can be turned o or off.
- Show Touches - this feature briefly displays a small yellow dot to show when and where the screen has been touched. It is a great feature for use with electronic whiteboards so that everyone can see where the screen is touched. Now that I’ve seen it, I’d love to see this feature in more apps. Can be turned on or off.
- Low Vision - Font type and size can be changed, along with the colours of the text, highlight text and background, to suit students with low vision.
- Guided Access – Clicker Docs has been designed to take advantage of Guided Access. As all the tools are placed consistently on the app screens, guided access can be used to prevent student access to selected features, such as printing. Turn on Guided Access and trace around the areas you wish to disable.
- Bluetooth Keyboard access – A recent update to the app added support for Bluetooth keyboards, which means those accessing the iPad with external keyboards can still use supportive features of this app. Word prediction, spell checker suggestions, and the SoundShift button are accessible even when the keyboard is minimised.
Printing and Sharing documents
Documents created with Clicker Docs can be printed from the iPad to any Air Print printer.
You can also email documents as attachments that can be opened in other Clicker apps, as a text attachment, or you can copy and paste the text into an email. The Clicker Docs help files mention retaining pictures, but I haven’t found any way of including pictures in the documents I create. I suspect this might be an error in the documentation. Or maybe it is just me?
The app is outstanding on its own, but there are always a couple of features I’d love to see in future updates:
- Alternative word bank sharing and storage options – At the moment you can use Dropbox to store word banks and to share them between school and home iPads, and this is great as long as you are happy to share the Dropbox account. I’d love to be able to store word banks on my desktop computer and to email them to other users. I’d also like to contribute to the LearningGrids resource centre. At the moment, all I can email and store are the documents I create.
- Graphics – it would be fun to be able to add an illustration to the document, for example importing a photo from the iPad photo reel or taking a photo with the iPad camera. This would be great for report writing and other genres that involve illustrations.
- Export formats – being able to export as plain text, or to compatible app or program (e.g. Clicker Sentences on the iPad or Clicker 6 on a Mac or PC) is great, but a PDF format would be very useful (particularly if the Clicker Fairy grants my graphics wish.) As I have no air printer and no Clicker 6 on my iMac, I have to email the text to myself, paste it into a word processor, adjust the size and font, and then print if I want it to look the same as the way my children have created it. A PDF document could cut out a couple of steps between the email and the printer.
Even though it has lots of features, it is very easy to open Clicker Docs and use it without needing a lot of help. Still, if you want to see the full potential of Clicker Docs, here are a few suggestions:
- Download word banks from LearningGrids.com to see the different ways they might be used.
- Watch the YouTube video above
- Sign up for one of Spectronics’ webinars. (Crick Software occasionally offer free webinars/demonstrations for their products on both their UK and their US websites)
- Play with the app – it won’t take you long to feel comfortable with it.
People used to paying just a dollar or two for an app might be put off by the $32.99 price tag, but what you are paying for here is quality and versatility. For the average student, it provides a few extra features to help them get to the next level in writing. For students with disabilities and learning difficulties, it is an inclusive app that can offer the scaffolding they need to do the same tasks as their peers. Clicker Docs is well worth the investment and is a must-have for all schools. Please let your specialist teachers know about this one as it is a very valuable tool. Thank you to Charlene Cullen from Spectronics and to Crick Software for providing the app to me for review. The opinions expressed in this review are my honest views on the app.