A School Psychologist's resource for all things tech.

Over the last few weeks, I was whipped into shape, grammar shape, with Grammarly.  Have you never heard of it and wondering what it is? It is a grammar check on steroids!   Grammarly goes beyond the basic spelling, and grammar check built into typical word processors such as Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, Google Docs, etc. We all have experienced the embarrassment of spell check missing an error in a report that we’ve written or a letter. Or we’ve been frustrated by Word’s repeated flagging of a mistake over and over again that isn’t an error. Or we’ve seen the errors in a student’s writing that is clearly an incorrect suggestion from Word’s spell check but the student just accepted all of Word’s suggestions without thinking about whether it was right or not. If you think that errors in your writing don’t matter, check out the helpful infographic below. I’ve had the pleasure of being able to utilize Grammarly for the last few weeks*.

Features and “Pros”

  • Multiple methods to utilize Grammarly. For example, Microsoft Word Add-On, Chrome Browser Extension, and Grammarly Website.  I frequently used Grammarly within Chrome and Word.  Inside of Chrome, Grammarly checks everything from Google Docs, to emails, even within website form fields such as within our IEP system.
  • Robust grammar suggestions.  At times I was blown away by the suggestions and also utterly confused because to be completely honest, grammar is not my strong suit.
  • Identifies comma errors. I know commas can be a touchy subject, some individuals are comma happy while others are comma minimalists.  I believe Grammarly’s comma suggestions are a good balance but also grammatically correct.
  • Explanation of grammar suggestions. I was pleasantly surprised by the in-depth explanations and examples to support the suggestions that Grammarly produces.
  • When writing it is easy to switch between reviewing Grammarly’s suggestion, making changes, and then back into what you are writing. For more detailed screenshots see below.
  • It reminds you that nothing can replace a human proofreading you’re writing so there is no guarantee that it is as good as a human.
  • Grammarly provides a “score” if you upload or copy and paste a document into their website editor. For students, I see the potential for students to be able to set goals to minimize the number of errors in their writing and increase their score.  The score could potentially be used as a progress monitoring tool…maybe.
  • Errors are grouped as “critical issues” and “advanced issues”.  The advanced issues really took more of my brain power to think about whether Grammarly’s suggestion was correct because the explanation often talked about things such as “unclear antecedent”, passive voice vs. active voice (that’s a throwback to middle school), etc.
  • English teachers would probably love Grammarly’s “vague word” or “redundant word” suggestions.  It makes suggestions for words such as “big”, “actually”.

Cons

  • Premium is a monthly fee.  I personally dislike services and products that have a recurring monthly fee.  I know almost everything does now, but I will nine times out of ten prefer a one-time product purchase over a recurring monthly fee.  Grammarly clarified with me about the difference between the Premium account and the Free account. The Microsoft Word add on isn’t available for the Free account and only the web-based/chrome extension works with the Free and Premium account. The Free account does offer the contextual spell checker, grammar checker and vocabulary enhancement but some of the enhanced grammar checks, enhanced vocabulary, etc., are only available with the Premium version.
  • In my niche writing with some words that only exist in the psychological realm, I was frustrated when I couldn’t find a way to choose “ignore all”.  It might be possible, but it was not easy for me to find. It was very frustrating to have suggestions about names over and over again and so I just started skipping over many of its suggestions.
  • A couple times it didn’t find errors that I thought it might catch, but see bullet six above and remember it isn’t a replacement for a human proofreading.
  • I did not always get the same easy of use feeling when using Grammarly in Microsoft Word. You have to turn Grammarly off and on
  • There were a few small errors in its suggestions that while mildly annoying I think would be easy to overlook, in the long run.

Summary

I’ve thought a lot about whether Grammarly would be good for students to use.  I believe it could be a very powerful tool for middle school and high school students, but the big drawback is the monthly cost or yearly cost. I don’t believe school districts are overly interested in supports and services that have recurring fees.  As a professional, I do believe it caught more errors than any spell check ever does. I LOVE the chrome extension and the ease of checking my work within chrome because so many  tools we, as school psychologists use on a daily basis are web-based now.  The chrome extension made checking my work easier and the whole goal of this blog is to share tips and tools that help us work smarter, not harder.

