App of the Day: Simplex Spelling

App of the Day: Simplex Spelling

This article is courtesy of Wynsum Arts’ Every App Has a Story, the stories behind Wynsum Arts’ distinguished apps.

“People who read well aren’t automatically great at spelling but people who spell well are invariably great readers. With that in mind, we wanted to take a phonics-based spelling approach to literacy.”

–Craig Welburn, co-founder of Pyxwise Software and co-creator of Simplex Spelling

Simplex Spelling Phonics

When Lisa Welburn began to teach her oldest son how to read, her research led her to a phonics-based spelling approach to literacy. But the curriculum she envisioned wasn’t readily available. Her husband, Craig Welburn, stepped in to create an iPad app that has grown into a series of apps that help children from kindergarten through fifth grade learn to read.

“Most apps are for pre-K and kindergarten kids. There are few apps that address the more advanced and difficult aspects of literacy,” Craig says. “Once we had the structure of Simplex Spelling apps, we kept building on the apps to serve the needs of our children. They have responded well to the apps — as have many other kids. We’re pleased to make such a positive impact.”

Why Did You Create the Simplex Spelling Phonics apps?

Craig Welburn: My wife, Lisa, homeschools our children. She did a great deal of research regarding the best curriculum for teaching literacy after the first reading curriculum she tried didn’t click with our son.

Lisa realized that a phonics approach is one of the best ways to approach literacy. She also learned that people who read well aren’t automatically great at spelling but that people who spell well are invariably great readers. With that in mind, we wanted to take a phonics-based spelling approach to teach our son how to read.

We actually take a reverse phonics approach. Spelling is sort of reading in reverse. Whereas reading is decoding — or sounding out words — spelling is encoding — or converting sounds to letters.

At first, Lisa created worksheets by hand. The approach proved beneficial to our son, but it was quite time-consuming for Lisa. As a programmer, I knew I could make a program that would take the tedious work out of creating the curriculum and allow Lisa to focus on teaching.

How Do the Simplex Spelling Phonics Apps Work?

Craig Welburn: We have a series of Simplex Spelling apps that build off each other:

Simplex Spelling Free Lite allows potential users to evaluate our products to decide if they want to purchase the full version of Simplex Spelling HD – Dolch Sight Words or another Simplex Spelling app. This free app includes more than 50 high-frequency words. (This word list is different from those in the other apps, so it is a complementary app.)

Simplex Spelling HD – Dolch Sight Words teaches the 260 words that make up more than half of all printed text. This includes the most common words in the English language such as ‘the,’ ‘and,’ and ‘of.’

Simplex Spelling Phonics 1 introduces basic phonics concepts systematically. It works well for students that already know the primary letter sounds for the individual consonants. Simplex Spelling Phonics 2 builds on the previous app and teaches syllables and how they affect spelling and reading. The word lists are a bit more difficult than those covered in Phonics 1.

Each of these apps covers roughly a year’s worth of curriculum. Phonics 1 is at the first to second grade level; Phonics 2 is designed for students at the second to third grade level.

Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms covers more advanced topics in phonics. The app is developed for students who have a good foundational knowledge of the more common and basic phonograms. This app features complex word lists totaling more than 750 words and it is designed for students at a fourth or fifth grade level.

Our oldest son has some vision issues and so we knew to color code letter cubes in our apps in a way that helps children with visual issues. Green signifies a letter is in the correct place, blue indicates that the child has placed the correct letter in the wrong place, and a letter that stays red is an incorrect letter.

This color-coding also provides instant feedback and encouragement. If a child has two letters reversed, he or she can see that they are almost right — which his far more helpful than a simple right/wrong answer, which can be very discouraging for kids.

We also have a hint system built into the program. If a child requests a hint, the app will suggest all of the letter combinations that make that sound. If the word is “truck” and the child doesn’t know how to complete the word, the hint for all of the -k sounds would include c, k, ck and ch. The app also teaches spelling rules that help to eliminate letter choices based on rules of the English language. Children start to recognize patterns and see how sounds fit together rather than purely memorizing spelling.

As we’ve developed the apps, we’ve acted on feedback from teachers, speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists to improve usability from several perspectives.

For example, one teacher worked with a child who has autism and is easily distracted. At the teacher’s suggestion, we added a button that pulses visually after a period of time with no response from the child in order to serve as a reminder to stay on task. The child can tap the button and the app speaks a reminder about what to do next. This feature has now been added to all of our apps.

We are also upgrading all of the apps with larger keyboards to better accommodate children with poor fine motor skills. (To date, Phonics 2 and Advanced Phonograms feature the larger keyboard.)

The apps are customizable: choose whether to use an alphabetical keyboard or a QWERTY keyboard; and in Phonics 1, Phonics 2 and Advanced Phonograms, choose how many times a child must spell a words to consider it mastered.

You can have up to 40 users, and the apps track progress and deficits so teachers or parents know where to focus teaching.

We are also working on a new app that will focus on foundational reading skills for kindergarteners. The interface on this app will feature animated characters and illustrations for each of the spelling words. Whereas we do not want the apps for older kids to appear babyish, we do want the upcoming app to fully engage younger children.

To find more apps to help your child with autism, download Wynsum Arts’ free app, i.AM Search – available on iTunes.

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