Review by Dana Villamagna, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2012
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Alpha Writer, by Montessorium

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Well-crafted app lets emerging readers and writers develop reading skills through word building

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Teachers say (2 Reviews)
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Grades
Pre-K-1 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Kids can compose words on their own or participate in formal word-building activities.

Cons: More instruction is needed, especially for kids unfamiliar with Montessori methods.

Bottom Line: Basic reading skills are developed through word building, word play, and letter-sound recognition.

Alpha Writer, by Montessorium's Storyboard can be an excellent way for teachers to introduce very young kids to the concept that word building (spelling) empowers them to express their thoughts and ideas -- even in just one or two words -- which can be highly motivating for kids. This app helps kids express themselves and practice building words phonetically and writing sentences, even if their fine motor skills aren't yet ready to compose words or sentences using pencil and paper. Introduce kids to the moveable alphabet (and all the sticker pictures available on the app) and encourage them to write anything they'd like -- words, phrases, or a sentence. Use the other three activities on the app for more formal letter sounds and spelling practice (and consider playing the "I Spy" game in the classroom with real objects for extra fun). It will likely be important to explain to (or remind) kids that letter combinations, such as "oo," "ch," and "ar," work together to form new sounds and build words.

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Alpha Writer, by Montessorium helps kids learn letter sounds and empowers them to try their hand at forming words. Four activity choices include the traditional Montessori "I Spy" letter sound game and activities using the Montessori moveable alphabet. Kids use the moveable alphabet and artful sticker-like images to write their own stories on a storyboard. When using the moveable alphabet, kids hear the sound of each letter clearly pronounced as they drag it into position to form a word. There's no spell check on the storyboard feature; kids can spell phonetically. In two other activities, the narrator pronounces a word next to a colorful drawing and asks kids to choose the letters or letter combinations that spell that word.

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Kids can learn essential literacy skills like letter sounds (including diphthongs, digraphs, and r-controlled vowels), spelling, and word recognition on this well-crafted app for emerging readers and writers. The four activities build on one another, giving kids a chance to develop skills and then practice them. The Storyboard is a particularly unique feature that allows kids to build words according to their own ideas and illustrate them with artist-created, sticker-like pictures. It doesn't include spell check, so kids can spell phonetically without correction. There's also no letter or word spacing, so the storyboard can look somewhat disorganized, but also very natural, the way kids often initially write on a page. Kids who haven't been introduced to more complex letter sound combinations may initially find all the letter combination options listed on the app confusing, and more up-front instructions would be helpful.

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Overall Rating
4

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
4

This attractive and easy-to-use app is in line with the Montessori method, which emphasizes learning through play and exploration. Once kids have figured out what to do, they can have a lot of fun learning about spelling.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
4

Kids build literacy concepts as they listen to the narrator carefully pronounce each word, emphasizing letter sounds. Kids can reflect as they choose letters by listening to each sound and comparing it to the sounds of the target word.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
3

Although the app doesn't track learning data, kids can save images of their Storyboard creations. Clear narration makes letter identification tasks accessible to young kids.


Common Sense Reviewer
Dana Villamagna Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Hollie B. , School district administrator
School district administrator
3
Works well with students who already know letters and letter sounds

Would work good in reinforcing and practicing what is being done in the kindergarten classroom, and would work well as a center activity. Advanced students could use this as enrichment in the beginning of the year, then other students could begin to use it as well as they learn their letter sounds. In first grade this would be great for remediation and practice for students who still struggle with their letter sounds.

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