Grammarly, has been generous enough to offer a Premium account for one lucky person.  Comment below with either your biggest writing error pet-peeve OR why you believe Grammarly would be helpful to you in your work either for yourself or for students.  I’ll review the comments at the end of the NASP Conference and contact you by Sunday!  I’ll also be at NASP Tuesday night through Saturday and I’d love to meet all of you, talk tech, and share our current favorite tools.

Screen Shots

Grammarly provides a running total of your errors as you write, shown in the small red circle of any text box you’re currently writing in within web-based applications.

Grammarly's running total of errors as you write.

Grammarly’s running total of errors as you write.

Grammarly breaks errors down into Advanced Errors and Critical Errors which you can see when you click on the red circle with the number of current errors.

Grammarly's breakdown of issues into  Advanced Issues and Critical Issues.

Grammarly’s breakdown of issues into Advanced Issues and Critical Issues.

Within the website that you are in, you can easily accept the suggested changes, just by hovering over the underlined error.

Grammarly seamlessly provides suggestions which  makes it easy to make changes on the fly.

Grammarly seamlessly provides suggestions which makes it easy to make changes on the fly.

Or, if you transfer into their editor, although you’re still in the web-based program that you’re using, Grammarly provides in-depth explanations into the suggestions made as well as examples.

Grammarly provides explanations of errors and suggestions, including examples.

Grammarly provides explanations of errors and suggestions, including examples.

Why Writing is Important

writing_skills_matter* In full disclosure, Grammarly offered me access to a Premium account for two weeks in exchange for writing this review.

A while ago I wrote a whole blog post about Doodle and everything great about Doodle.  I wrote primarily about Doodle’s desktop platform because on a handheld device using Doodle is a little more cumbersome. I also wasn’t willing to spend $2.99 for the app to do what I could on a desktop just on my phone. So, I didn’t even really talk about the Doodle app way back when I wrote the previous Doodle post.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 3.31.04 PMWell…the Doodle app is currently FREE.  So why not grab it while it is free and see if it can be as helpful as the desktop website with scheduling your meetings. At first look it appears to work just as the website does but time will tell if there are any quirks or issues that warrant a full review.  I just had to share that the app is FREE to everyone in case you want to snatch it up before it goes back to full price.

Back at it!

Wow! It has been a LONG time since my last post and it has taken me so long for several reasons. The main reason is that elgibility assessments took over my life. I know there are lots of heads nodding right now. Unfortunately, it started pretty early in the fall (last school year fall, not this one!) and didn’t slow down until the last day of school (last school year 13-14). Any break, including the crazy amount of snow days we had, just made me crazy and feel like I was getting farther and farther behind on assessments. Needless to say, I was having a very hard time finding time to explore tools let alone see how they worked in a real situation.

I used all summer to recover from the school year AND fill out one job application to a new district. A former colleague who was laid off from the district we worked in at the same time as I did, went to work for this new district and we’ve stayed in very close contact over the past four year so when I saw the position posting for her district I had to throw my hat in to the ring. After a very rigorous interview process I was offered a school psychologist position in the Chelsea School district. I took pretty much all the time they’d give me to make my decision, about 18 hours, because if I was going to make a change it really had to be a good change. I couldn’t leave talented friends and colleagues just because I completed so many evaluations; I had to truly find a place where I could be more proactive and making a positive contribution to the school community. I’m happy to say, I accepted the position, and it really is turning out to be the type of position I’ve have hoping for.

Here are some of the highlights

  • My first day I received a new laptop and a new iPad. They went straight for my heart!
  • In my middle school building, they rolled out their 1:1 iPads in the first week of school. Woohoo tech work with kids here I come! I’ve already run a series of groups on the built in features of the iPad, no apps required.
  • I’ve formed 3 different support groups (2 for 4th-5th and 1 for 6th-8th) to run with the students focused on mindset and improving executive functioning skills
  • I’ve actually be able to talk to the tech guys and they’re helpful as well as interested in know about some of the online/tablet assessment options available such as Q Interactive. They were also super supportive of me asking for trials of the tools to see how they worked.
  • I also received a grant to purchase enhanced writing apps for some of the middle school students to support their written expression difficulties so I’m heading in to direct work with students on using those apps.

Sooo now that it is December and I’m feeling more settled I’m going to start working  on writing more. I’m thinking some future posts will relate to the writing tools I’m piloting with students. Some super fun tools I’ve started using on Google and maybe a little about apps I’ve recently started using.  Anything you guys would like me to talk about specifically?

