The Sounding Out Machine – Assistive Reading Device by FizzBrain – Review

The Sounding Out Machine – Assistive Reading Device by FizzBrain is an iPad only app that helps kids who are reading to focus in on specific words that they may not know. The app allows you to take words in three forms and then sound them out. This app can be used with preschool through elementary school and is great for emerging readers. By learning how to break a word down, they are more successful and ultimately that leads to more reading because it is fun rather than “something they have to do”.

The three modes of the app are:
•Camera mode – take a picture of the page of the book using your iPad
•Library mode – Take a picture ahead of time, save it on your camera roll and open it when reading
•Typing mode – Type in your own word

It presents with a screenshot of the different types of reading modes. You also create a profile for each child so that you can track the types of “hard” words on a daily, weekly and monthly basis so you can see change over time in reading comprehension. You can also send the reports via email to parents or even teachers. There are “teacher settings” – I put my own email here. You can either have the app read phonemes as one unit or read every letter and ignore phonemes. I tried it both ways, however, since my son is working on phonemes in school we primarily did it that way. A quick tip – if you are going to use the library mode I found it much faster to photograph the pages of the board books and other books we were reading ahead of time without “help” as the pictures were clearer and there wasn’t the frustration if they were blurry. Also, by making the library ahead of time, he knew the books that his brother liked or the ones he liked and could practice them on his own when he had time with the iPad. I liked knowing that he was reading, and so I gave him some extra time with the iPad so he could practice. The app also allows you to track a photographed page with a box to cover up the extra words so if your child has trouble focusing on a specific word due to too many on the page this can help as well.

After getting the photo of the page either from the library or taking it on the fly, a colored box comes up that you move to the word that you need help sounding out. Once the box is on the right word, you click “read my word”. You are brought to another screen where you can see the word you put in the box and then have to type the word in using the on-screen keyboard. After you type it in, you are prompted to see if you have spelled the word correctly. I tested it both with the correct and incorrect spelling – and if the word was misspelled then the app said it “wasn’t in the dictionary” but you could use your card to try to sound it out again. Once the word was spelled correctly or was in the dictionary, you could see the word and cover up parts of it to sound it out – in this case “roaring”. You could either use a card and cover it up as you worked with your child or hit “teach me” which covered up the word and showed it letter by letter as it was sounded out. There are different types of cards you can use which include “regular”, “see through”, “double”, “peekaboo”, and “teach me” which you can also change the colors of. When I sat with my son, we used our own card to sound out words and then would use the teach me mode as well. The word is also color coded into sections to make it easier to sound out. The typing mode was harder for him, because even though he had the book in front of him sometimes he would make mistakes copying it down to be sounded out. The app has great directions which explain how to use each function and button and even let you change the word from phoneme/syllable to blending on the fly.

My son struggles with word “decoding” which means that at times he can look at a word and even though he might know it, he can’t figure out what it means. We pretended to be an investigator as we sounded out the words and looked for clues like an ending or broke it apart as we read. I can do that when I read with him, but when he reads on his own, he is more likely to look at the picture and make up a word if he doesn’t know one (which is developmentally appropriate at this time). This is the perfect app to help him with that and I have seen based on the words in the library an improvement. The app’s dictionary has over 80,000 words including multiple forms of the same word like “roar”, “roared”, “roaring” and they welcome suggestions from people on new words that should be added. My son has even started to when reading use his fingers to chunk the word and sound it out – especially if it’s been one he practiced within the app.

I loved this app – my seven year old has started reading to his brother via board books and sometimes the words are too hard. I photographed all the pages on my camera roll of “Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear” by Bill Martin Jr. and then my son and I practiced reading them using the app. By photographing the pages and putting the blue box around the hard words – he was able to sound them out and begin to recognize them so he could read the story to his brother more easily. I loved that it encouraged him to read – we tried both with the camera photographing them ahead of time and photographing them as we read. If I photographed them and put them on the iPad in the camera roll, he could then go back independently if he had trouble reading or we could do it together. I also loved the “my words” so I could see the words he was having trouble with and then as time went on how the words changed. I could also see it when my son reading to his younger brother – reading was cleaner and more fluid as he got better at chunking the words himself rather than just saying “I don’t know this word – tell me”. To be fair, I know he’s working hard on reading in school as well and I’m sure that was a big help. My son also told me he liked practicing on his own, because he could practice by himself without worrying that he was doing it “wrong”.

In terms of enhancements, I would like to see the “my words” email function protected by a parental gate. My son figured out how to go in there and send out multiple emails when he was supposed to be reading. The teacher settings area wasn’t protected either and my son tried to delete his profile, luckily it came up with a display box and he clicked he was not the teacher so we did not lose his progress. All other links including app store links in the “info section” are protected with a complex math problem. It would also be nice if there was a “library” that stored your old words so you could tap on those to see them sounded out without having to find the photographed page again or take another photograph.

Overall, if your child has trouble decoding words or is struggling with reading this is a great tool to add to your app library. I have many reading apps that I have used with my son, and one of the reasons we liked this one so much was that it broke things down into manageable chunks and let him read on his own. Seeing my older son read to his younger brother in a more fluid way is a huge win in my book. I’ve noticed other improvements in his reading skills as well – and when you compare the cost of this app to the hourly cost of a reading tutor, this is a great purchase to help carry over skills at home. Another example, my son is starting to like to read for pleasure rather than it being a “have to do”.