Monday, July 23, 2012

The Tree I See

The Tree I See was created by Aridan Books and is a sweet story about friendship and helping each other out. It was conceptualized by a neurosurgery physician assistant and claims to have been designed to help working memory and re-call ability. Let's see how and whether it does so. Price: $0.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 3.1 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: This is a solid e-book. The story topic is appropriate for young kids - maybe not totally exciting, but is a cute and heartwarming story about a tree who makes lasting friends in the forest by helping each other out.  The interactive features are relevant to the story and tapping on the characters will make them repeat what they've said in the story which is a nice touch to reinforce plot points. A feature I thought had a lot of potential is how the text is presented. It automatically appears in a box as it's being read and then goes away so kids can interact with the pictures. If you tap on an arrow within the text box, it enlarges in the center of the page. I thought this is a great opportunity for parents and teachers to focus kids on the text and help build their literacy skills. However, it does not highlight word by word, repeat if tapped on, provide definitions, etc. It only highlights a few words at a time, and you can press play to hear the entire text read again. It relies on the parent or teacher to provide extra support, enhancement, and reinforcement. So while I like the thought, it could have been taken further.

So what about improving working memory and re-call? From the iTunes description, it says it does so through "consistent illustrative theme and gradual character integration, to maintain focus and assist with the cognitive development of your child." Don't many books do this? Yes, the tree remains constant, and each new friend is added to the picture as they are introduced in the story. So illustratively, the story is updated and provides the cues for plot points, but the text does not update and build upon/repeat the characters as have been seen in many other children's stories. And for re-call, how are we measuring this? I thought maybe there would be prompts for kids to answer questions or to think about what happened in the story, but there aren't any. One great way to improve retention is to make things explicit and to verbalize it, and I don't see that here. So yes, while I think having the characters on the page repeat what they say in the text is nice, I don't otherwise see what else separates this e-book from other good e-books for comprehension and re-call. 

Overall, The Tree I See adds some nice touches to help learning, but maybe over-emphasizes the claims. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 5 years)

Balance: For the most part, the interactive elements help to enhance the story. At times though, tapping on them make them all overlap, especially later on the in the story with more characters involved. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: It took me a few readings to really start appreciating some of the touches here, so I think parents and kids will too and discover new things with each reading. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: There's no laid out role for parents, but I think the text feature provide good opportunity and a good cue for parents to highlight words or plot points or whatever. Rating: 4/5

Total: 16 out of 20 = 4 stars

Of note: 100% of Net proceeds will be given to Autism Speaks for the month of May and June. Thereafter 10% of our proceeds will continue to be given to Autism Speaks. 

Disclosure: I received this app for free for review purposes.

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