Annotate like a Pro

iAnnotate PDFAnnotate like a Pro with iAnnotate PDF.  This is another of my favorite apps that is currently on-sale (only until February 4th so quickly read on!). I receive documents in all shapes, sizes, and forms. Intervention plans, data graphs, new forms, etc., and they  all usually require my thoughts and/or interpretations but they don’t always come in a form that is easy to comment on, add my thoughts, or review*.  iAnnotate is great because regardless of the form it comes in, you can seamlessly convert the file  into a “PDF” document you can annotate using Apple’s “open in..” function. Below are some of the pros and cons I see in the app for School Psychologists to use but the website has great information.

Price: $9.99 $4.99

Pros:

  • Wide variety of annotation tools to use to make comments (pencil, marker, color, stamps, text boxes, notes, highlighters, image stamp, just to name a few)
  • Access to variety of cloud based platforms such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, SkyDrive, WebDAV
  • Share your comments in a variety of forms such as a “annotated (annotations can be viewed and modified) “flattened” (receiver sees comments but can’t edit them), summary of annotations, or original
  • For updated iPads, you can AirDrop files to other AirDrop users (iPad or Mac computer)
  • Work on multiple documents all at once, because we all over multitask. Up to 8 tabs open at a time!
  • Great for recording a student while completing a running record. Recording audio is built in and then annotate as the student reads. Paperless work in action.

Cons:

  • There are LOTS of features and I probably don’t use half of them on a regular basis. It would be nice to have a version that was 1/2 as powerful and 1/2 the price.
  • It isn’t always clear how to save a document or if it is automatically saving.  I’m just not that trusting.
  • I know I can edit and customize the toolbars but I’m not sure why the share button isn’t automatically on the main bar, without a customized bar I have to go digging.

Uses for Students:

  • On lecture notes, outlines, slides students can write comments or highlight key points that were important to them as they participated in the lecture.
  • Built in text-to-speech so  students can select text in the file to be read out loud.
  • Along the lines of running records, students could record themselves reading, listen to the recording, and then make comments on their own reading afterwards.
  • Due to the “heft” of this app, I’d recommend using it with older students (upper Elementary, MS, HS, College, etc.) because younger students may find it overwhelming and not user friendly.

 

* I think we can all agree that Word's "comment" function isn't all that user friendly!

Behavior Motivation Tools

There are times when something makes you think, “you’re meant to write a blog post today” and today is one of those days.  I received an alert via AppShopper that an app I use and one I’ve been wanting to write about dropped in price. So here I am, writing a post so that maybe you can take advantage of iRewards being on sale. Both of the apps below are great apps to use for behavior plans.

iRewards

Price: $4.99   $2.99

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 9.06.17 PMThere are many ways to utilize iRewards but recently I used it with a student who needed a lot of external motivation in order to persevere through challenging tasks. Who would have thought the cognitive assessments that require a student to get 5 or 6 wrong in a row would be frustrating?!

Overview

I think of iRewards as similar to token strips meaning you have a set number of tasks, steps, behaviors, expectations you want the student to complete before they will receive a break or reward or preferential activity.  An example would be 5 math problems before earning time on an iPad. Within iReward you would choose “reward after 5” and then the picture might be one of an iPad or a picture of the student playing on the iPad.

Pros / Features

  • Multiple student rewards can be set-up
  • Multiple goals/rewards for each student
  • Ability to email and then import already set-up rewards
  • Ability to record voice praise for completion
  • Lock the screen so the number of behaviors can’t be changed without knowing how to unlock the app
  • Google image search built in so you don’t have to first search google and then save the image to your camera roll.

Cons / Improvements

  • I wish you could customize the stars to make them something else like other shapes especially if a student is especially motivated by earning coins, cars, trains, etc.
photo 1

The main screen you see once you have the goal and rewards setup

iReward multiple goals

Multiple goals for each student as well as the ability to share and import

 iReward setup

Change the number of tasks for child to receive before reward. Import images from google. Record verbal praise
iReward Settings

Additional setup features such as locking.

Win a Spin

Price: $0.99

Overview

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 9.05.39 PM

Who doesn’t like a little excitement delivered by a random reward?  Win a Spin is a 6 space spinning wheel that you can customize for what rewards are displayed.  This would be great to use as the reward for the tasks completed with iRewards app.  If you’re thinking, whatever happened to a good sticker chart, why so many bells and whistles? I think about that sometimes as well.

