WriteReader for iPad has clearly had a lot of thought go into it from an educational and technical perspective. It’s main USP is that it will help to develop your child’s writing through using phonetically based sounds to create words which can be turned into a publishable eBook. However, does it live up to it’s promise?
WriteReader has a lot of financial backing and it heralds from Denmark. It’s modus operandi is to teach children to write. I would say that the app should be aimed at reluctant writers who have a lot of parental support. I also don’t believe it is the sort of app your child could use effectively without direct assistance from an adult.
Once you open the app you are prompted to create a new book, which is template based. There is a section for a picture, a section for the child’s text, and then another section below this for the adult ‘translation’ of the child’s writing. WriteReader has a special keyboard which allows you to toggle between the phonetic sound of the letter, the actual sound of the letter, or no sound at all. This is a great idea in theory as children can experiment with different sounds that they think might make up their words.
The issue I came up against is some letters sound phonetically different when they are in different words. If you have double ‘e’ sound, for example in ‘speech’, the phonetic ‘e’ on the keyboard sounds nothing like this. I am, of course being picky here and the technology isn’t yet advanced enough to make this distinction on the fly, but I am coming from a position of doing nightly spellings with my 5 year old at the moment, and I’m sure many of you reading this are in a similar position. Using this with my daughter could cause confusion for her as different letters sound different depending on the word they are in, whereas in WriteReader each letter has one phonetic sound only. In addition, letters like ‘o’ and ‘u’ sound almost identical in the app which again, could cause confusion. Also, despite choosing British English as the language at the start, the letter sounds and proper letter sounds were Americanised, ‘z’ is pronounced “zed” here, but over the pond and in WriteReader it is pronounced “zee”.
On the mechanics of the app I couldn’t find a way to change the standard template, which is good and bad. In terms of the good, the child can focus on the writing without the distraction of messing about with layout. Also, when it is published, you know the book will format properly. The bad is that all the books end up looking the same and it would be good to have the option of activating different templates for pages to keep interest in the variety of ebooks that the children can produce. I do like the way the book can be published to a public library, or shared with individuals. Your child could make a book and share it specifically with family members, rather than the whole world having to see it.
WriteReader states that its aim is to help children to learn how to write. I think this app certainly would, BUT it depends on the child. Clearly, I can only go on my own experiences as a teacher and a parent, and although I am a huge advocate of iPads in education (being responsible for implementing 1000 in my own school curriculum), I would say that learning to write at the age group this app is aimed at should probably be kinaesthetically based ie with a paper and pencil, with the emphasis on learning the sounds and muscle memory of physically writing. Throwing another thing into the mix at this stage of education may do more harm than good, in this case a QWERTY keyboard. You also have the issue that if the child is learning letters, words and sounds in one way at school, and the app teaches it another way this may have a detrimental effect on the learning.
Where this app would be useful is for reluctant writers who may need an extra stimulus in order to help them, or maybe dyslexic children who may find it empowering to match the sounds to the letters in order to write sentences (please bear in mind though that I am not a dyslexia specialist). I think it would be quite motivational for these children to be able to write and publish an eBook of their own making.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the tone of this review may come across as negative, but I don’t mean it to be. The app itself is very polished and well made and I do like the level of thought that has gone into it. I just think that it is positioning itself as a tool to teach writing, which I think it certainly would do, but only under certain conditions and with certain types of children. I can see this app as being on the cusp of something excellent, but maybe it needs to be aimed at a particular type of child rather than being aimed at all children.
WriteReader is available in the App Store on this link. It is currently free, but if you want to create more than 2 books you then have to make an in-app purchase of $4.99.
The publishers supplied me with a copy of the app to review.