Word Wizard, by L'Escapadou, is an exemplary app for multi-sensory, play-based learning of pre-literacy skills. This app has sophisticated text to speech capabilities used in conjunction with moveable alphabet tiles. This unique text to speech feature gives children the opportunity to play freely with letter sounds and with letter combinations, as well as to practice building spelling skills in a structured quiz mode. The developers are a homeschooling family, who have been inspired by the Montessori method. They have a strong belief that creativity is essential to a child’s development and well-being so, therefore, have incorporated that into all the apps they have developed. As of the last update of Word Wizard, here is the list of new features and options:
➜ Qwerty Layout (with caps lock key to easing the use of capital)
➜16 new word lists for beginner spellers (consonant-vowel-consonant words)
➜ Erase all letters is now accessible on the board
➜ Word on 2 lines is now recognized
➜ Add your friends' words list (via iTunes)
➜ Customize pronunciation of any word (via iTunes)
➜ New voice added ! (3 voices available now) and new version of the speech engine
➜ Keyboard emulation (don’t need to drag the letter anymore)
➜ Letter size on the board (so that you can put more letters on the board)
➜ Option to turn off the vocalization until the speech bubble button or a word is tapped
➜ Next word option in tests
➜ Limit (or remove) animation time in tests
Admittedly, we were nervous that some of the phonemic elements would confuse students when an irregular spelling of a word arose. Some of our most common words are irregular and don't follow the rules: what, who, come, are a just few of the "rule breakers." For example, when a student spells the word learn, "lern" - the text to speech can't decipher that this is another one of the "rule breakers," and the child is left to wonder what is wrong. Surprisingly, the kids we observed didn't seem phased by these discrepancies and used the? tool to find the correct spelling of words that sounded correct and appeared correct but were wrong. What we, as teachers, found the most appealing was the list of CVC words as they always follow the phonemic norm and beginners need to be repeated practice with the short vowel sounds.
Pierre Abel replied to our request for some bio info with, "We are French and based in the south of France, and that being a homeschool family has been the key to create our apps. We want apps that help our kids to learn with fun. We do not have formal teacher degree but when you decide to do homeschool you have to be a teacher in a way or another. So we read a lot about education and the different way of learning to understand what can be best for our kids. My background is research and innovation, and I try to marry technology and education to create great apps. My wife is almost always taking care of our kids and she's like a consultant: she's always giving me feedback and advice."