Pros / Features

  • Plenty of places to put in potential rewards
  • Great exciting way to provide random reinforcers

Cons / Improvements

  • Have to fill in all 6 options otherwise you might land on a blank space
  • Can’t have multiple spinners/students set-up
  • Only text rewards, not images

Win A Spin

Additional Ways to Utilize these Apps

I love utilizing both of these apps in conjunction with Intervention Central’s Jackpot Reward Finder. I often have teachers look at which rewards they’re willing to offer to students and then I work with the students to have them indicate which rewards they would really like to earn.  I’ve stopped being surprised by how many students want rewards such as adult attention through game time, or talk time, etc.

What other apps to you use to support behavior plans of behavior interventions? I’d love to see some more and try out other ones!

Two Factor Authentication

The discussions around the use of cloud computing continues, as it should, but “the cloud” continues continue grow in popularity and acceptance for a variety of reasons.  I’ve discussed in some previous posts the precautions I take with the cloud computing services I utilize on a regular basis but, a part of our legal and ethical practice as NCSP School Psychologists is to continue evaluating ethical uses and practices.  Two factor authentication is another step I’ve taken as a part of my daily work.

Not familiar with two factor authentication?

The video below does a good job explaining two factor authentication.  Here is my brief explanation.  Entering a password is one way of verifying who you are because hopefully you’re the only one who knows the password but two factor authentication adds another way to authenticate that you are who you say you are.

So why would you want two factor authentication?

A strong password is the first step to protecting information but two factor authentication is similar to a second, completely random password.  This completely random password improves your protection of information.  Who doesn’t want more security?

My Uses of Two Factor Authentication

I currently use two factor authentication with both Dropbox and Evernote.  This means when I log-in to either dropbox or evernote, via their website, I first log-in with my username and password but then the service prompts me to enter in the code displayed in my Authenticator app.

LogIn

Google Authenticator AppThen I use my Google Authenticator App to get the code that I enter in the log-in. The authenticator number only displays for 30 to 60 seconds before another one displays. Below is a screenshot of my authenticator app displaying the code for evernote and dropbox for whichever service I’m logging in to.

20140115-211205.jpg

So some way, I never promised to have all the technical background and know how, Evernote knows what number is being displayed and so when I enter it Evernote knows I am who I say I am! Voila!

I should draw your attention to the fact that two factor authentication is when you used the web-based service. If you have Dropbox or Evernote installed on your computer then you only use two part authentication when you log-in, which for me is not every time (depends on your settings).  So for me, because I don’t have Evernote or Dropbox installed directly on work computers I access the information by logging in to the website and this is when I’m prompted first for my password and then for my authentication code.

Couple Words of Caution

During the two part authentication set-up process for whichever service(s) you choose to use it with, the service will provide you with an EMERGENCY backup code in case you lose you authenticator app.  KEEP THIS SAFE! If you lose your authenticator app and don’t have this code you won’t be able to get back in to your account. Period. Can I stress any more how important this is to keep this safe!

Ready? Set. Go!

Evernote and Dropbox both have great information and directions for how to set-up two factor authentication. Check it out and send me any questions you might have that come up. I’ll do my best to answer your questions and help out.

Evernote Two Step Verification

Dropbox Two Step Verification

Google Two Step Verification  – If you’re wondering why I didn’t discuss Google Two Step Verification its because I don’t currently use it.  Since my district isn’t a Google Apps District currently I rarely have any information that I need to keep that secure so I don’t have two step verification enabled.  I’ve started reading about it though because the word on the street is that our district will be moving that way in the near future.

iTunes Gift Cards

iTunes

As a techy geek, an iTunes gift card is a no brainer for me as a gift from my family members and Santa is always good to me and tosses one in my stocking as well. If you received an iTunes card and are contemplating what to spend it on you could definitely spend it on Angry Birds, Mindcraft or new music but you could also spend it on new apps to help you work smarter not harder.

Here are few suggestions:

I know it has been a while since I last posted but I’m really going to work hard to post more often.  I have some ideas for reviews or posts but I’m up for suggestions so send them my way.

Jill Kuzma's SLP Social & Emotional Skill Sharing Site

Ideas for Educators Supporting Social/Emotional Language Skills

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